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.

Interesting musical practices

A group of sixteen secondary school trainee music teachers had noted that Indian music featured in a current GCSE syllabus and decided to explore the musical practices of India and the Punjab together as a group. There was already some knowledge of this within the group. Some had attended classical Indian recitals and there was knowledge that had recently been researched in preparation for the session.

I joined the group for the first part of the morning and had in mind the question:

How could a GCSE Area of Study that included the music of the Indian sub-continent open the minds of pupils to fresh ways of thinking about music and the ways in which it is practised?

What would it mean to view it as a socio-cultural practice?

How could its otherness be recognised?

I had written earlier about the dangers of ‘sameing’ that lead to an avoidance of the complexities of difference. (See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/gcse-music-and-the-dialogue-of-difference/) Was I making a fuss about nothing?

In Gary Spruce’s ‘Culture, society and musical learning’ chapter in the book ‘Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School’ he points out that recent music scholarship proposes that ‘ … music can be understood fully and by implication, taught effectively if only one takes into account the social, political, cultural and economic factors that impact on its production, dissemination and reception.’ [1]

In this view the musical features, techniques and processes of Indian Classical music can only be made sense of inside a much larger web of human worldly activity that is much more than a GCSE syllabus is likely to recognise. And much more than what is conveniently labelled as ‘context’.

‘Context’ would seem an inadequate way of describing what is being proposed. The idea of context allows this worldly-wise music to be reduced to an add-on-by-the-way category and with culture thought of as a way of life discounted.

Turning to the trainee teachers and their workshop, they were well into making Indian Classical music. I’ve long been fascinated by the alap with its tasting and testing of the rag and then the moment of change locking into the thing itself. I think I would want to explore this in some depth along with why this rag and how can it claim to possess a particular ethos.

How are such meanings socially-culturally constructed?

What political circumstances lie behind the need to fix musical meanings?

As I thought about possible talking points I was reminded of the industry that has grown up around GCSE Areas of Study, the bite size information packs and the vast store of information about the music of India that is out there. Alas, information is not knowledge of any variety.

One trainee wanted to know about how Indian classical music had changed over time. Were its practices time-bound?

Just how old is the classical Indian musical canon?

How do its religious roots relate to its developing structures?

What is the significance of cyclical patterns?

Then, of course there is Bhangra and Bollywood and more opportunity to

‘embrace complexity, resists early closure and allow time for pupils to explore unexpected pathways into deeper learning, responding with flexibility to follow new turnings.’ [2]

To offer such a rich topic as just one segment of an Area of Study would seem to be parsimonious by an exam board.

Notes:

[1] Spruce, G. (2016) Culture, society and musical learning. In (eds) Carolyn cooke, Keith Evans, Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce, Learning to Teach in the Secondary School. Routledge.

[2] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/08/25/music-education-through-the-lens-of-levinas-iv/

And  https://wordpress.com/post/jfin107.wordpress.com/5813

 

 

 

 

Worthwhile music making in ‘the wasted years’ [1]

Preamble

It is difficult to imagine music existing other than in context, that is, in relationship to human interactions in specific places and at specific times. Well, we could think of music as residing in a library, in a score or on a recording existing in some purified realm free from danger. Helpfully we have moved away from such conceptions of music towards focusing on the act of music making, what people-groups of people do in the world. But when we make music in the classroom we will be taking part in a process of re-contextualising what is a living practice. In the classroom it can’t be as it was or is out there. It can’t replicate the relationships and meanings made elsewhere at specific times and under specific conditions. We have no alternative but to re-present it. How to re-present it is a challenge.

Equally challenging is the responsibility for selecting what is brought to the classroom in the first place. Some criteria, implicit or otherwise, for what material is thought to be worthwhile will be in play. And values and beliefs will be exposed through the choices made. Teacher and pupil orientations will soon be evident.

