Instrumental skills v musical knowledge

Music Mark @musicmarkuk

Great panel discussing Future of Music in Curriculum. @danfrancismusic @hantsmusichub @musicforall @aboorchestras @TrinityC_L #MusicMark2017

John finney‏@Johnfinney8 Nov 25

A Pandora’s Box. (Too) Many separate strands emerging and some conceptual confusions that need a whole conference to sort out. Fun to listen to. Thank you.

This was my twitter response to the Music Mark conference session of Friday last. The session was titled ‘instrumental skills v musical knowledge’. (See Anna’s crystalline after-thinking on the session.)

The session was once again seeking to create a coherent view about the place of music in the school curriculum so that its future would be secure and valid. In response to Dan’s blog which Anna read as Dan’s contribution to the presentation in his absence, the following questions have come to mind which might form the basis of the imaginary conference that I referred to above. There could be a number of others and I acknowledge that I will fail in doing full justice to Dan’s blog.

  1. What are the ends of a music education for all children and young people as part of a general education?
  2. What is the distinction between a knowledge-rich and a skills-rich curriculum?
  3. In what ways can classroom experience be ‘relevant’ to the lives of our pupils?
  4. To what extent is a music education concerned with the development of generic skills and dispositions thought to be of value to, for example, the creative industries, and more generally the future (creative) citizen?

These are mighty complex questions and I will only give a brief response here. It does really need a whole conference.

Ends

If ends are expressed as purposes I propose three.

  1. To equip all children and young people with the knowledge, skills, dispositions and understandings so that they will know how to make music well.
  2. To induct all children and young people into existing musical traditions and their practices of making-music with the potential for their regeneration and creative transformation.
  3. To enable all children and young people to become unique individuals, subjectively enriched and able to know a sense of personal freedom, even emancipation through making music well.

When we make music in the world we strive to make it well and if we have sufficient ‘know how’, ‘know that’, ’embodied knowledge’ and ‘musical knowingness’ we succeed. By achieving the end of knowing how to make music well we are in touch with the richest kind of knowledge possible. And we can confidently speak about a know-how-based music curriculum allowing the skills-knowledge debate to be transcended. The instrumental skills v musical knowledge dichotomy is dissolved.

Means

But to be really rich it will need more than making ‘my’ music well. It will require pupils to be introduced to and taught how to critically engage with a range of existing musical practices. Of course we will need to make judgements about which musical practices. I would say culturally significant practices.

I propose a dialogic approach that creates space for negotiation where the wisdom of the teacher and the musical minds of their pupils together create a curriculum. (Music teacher Eleanor provides an example.) In this process the teacher (and the pupil) have a responsibility to bring to the table challenging and even disruptive material – the voice of Cathy Berberian in Eleanor’s case, and for me Steve Reich’s Different Trains, Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit, Bob Marley’s Exodus, Schubert’s Erl King might be among my selection (carefully considering age and stage).

And now I am touching on relevance, that most slippery of concepts. My examples, and they are only examples, ooze with relevance because they are rich in human interest and are able to draw creative and highly personal musical responses from both pupil and teacher. The example of Different Trains is particularly rich. It is this kind of contextual richness that gives substance to music as a curriculum subject so that it is much more than learning to play an instrument, finding your musical voice or being a musician.

And now the question that is central to Dan’s blog.

To what extent is a music education concerned with the development of generic skills and dispositions thought to be of value to, for example, the creative industries, and more generally the future (creative) citizen?

One major confusion arises when skills (like knowledge) are talked about in an undifferentiated way. Is a skills-based music curriculum referring to musical skills or is it including what are labelled as 21st century skills and which are not subject specific but generic?

Dan is right to challenge the idea of music for its own sake and for nothing else. This is an untenable position. Wayne Bowman has a view on this.

I take the view that if we seek out the ends as set out in 1, 2 and 3 above, all kinds of benefits are likely to accrue (epiphenomena). 1, 2 and 3 above move beyond music for its own sake while not claiming to support specifics such as the creative industries or making the creative citizen of the future. This would be to make promises that can’t be kept. (To serve the creative industries, for example, would require a specialist component in a music education, that is, a vocational pathway and this is not the concern of a general music education.)

But then, you may start from quite a different place to my 1. 2. and 3.

