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 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?


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


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