Teacher and pupil orientations

Figure 8 and figure 9 in Kathryn Jourdan’s ISME handout address the orientation of the teacher and pupil respectively. Download accompanying handout here

Amongst other things, Kathryn proposes that the teacher

‘introduces contextually rich, complex material which keeps offering fresh insights and challenges’

and furthermore that the teacher

‘embraces complexity, resists early closure and allows time for pupils to explore unexpected pathways into deeper learning, responding with flexibility to follow new turnings.’

For the pupils’ part there is the call for

‘learning to be responsible to each other as they play, compose listen, craft, discuss together, leading each other into deeper engagement, facility and sensitivity’

and

‘to learn to stay in the encounter, resisting the desire for easy answers with which to close down learning.’

In thinking about all this my recent conversation with secondary music teacher Jo gave me insights into how this might be. Together we developed ideas about how to present to other teachers the possibilities opened up by introducing ‘contextually rich, complex material’ while keeping in mind infinite possibilities and the avoidance of early closure. Jo has been working with Steve Reich’s Different Trains with year 8.

Thinking Different Trains

Richard Taruskin writes:

‘’… in Different Trains (1988) Mr. Reich went the full distance and earned his place among the great composers of the century. …  Mr. Reich based the melodic content of the piece on the contour and rhythm of ordinary human speech. But in his case the speech consisted of fragments of oral history, looped into Reichian ostinatos, then resolved into musical phrases conforming to normal tunings, scales and rhythms of ‘Western music’, imaginatively scored for string quartet. These speech melodies were set in counterpoint with the original speech samples, all of it measured against a Reichian chug.’’ [2]

What if we presented the above for year 8 pupils to read? What sense would be made of it? You might say, ‘not much, it’s packed with sophisticated concepts’. I counted twenty-five! A lot of abstractions there. Please, not a list of ‘key words’. No, no, please. Handle abstractions with care.

But what is a speech melody? I guess year 8 know what a melody is and they have sung and imagined a good many musical phrases. Fragments of oral history? Counterpoint? Reichian ostinatos? String quartet? Not so likely.

Perhaps these will be things we talk about, ideas that become a part of our classroom discourse over time.

What do these pupils read in their English lessons, History, RE lessons? What would their English teacher say about the appropriateness of the above passage?

Well, a suggestion from Jo – what if we rewrote the passage above for year 8 to read or whichever group we might have in mind? And before they come to the lesson?

Taruskin continues by telling about the significance of the Different Trains. Reich’s childhood train journeys from coast to coast and the train journeys of children to Auschwitz.

I note above that Richard Taruskin places Different Trains in the 20th century canon of art music and Reich becomes a ‘great composer’. What a ‘talking point’. Jo’s pupils are well schooled in purposeful talking with ground rules well internalised. [3]

And there are lots more talking points. Who is a great composer? Who decides? What is art music? What is a canon? What’s your canon? Why does it change? Does it?

So perhaps the Taruskin text rewritten by the teacher could be a central resource.

Assuming there will be lots of reasons for making music in response to Different Trains, why would pupils have a reason for writing about their encounter with the music?

What narratives, musical and literary, will they produce as they develop their processes of making and how could these be shared with others?

What range of musical techniques might be taught?

How will technologies serve the musical impulses that arise?

At what points will Steve Reich be invited (metaphorically) into the classroom as a guest?

What range of intervention (disruptions) might the teacher prepare to help deepen and sustain the work?

What will mark the culmination of the work?

How will it generate fresh thinking, further possibilities, ideas about other good places to go?

How will the project be evaluated? What will be worth assessing?

Well, that’s enough. We should be ready now to ask one or two questions that will frame the project. Here’s one possible question:

How do personal histories become music?

Final thoughts

In Figures 8 and 9 Kathryn presents the idea of teacher and pupil orientations. How are each disposed towards encountering music? This I think is a helpful way of approaching the question of what is ‘worthwhile’ and one way of responding to Ofsted’s concern about the wasted early years of secondary school.

What contextually rich, complex material do you have to bring to the classroom?

How will you embraces complexity, resist early closure and allow time for pupils to explore unexpected pathways into deeper learning, responding with flexibility to follow new turnings?