Final thought

Ours is a liquid modern music education where it is near impossible to establish and maintain an agreed framework, where it is in a perpetual state of formation and reformation. Dan’s blog captures this state of flux and accompanying anxiety well. And it is for this reason, if no other, that we should attend much more to music educational ends or as I prefer, purposes.

But should ends determine means? Perhaps ends and means need always to be in  conversation with an ultimate eye on human flourishing.

 

Have you noticed that I now know how to make use of hyperlinks?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Practical knowledge and music education

In last week’s blog I wondered about the idea of a skills-based music curriculum at a time when there is an intensified discourse surrounding the idea of a knowledge-based curriculum extended to a knowledge-rich curriculum. [1]

In my blog I differentiated between ‘knowing how’ and ‘skill’. However, I have to say that the difference is close to being one of semantics. So musical knowledge thought of as ‘knowing how’ is worth pursuing as a significant but of course not the only way of thinking about musical knowledge.

I am particularly attracted by the idea of knowing how to make music well. In the world we see a lot of music being made well. In school this is not always the case as evidenced by a lack of fluency, expressivity and where there is a paucity of personal and shared meaning making.

The conservative culture critic Roger Scruton writing about types of knowledge makes a point of valuing ‘knowing how’ (practical knowledge, skill) and is thinking in terms of ‘technique’, knowing how to ride a bicycle, for example. Or we might say knowing how to create melodic patterns over a chord sequence. [2] Both knowing how to ride a bicycle and how to create melodic patterns over a chord sequence are intuitive processes, that is, not in need of theoretical knowledge (knowing that). In the case of the latter it will be what feels-sounds right. And this is a crucial part of developing aesthetic judgement and critical thought about music.

The current propagation of knowledge-rich curricula and its associated notion of cultural literacy is in danger of missing the heart of the matter. Their bodies of knowledge may all too easily become corpses.

Note:

[1] See Knowledge-rich teaching brings us all together, Mark Lehain, TES October 20, 2017, (30-31) for an exposition of how the knowledge-rich curriculum will ’empower students later in life.’

[2] Scruton uses the terms knowing how, practical knowledge and skill interchangeably. See Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged. Scruton, R. (2007) Encounter Book: New York.

The book’s sleeve notes that Scruton is ‘Boldly standing up to today’s nihilisms and debasements of taste. Culture Counts offers a noble and compelling defence of high culture and the centrality of rich aesthetic experience for a full human life.’

For Scruton knowing how takes us to knowing what to feel, knowing what are right feelings and to moral ends.

His argument deserves engaging with.

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.

 

 

 

 

So, does the music count more than the people?

Laura Mullaly
@LauraMullaly
Jun 16
Having a fab night at Homerton May Ball 2017 – Ceilidh and Silent Disco!! @Johnfinney8 where are you??! @HomertonCollege

 

In last weeks blog I cited Ceilidh and Silent Disco as possible examples of Thomas Turino’s category of ‘particpatory’ music making as distinct from ‘presentational’ music making.

‘Remember, ‘presentational performance … refers to situations where one group of people, the artists, prepare and provide music for another group, the audience, who do not participate in making the music or dancing.’ [1]

And ‘… participatory performance is a special type of artistic practice in which there are no artist-audience distinctions, only participants performing different roles, and the primary goal is to involve the maximum number of people in some performance role.’ [2]

Much institutional music education is predicated on the presentational mode of music making. I wonder if Turino has in mind a presentational approach common to North America in which high-quality concert performances lead the way based on a master –apprentice model of music education. [3] While this doesn’t seem to apply quite so well to the United Kingdom, when we examine the stylistic features that Turino’s ascribes to presentational music making we see, for example, characteristically closed scripted musical forms and organised beginning and ends, rather than short, open, redundantly repeated forms of participatory music, I think it does. [4]

For the presentational ‘Sound counts more than words. Music counts more than people.’ [5]

Laura went to the ceilidh and the silent disco intent on being musical where there were no artist-audience distinctions and where, like going to a party, you not only participate but also contribute to its success. The people count more or as much as the music.

In Cooke’s study of participatory music learning in a traditional society he reports on the Gaelic ceilidh as a model of social inclusion where community is engendered and individual identity celebrated. It makes room for all present, accomplished and less accomplished. Those present ‘endorse the sentiments of the song and the efforts and sincerity of the singer. [6]

In last week’s blog I suggested that music scholarship  provided a resource for music educators.

