Musical progression revived

You may recall that last week I took part in two quite different events, one local, one national. Locally I attended Ely Folk Club, nationally I attended the Music Education Council’s ‘The Future of Music Education for All: 2018 to 2020 and Beyond’.

In last week’s blog I wrote about my lived experience of profane culture as a learning music experience. The next day at the Music Education Council’s ‘The Future of Music Education for All: 2018 to 2020 and Beyond’ I heard about the Music Education Commission’s investigation into how all can be supported in sustaining their musical progression. See here for more

http://www.musiccommission.org.uk/files/about/The%20Music%20Commission%20Terms%20of%20Reference.pdf

The emphasis on progression in learning music is interesting, a move away from music education being viewed through the lens of instrumental playing perhaps. And twitter I see picked up on this.

Marie Bessant liked

Anthony Anderson‏ @Music_bod  22h22 hours ago

Anthony Anderson Retweeted Steven Berryman

Musical learning is multi-dimensional. . . .

Anthony Anderson added,

So those of us who work inside the school classroom will be hopeful that the commission will differentiate between music education for all and music education for all children and young people as part of a general education expressed as a subject of the school curriculum, considering its purposes alongside its benefits.

The commission’s focus is on progression and this was a concept explored by Mark Phillips HMI in the second keynote of the morning. You may know that it has been at the forefront of Ofsted’s agenda for some time.

[At worst Ofsted’s attention to rapid progression observable over a time scale of twenty minutes in the classroom had led to tyrannised music teachers. All this has gone except where a school’s senior management lags behind Ofsted’s refreshed agendas.]

The context provided by Mark was from the middle secondary school years where progression, if it could be understood at all, boiled down to the music teacher’s capacity to place worthwhile musical material/experience before their pupils. That was it and this makes good sense. Well, this was my reading of what Mark was proposing.

So we can stop agonising about progression and focus rather more on musical development as seen in the way pupils make their music, the changing ways in which they think about it, talk and write about it.

Perhaps progression has become a zombie concept.

Not for the Music Commission.

 

 

 

 

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A little profane music education [1]

This week I took part in two quite different events, one local, one national. Locally I attended Ely Folk Club, nationally I attended the Music Education Council’s ‘The Future of Music Education for All: 2018 to 2020 and Beyond.

It was only the second time I had ventured into the world of Ely Folk and having an anthropologist’s eye I did so with the question ‘well, what is going on here?’ That’s not to say I was withdrawn or aloof from the musical experience but rather a fully participant observer with vague strands of theoretical thought lurking in mind, any of which might be triggered into fresh lines of thinking and understanding by what unfolded.

Ely Folk meet in the Old Dispensary of 1852, a narrow space and of necessity for the evening’s music, set out in rows. As on my previous visit the evening presented first a warm up songwriter prior to the main musical offering, this time a three-piece band -singer/guitarist, accordionist, double bassist.

I arrived a little early, paid my eleven pounds and took a seat in the third row and soon to be joined by a lady with her aged mother, both in jolly mood and apologising for the kerfuffle that was to follow involving cushions being taken from a bag to support mother which mother resisted before surrendering. Once settled I asked whether their attendance was regular. This led to telling me about regular attendance at the summer Ely Folk Festival and an enjoyment in general of Folk along with other kinds of music. Then the not uncommon conversation and clarification that you didn’t need to be a Folk Music buff in order to enjoy, understand and appreciate the music.

As song followed song I was struck by the depth of creativity in the lyrics, the richness of meanings, and fascinated by their sources in the mundane patterns of life. That’s the idea I know. I was catching up.

This was profane culture, the vernacular, material culture. No claim to transcendence or the sacred or any rarified notion of the spiritual. No cultural halos, no cultural citadels, no sign of gatekeepers protecting some imagined great tradition.

‘Sitting on the back seat of fate’s fast car.’

What an idea for a song.

And then what was announced as a ‘real’ folk song – the story of Lord Franklin and his ill-fated journey into the North West Passage.

At times the lady next to me quietly moved to the music and I could discern covert singing in the audience finding full voice when invited to join in with the pithy choruses.

‘This time men with checked shirts, this time ladies, this time without making a sound.’

Yes, this was didactic. It was music education for the fifty or so gathered in the Old Dispensary, all more or less of a similar age, class fraction and ethnicity. Music certainly brings people together as well as leaving them apart.

