Two hundred years ago in 1817 the very idea of ‘the future of music education for all’ would have been barely conceivable.
While the European Enlightenment had given a twinkle in the eye of progressive educational thinkers, there were few signs of enthusiasm in England for establishing a system of schooling for all children in which music would play a part. Yet within fifty years not only had the idea of education itself become immensely popular but the term popular music education had become widespread. And, of course, it was singing that counted as music education. Singing as a communal activity had caught the popular imagination.
There were Joseph Mainzer’s mass singing classes for workmen – Singing for the Million, singing classes for children after their long hours of factory work, Sunday School singing, Sarah Glover’s pioneering work with infant children in Norwich, the official approval given to John Hullah’s fixed doh system and John Curwen’s promotion of a rival system.
Music education had been established in the national consciousness. It was here to stay.
For these nineteenth century pioneers justifications were several: there was the desire to improve singing in religious settings, singing for recreation, the moral well-being of the working classes and singing as a means of strengthening national sentiment.
The music education innovators of the time, for the most part, like those of today, were well read in the history of music education. They had engaged critically with ideas of the past and in particular the progressive breaks with sleeping forms of traditionalism.
You see I have been reading Bernarr Rainbow’s The Land without Music and amongst so much that intrigued I was pleased to find reference to a practice I had heard of a good number of years ago, one that had lingered in my ever curious mind. Yes, here were children going between lessons, not in silence, but singing their repertoire of national songs. This was in Switzerland and under the influence of the reforming educator Johann Pestalozzi.
I find the image appealing in the light of some of the stringent practices emerging in our own times in schools where ultra-strictness, no excuses and the silent movement between lessons is championed.
This silent obedience comes as a contrast to the Swiss children of two hundred years ago, providing an image at odds with the joy often associated with singing, singing playgrounds and the contemporary call to Sing Up and for music to permeate the whole life of the school.
Is there a school where children arrive at their music lesson singing? @LauraMullaly may know.
As we ponder a future for music education in 2017 I am reminded that the past is always useable.
Next week I will consider John Curwen’s scripted music lessons and not without its topical resonance. See https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/dec/05/drill-english-schools-scripted-lessons-raise-standards-michaela