What might we take from being introduced to Turino’s categories?

  1. How could we rebalance the dominant presentational ethic with a participatory ethic?
  2. What would this mean for what is valued (assessed)?
  3. Could more attention be paid to music as a source of particular cultural values, the uses to which music is put in particular times and places?
  4. Could the music room be a place where together meaning and new knowledge is made?

Notes:

[1] Turino, T. (2007) Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. The University of Chicago Press: London. (p. 26)

[2] op.cit.

[3] Allsup, R. (2016) Remixing the Classroom. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis. (p.100)

[4] See Ibid. p. 59 for Turino’s full typologies.

[5] Allsup, R. (2016) Remixing the Classroom. (p. 100)

[6] Cooke, P. (1978) Music Learning in Traditional societies. In P. Leach and R. Palmer (Eds). Folk Music in School. ISME Yearbook, 9, 99-102)

 

 

 

 

Iris and the country choir singing for meanings

Iris is one month old and it is my turn to cradle her in my arms. Iris sleeps a lot and she is sleeping now. My movements sometimes cause a stirring from Iris and now she sounds out the quietest of cooes. I reckon it’s a high E and with my gentlest falsetto I respond matching Iris’s E. It’s an example of ‘motherese’, the word we use to describe these kinds of early childhood musical relationships. I told this little story at my recent time with teachers on the Trinity Laban Teaching Musician programme. [1]

I was very pleased to have been invited to share with the group a significant influence on my thought and practice. The invitation provided a challenge. Regrettably I would need to leave aside my first and formative teachers, my first piano teacher Mrs McNally and my first lessons aged 14, and my choirmaster Henry George who encouraged me to sing and play the organ, and my school music teacher who asked, ‘had I thought of opting for A level music’? (I hadn’t, but the question was sufficient encouragement for me to follow that path and on to becoming a secondary school music teacher). But then came to mind the transforming experience (and I don’t use the phrase lightly) of higher degree study and being introduced to a vast music education literature. It was news to me that there was a psychology of music, a sociology of music and music education, and I had been only dimly aware that music education had a history. I was to meet the thought of John Blacking, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Theodore Adorno, John Curwen, Emile-Jacques Dalcroze, for example.

I eventually fixed on Christopher Small and my reading his Music-Society-Education. [2] The encounter was not a Damascus Road experience but rather a slow burning fuse and only now am I realising the fuller implication of Small’s thought on the way I understand what music is and the implications for music education and of course on reflection its limitation.

In his seminal Music-Society-Education Small addressed the symbiotic relationships between music, society and education. Without understand how music is in the world, how it has functioned in societies past and how it functions here and now throughout the world, there can be no understanding of the role of music education in society.

The work provided the ground for Small’s subsequent thinking. In his next book, now little known, he coined the term ‘musicking’ and provided a framework of thought about the nature of music as a social practice.

Music of the Common Tongue published in 1987 has a sub-title: ‘Survival and Celebration in Afro-American Music’. [3] Here Small examined the search for identity and community of millions of Africans in the Americas through their encounter with a European tradition, taking from it what was needed to explore, celebrate and affirm who they were and who they might become.

[I told the group how depressing it was to continually meet with the woefully inadequate idea that there were two musics –classical and pop. What a relief to speak of Afro-American music and to imagine the richness and complexity of its infinite diversity, for example.]

It was in Small’s 1987 book that he makes clear:

‘My first assumption is that music is not primarily a thing or a collection of things, but an activity in which we engage … the act of musicking is central to the whole art of music the world over. In most of the world’s musical cultures this is taken for granted without even having to think about it; it is only the dominance of the classical tradition that obliges us to state it so bluntly.’ [4]

What a talking point.

Ok, yes, music is a thing. When I cooed to Iris my cooing was a sound, a physical thing, an object of consciousness, a thing. But Small rejects the objectification of music in favour of activity. In doing this musical meaning is detached from the musical work and its fixed intra-sonic properties and moved to the here and now of musicking. New relationships are created, new meanings experienced.

In his 1998 book Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening he writes:

‘Musicking creates a web of relationships between, and among, musical sounds and people situated in the physical and cultural space of musicking. Observing these relationships makes it possible to gain an understanding of the society that gives birth to musicking’. [5]

Thus, we are freed to ask the question wherever there is musicking: what is going on here?