And that other event I mentioned, the Music Education Council on the next day. What fresh lines of thinking did that engender. I will tell next week.

Note:

[1] See http://www.sociologyguide.com/socio-short-notes/sacred-and-profane.php for the sacred-profane binary.

 

Music education and its provenance?

What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?

This is the question I have been teasing with in recent blogs and last week I drew upon the thinking of Chris Philpott and his conception of music as a language in itself as characterised by an openess to acquired and multiple interpretations where meaning and value are determined by usage in particular contexts.

Herein lies a hard-edged justification for music ‘s place in the school curriculum. [1]

I commented: ‘Alas, judging by the endless triumphalism around pupils being engaged, finding autonomy, affirming identity and unleashing their potential (all of course worthy), there would seem an endemic lapse into soft thinking about music in our present time.

Where is the hard thinking about music, thinking about how it can be tribal, exclusive and enshrine prejudice; manipulative of behaviour; gendered; reflective of social structures; propagandist; enshrining ideology?’

Well, one line of advancement in this direction I thought lay in the idea of ‘provenance’, a concept introduced by Mark Phillips HMI and added to the criteria for making judgments about a music department’s quality of provision.

Provenance seems to have two meanings, the first begets the second.

First ‘origin’, and then ‘history-lineage’; we find the term provenance much used in relation to antiques. What is its source, origin, its life history, its condition, how has it been looked after, what were/are the conditions of its practice, what was it used for, what is it used for now?

I think it a valuable idea that as I tried to show here https://jfin107.wordpress.com/?s=PROVENANCE can enhance an enfeebled notion of appraising.

If ‘musical provenance’ is important, as Ofsted have suggested, we should ask ourselves:

Is the content of what is brought to the classroom rich, thick with possibilities?

Will it defy easy assimilation and mastery?

Will it call forth thinking, raising questions about provenance?

Will it assist in giving substance to the curriculum enabling it to have a dynamic quality?

Will it be part of a musical education that ensures pupils make music well, think critically about it and become personally enriched?

Note:

[1] See ‘The justification for music in the curriculum’ in Debates in Music Teaching (eds) Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce, 2013. Rutledge: London.

A hard justification for music in the curriculum

In recent blogs I have posed three questions.

1.What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?

2.To what extent should the purposes of music education address the nature of music as a human practice historically and contemporaneously manifest in the world? (Ontology)

3.What kind of knowledge and ways of knowing should a music education be most concerned with? (Epistemology)

In last week’s blog I called upon Chris Philpott to contribute to the debate that these questions give rise to.

Chris used the hard-soft metaphor to lead our thinking towards leaving behind soft justifications for music as a curriculum subject and thus towards reconstructing music as a subject in which ways of knowing and understanding become symbiotically tied to the act of meaning making. In this Chris is ranging across all three of my questions above.

In pursuing the idea of a hard justification for music in the school Chris sets out a way of thinking about music and therefore how we construct music as a subject of the school curriculum.

Chris’s Hard-Soft dichotomy is important because it gets us to think about on what basis we value music, how we think about what is it? Music becomes much more than simply a good fairy that exists to shower us with blessings. Instead it is something rather more complex in the way it exists within a maelstrom of human action and meaning making?

Chris points out that music can be tribal, exclusive and enshrine prejudice; manipulative of behaviour; gendered; reflective of social structures; propagandist; and can enshrine ideology.

In this way of thinking, music is already in the world, living within complex webs of meanings and continually being understood and reunderstood, interpreted and reinterpreted.

Chris’s central claim is that music be conceived of as a language. This is tricky. Or at least it should be.

In this case it doesn’t mean that music possesses the properties of speech, such as speaking tempo, vocal pitch and intonational contours, which can be used to communicate attitudes or other shades of meaning; nor is it to see in music grammar, syntax or dialect characteristic of a musical style; but more fundamentally to see music as a language in itself, as characterised by a openess to acquired and multiple interpretations where meaning and value are determined by usage in particular contexts.

So in this way music becomes ‘hard’, a subject of immense substance demanding critical and contextual thinking.

Alas, judging by the endless triumphalism around pupils being engaged, finding autonomy, affirming identity and unleashing their potential (all of course worthy), there would seem an endemic lapse into softness in our present time.

Where is the hard thinking about music, thinking about how it can be tribal, exclusive and enshrine prejudice; manipulative of behaviour; gendered; reflective of social structures; propagandist; and enshrining ideology?

What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?