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?