I have presented the case of Different Trains. There are a thousand other possibilities waiting to be explored.

The continuity between projects will be the processes of making and thinking music and therein will lie progression.

Notes:

[1] See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/459830/Key_Stage_3_the_wasted_years.pdf

The report is based on observations in subjects other than music.

[2] Taruskin, R. (2010) The Danger of Music and other Anti-Utopian Essays. University of California Press: London. p.101.

[3] I am hearing from music teachers about the value of teaching their pupils how to engage in productive talk. For example, Karen in her Norfolk school is impressed by the way classroom conversations now seem natural. See blogpost March 22, 2014 for ‘Talking to Think’.

Mashing the Song Book

In last week’s blog (scroll down to view) I reported more about the establishment of music in the curriculum of the Isaac Newton Academy (INA) in East London. I had first reported on progress with their Big Band centred curriculum at a time when the first cohort of students was beginning year 8. The good news then was that the two weekly music lessons (one Big Band, the other core music) would be sustained through to the end of year 9.

I noted last week that a good proportion of students are now following a GCSE course in music, and I referred to the preparation for a Gala performance at the Barbican involving forty pupils.

But Greg, head of music, was keen to tell me about something that happened last term and that he and the department are wanting to better understand.

Greg writes:

At the end of a recent GCSE recital an informal 45 minute jam broke out, led by the students (though after a while the teachers couldn’t help but join in). Students began to play and mash together various songs that they had studied at Key stage three – Seven Nation Army, Sweet Dreams, Thrift Shop. There was a sense that the students were claiming this music as their own. The outpouring of joy was palpable (although a small number of students did not feel that they could easily include themselves in this musicking and so left.)

A similar thing happened when we took a group of thirty students from various years on a trip out. On this occasion the guest conductor was completely taken aback (even annoyed!) by such spontaneous music making and deemed it musical misbehaviour. As a department we have discussed this phenomenon. What are the conditions that have made this possible? Could we recreate these conditions with more regularity?’

One rhought I had was that what begins as spontaneous behaviour may well become a ritual. If that happens at INA then the ritual can be interpreted as a celebration of the INA Song Book and a merging of individual, group and school musical identity. The ritual would be as an emblem of identity. We await further developments.

Greg told me how the repertoire learnt throughout key stage three had come to be thought of as the INA Song Book. Year 7 students soon became aware that the music they were leaning was known throughout the school and older students were at hand to play alongside them.

This is how a musical community works. New comers’ participation is in a sense peripheral as they come to realise that there are ‘old timers’ and gate keepers of the community higher up the school. [2]

Six issues arise from my learning more about INA and its music.

  1. The music introduced to the students is East London vernacular. However, in working it into a Big Band frame we see a pedagogy of interruption. Meanings change, student’s perceptions are disrupted.
  2. The accumulated learning from both big band and core music lessons creates a school Song Book. A common unifying musical culture develops that hints at a community of practice.
  3. As students progress so spontaneous music behaviour emerges alongside increased levels of musical autonomy.
  4. Musical creativity is rooted in a performance tradition.
  5. The flourishing of music in the school is indebted to both philanthropy (generous supply of instruments) and a highly skilled, musically participating departmental staff.
  6. Many students at INA are members of the Islamic faith. This can create tensions between music in school and the faith community. The school and music department work to uphold an ethos of full musical participation. [3]

 

The landscape of secondary school music education is changing fast. While diversifying (some would say fragmenting) the system creates fresh models of practice, it produces inequalities and a music education that is arbitrary.

 

Notes:

[1] In my recent visits to secondary schools I have noted that ‘mashing’ as well as meaning ‘an explosion of contrasting things, stuck together’, can mean a medley of songs.

[2]  The term ‘community of practice’ is a popular one and too easily used. It sounds such a good thing. See  http://www.learning-theories.com/communities-of-practice-lave-and-wenger.html  for its theoretical basis. One of the conditions to claim the definition relates to the longevity of the practice.

