Music education’s tacit dimension (3)

In the previous two blogs I explored the tacit dimension of musical knowledge and understanding drawing upon the work of Michael Polanyi and also Wayne Bowman. Last week I made bold by proposing a number of pedagogical principles arising. A little more discussion is needed in order to conclude.

A useful place to start is in the proposal that ‘music made would be viewed as sui generis.’ Sui generis, ‘in a class of its own’.

Here the proposal is that music making, the imaginative artistic expressions of the child, in the first instance be viewed as original, unique, personal, incomparable and incommensurable with any work that has before existed, that it will first yield criteria emerging from itself unbeholden to existing categories.  Thus the process of valuing has begun, the process of negotiating values and the education of discrimination and judgement. And this lies at the heart of an education in the arts. In this way we move towards and learn about the values shared and disputed by others in relation to other works of the artistic imagination, to other ways of life and other ways of thinking and making music. We learn how to critique, make our own values and renew and re-envision how music might be and how education and society might be.

We would come to agree and disagree about artistic-aesthetic standards which would always be ready to defer to the unexpected and to the minds of young people in particular. Consensus would be achieved by working from what is thought and made by those being and becoming more musical.

The story of the Pied Piper is a story of broken promises. The reasons we frequently find for justifying music turn out to be little more than promises, promises that can not be kept. They too often come as a ‘shrieking and squeaking in fifty different sharps and flats’ to borrow lines from Browning’s Pied Piper poem. But enough of this; for we must return to Hannah’s speculation.

‘They understood the subtle harmonic dissonances and slow rhythmic drive…’

In this there is the recognition of the tacit dimension, extended and deepened by a story of Hamelin Town’s gain and loss. The argument has been that it is the ‘tacit’ that provides the necessary basis for all other ways of knowing and understanding, and from where our passions and meaning-making arise. Music would seem to offer a remarkable example of this and indeed may well be in this respect, ‘sui generis’.



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