All this has proved helpful to me and I have grown to love what is a kind of anthropological perspective on music and music education and to understand music education as being fundamentally relational in character.

A conundrum for myself and others is Small’s insistence that musicking has no moral dimension. It is not a matter of good or bad musicking. There is just musicking. The idea is ethically neutral. It exists as a conceptual tool.

Randall Everett takes up the problem in his argument for an open philosophy of music education. [6]

‘Small longs, like many of us do, for an open conception of music that is free of predetermination and prejudice and in which ‘’the value of the [experience] is tied to the consequences of the actual ‘event’ of musicking, and these consequences can not be determined beforehand, as they change according to the actual conditions of the ‘event’.’’ [7] But for teachers and learners who wish to work and play outside of prevailing norms, or for musician-artists who want to call attention to injustices and indecencies, Small’s vision is insufficiently venturesome, leaving critics struggling to articulate an open and inclusive concept of music education in which a multitude of values and perspectives intersect.’ [8]

Small’s insistence that musicking is to be seen as being beyond ethical consideration is out of tune with much contemporary philosophy of music education which sees music education as being essentially ethical in nature. Wayne Bowman, arguing for thinking of music education as induction into a set of musical practices points out that:

‘… musical practices like human practices are places where we learn and rehearse right action: where we learn to formulate and address the fundamental human question, what kind of person it is good to be, what kind of people we wish to become. Practices, musical and others, are where we learn our most important lessons about who we are and who we aspire to become. On this account, human practices [including musical practices] are profoundly important ethical resources.’ [9]

On Maunday Thursday I joined a rural Norfolk church choir to sing the plainsong/Vittoria St. Matthew Passion. My part was that of Jesus set in a low bass register which suited me well. Here was a case of musicking and for Small all who were present were part of this seeking to affirm a common identity. Most of the choir had never been in a choir or thought of themselves as singers until the recent formation of the group. In Small’s terms our musicking created ‘a web of relationships between, and among, musical sounds and people situated in the physical and cultural space of musicking.’ [10]

Thinking about these relationships makes it possible to gain an understanding of the micro society that gave birth to this musicking, and its relationship with a much larger society and how the coming together of people from three small village communities created meanings there and then. I think there was an ethical dimension to the event as there was to my recent cooing with Iris as we learnt about who we are and who we aspire to become.

Notes:

[1] See http://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/about-us/overview/the-teaching-musician

[2] Small, C. (1977/1996) Music-Society-Education. John Calder.

[3] Small, C. (1987) Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in Afro-American Music. John Calder.

[4] Ibid, 50-51.

[5] Small, C. (1998) Musicking: the meanings of performing and listening. Wesleyan University Press. p. 9.

[6] Everett, R. (2016) Remixing the Classroom: Towards an Open Philosophy of Music Education. Indiana University Press. p. 133.

[7]Odendaal, A., Kankkunen, O., Nikkanen, H. and Vakeva, L.. (2014) What’s with the K? Exploring the implications of Small’s ‘Musicking’ for General Education. Music Education Research 16, (2) 163.

[8] Everett, R. (2016) Remixing the Classroom: Towards an Open Philosophy of Music Education. Indiana University Press. p. 133.

[9] See jfin107.wordpress.com ‘scholarly work’, The ethical significance of music making. Wayne Bowman.

[10] Small, C. (1998) Musicking: the meanings of performing and listening. Wesleyan University Press. p.9.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mimesis in the parable of the Iron Men

In last week’s blog I drew heavily from

https://mrefinch.wordpress.com/author/mrefinch/

and wrote:

‘It was good to read something so concrete and real.’

Well, it wasn’t long before it transpired that the story of the Iron Bridge and the children dancing was fictitious.

To me this didn’t seem to matter very much. In fact it enabled the story to be thought of as a parable, the parable of the Iron Men. As a parable its potential for thought, interpretation and commentary was enhanced. In a sense it had become more real.

In the parable there comes a critical moment. The children’s headteacher writes:

‘My heart quailed, what would the children make of this? Men dancing? Blacked up faces? Accordions? This would not end well. I looked at them. They were puzzled but silenced. They stepped forward. Spaces were made for them. Shorter pupils were allowed through to the front. They became part of the crowd.