What we can say about the INA case is that it shows a number of characteristics of a community of practice. There is a shared domain of interest and relationships are built in a way that learning from each other is enabled. There are oldtimers and new timers and there is peripheral participation.

We might ask what of future developments?  What will emerge as students make music post 16? Will there emerge a version of New Orleans Marching Bands within the wider community?

[3] Here is an issue of great complexity needing much more investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The making of an East London Song Book

The last three years have seen decisive shifts in educational policy in England. Counterpointing a National Plan for Music Education and the creation of Music Hubs are changes in curriculum along with new measures of accountability likely to affect the place of music in the curriculum. At the same time has come a rapid growth in Academies, the introduction of Free Schools, Studio Schools, Co-operative Schools and University Teaching Colleges, and some of these are designated Teaching Schools. With all this comes a review of educational priorities and fresh ideas about the organisation of music in the school. Here I report on the establishment of music in the curriculum of the Isaac Newton Academy (INA), just one example of how music in the school is being re-imagined in order to recognise instrumental learning as integral to general music education.

The above was written in 2013 and you can read more of that account John Finney – Music Mark Magazine – Winter 2013-2014

Or here:

John Finney - Music Mark Magazine - Winter 2013-2014_Page_1

2John Finney - Music Mark Magazine - Winter 2013-2014_Page_2

[1]

Now I have returned and find that large numbers of students have embraked upon their GCSE course and that preparations are underway for a Barbican Gala event.

It is the latter that I report on here.

Remarkably all 540 year 7-9 students auditioned for the 40 places. Repertoire had been placed on the school’s youtube site along with tutorials.

Tonight after school is the first rehearsal of the Gala Band.

12 saxophonists; 8 trumpets; 6 trombones; 6 percussionists; 2 keyboardists; 2 guitarists; 1 Eb bassist and 1 sousaphone player; 2 absent.

The rehearsal is fast paced, material chunked, call-copy, repetition, refinement; some kind of heterophonic mashing.

Talking to Greg afterwards he refers to the INA Song Book, the repertoire of songs introduced through years 7-9.

I usually pick music that the students will know.  Music that they have come across in their own musical listening (Problem, Shake it Off) or by discovering it through Core Music lessons (Umoja, Waka Waka, Big Band Bhangra, Time to Tango).

When picking pop songs I like to find instrumental examples by New Orleans style Hip Hop Brass Bands.  These performances tend to have an energy to them that can be inspirational to watch and the comparative conversations between the original song and the Hip Hop Brass Band versions can often be really interesting.  (We now have two Hip Hop Brass Band enrichments with over 100 students who sign up to them.  These groups are now branching away from instrumental covers of pop songs and individuals within them are finding, loving and learning original HHBB songs like Brooklyn and Overtime)
The arrangements are very often riff based with two, sometimes three, contrasting sections. There is usually a bass riff, homophonic backing rhythms and a melody (Dance wiv me). There is often an anthemic simplicity to the melodies that makes them sound successful even when played by multiple instruments (Crazy Love).
Sometimes we choose songs which are well suited to students arrangement either by mashing two songs up (Seven Nation Army & Sweet Dreams) or by mixing together two sections of a song or simply by messing around with the structure and texture. [2]
‘Get Lucky’ is a good example. It was an anthemic smash hit pop song that all the students knew by Daft Punk. There is a version of the song by Soul Rebels Brass Band which is really enagaging and has similar instrumentation to our classroom set up (minus the electornic instrumets). The song has three sections but has the same 4 chords throughout so three sections can be played at the same time and so students can create their own versions of the song. It has a bass riff, rhythmic backings and melody texture that works well.’
I leave with a lot of questions coming to mind.
More next week.
Notes:
[1]I am grateful to Music Mark for allowing the reprinting of the article Music at the Isaac Newton Academy published in the Music Mark Magazine Winter 2013-14.
[2] In my visits to secondary schools this week I noted that ‘mashing’ as well as meaning ‘an explosion of contrasting things, stuck together’, can mean a medley of songs.