In the circle the noise became more powerful, the men and their dance more compelling, even reluctant children were drawn in. I looked around the crowd and saw my pupils silent and in awe. Transfixed.’

The children in due course re-enact the dancing in their school playground and this act of imitation or mimesis leads to an ongoing commitment by staff and pupils to refine the dancing and developing in the children fluency and expertise. In fact expert coaching is drawn upon and there is a final celebration of what has been learnt when the pupils take part in a festival of dancing in the community.

What strikes me most about the way pupils come to know, understand and appreciate a cultural practice is the role of mimesis.

Jurgen Habermas writes:

‘Imitation [or mimesis] designates a relation between persons in which the one accommodates to the other, identifies with the other, empathizes with the other. There is an allusion here to a relation in which the surrender of the one to the example of the other does not mean a loss of self but a gain and an enrichment.’ [1]

Mimesis then, and seen in this way, can be given high value. It is a human capacity of great significance. It was the source of the pupil’s making and remaking in our parable.

It was the source of their creativity.

Why is creativity being bracketed out of education at this time?

Why so much ugly talk of ‘drill and kill’ and so little of mimesis?

Note:

[1] Habermas, J. (1984) Theory of Communicative Action. Vol. 1. Trans. T. McCarthy. London: Heinemann.  (p. 380)

The impatient music teacher

It’s Steve Reich’s eightieth birthday year.

And the Cambridge Corn Exchange audience was expectant. Steve Reich would be there.

On cue at 7.30 the man recently included in the BBC’s tea-time Pointless programme as one of the fifty composers who had changed the course of music history, came on stage with Colin Currie to perform Clapping Music. Above is a performance by Reich and X in another place.

A quick internet search and you will find the score of the music and a free app for your phone to challenge your rhythmic performance skill.

The Cambridge concert culminated with a performance of Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, a fifty-five minute piece. The audience was ecstatic.

The experience served me well as I prepared to give my U3A session this week titled Steve Reich, Minimalism, Ways of Listening and Different Trains.

I am a newish member of the U3A group of twelve who meet monthly to listen to and consider music. As my first contribution I decided to present a topic that would be fresh to the group (they like this), and that I would start with the group clapping a simple rhythm and then, in two groups, seeing if we could phase it in the way that Reich does with his Clapping Music. My method, pretty orthodox, was then to listen to Reich’s Clapping Music.

As expected this provoked a good number of comments and questions from the group, all of which took us further into the minimalist ways of Reich.

I asked whether there were any changes in dynamics in the performance, a kind of leading question as I didn’t think there were. The music was in my view essentially mono-dynamic, Reich  eschewing a key mode of musical expression found in the music that I assumed the group to be most familiar with. However, in the event, group members pointed out subtleties in changing accents and there were questions about the shifting timbrel and dynamic qualities of cupped and uncupped hands. Oh and now there were questions about the music’s cyclical structure. Computational minds were at work.

But I was impatient, for I had a plan and I did need to get to Different Trains by the mid-point of the session.

For now, and in order to drive the point home that here was a different way of thinking about music, a kind of music that was not goal-orientated (and in a sense pointless), I needed to play a recording of the Prelude to Wagner’s Rheingold: 132 bars of Eb major – and with a goal in mind assisted by a steady crescendo, and unlike the Reich, creating expectations of future events, the first being Rhine Maidens coming into song. Ok, Wagner being minimal in a sense, but not in the Reichian sense. Hence ‘ways of listening’ in my title.

Point made or not I didn’t stop to find out for I was impatient. I had a plan.

I was forgetting my recent exhortation to ‘embrace complexity, resist early closure and allow time for pupils to explore unexpected pathways into deeper learning, responding with flexibility to follow new turnings.’

I was on the one hand eliciting responses that opened up complexities while at the same time ensuring early closures as I moved on keeping to plan.

In my blog  https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/interesting-musical-practices/  I had gently chided the GCSE OCR syllabus for having too much content, too much breadth, not enough depth.

What I had brought to the Reich session was enough for much more than an hour and a half. And this had led me to being an impatient teacher.

I was teaching without much grace.

You should read Danny Brown at http://www.squeaktime.com/blog/teaching-with-grace

That is, until we reached Different Trains.