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 https://jfin107.wordpress.com/?s=PROVENANCE 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?

Note:

[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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A hard justification for music in the curriculum

In recent blogs I have posed three questions.

1.What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?

2.To what extent should the purposes of music education address the nature of music as a human practice historically and contemporaneously manifest in the world? (Ontology)

3.What kind of knowledge and ways of knowing should a music education be most concerned with? (Epistemology)

In last week’s blog I called upon Chris Philpott to contribute to the debate that these questions give rise to.

Chris used the hard-soft metaphor to lead our thinking towards leaving behind soft justifications for music as a curriculum subject and thus towards reconstructing music as a subject in which ways of knowing and understanding become symbiotically tied to the act of meaning making. In this Chris is ranging across all three of my questions above.

In pursuing the idea of a hard justification for music in the school Chris sets out a way of thinking about music and therefore how we construct music as a subject of the school curriculum.

Chris’s Hard-Soft dichotomy is important because it gets us to think about on what basis we value music, how we think about what is it? Music becomes much more than simply a good fairy that exists to shower us with blessings. Instead it is something rather more complex in the way it exists within a maelstrom of human action and meaning making?

Chris points out that music can be tribal, exclusive and enshrine prejudice; manipulative of behaviour; gendered; reflective of social structures; propagandist; and can enshrine ideology.

In this way of thinking, music is already in the world, living within complex webs of meanings and continually being understood and reunderstood, interpreted and reinterpreted.

Chris’s central claim is that music be conceived of as a language. This is tricky. Or at least it should be.

In this case it doesn’t mean that music the properties of speech, such as speaking tempo, vocal pitch and intonational contours, which can be used to communicate attitudes or other shades of meaning; nor is it to see in music grammar, syntax or dialect characteristic of a musical style; but more fundamentally to see 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.

So in this way music becomes ‘hard’, a subject of immense substance demanding critical and contextual thinking.

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 softness 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; and can enshrine ideology?

What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The constructing of music as a school subject

In last week’s blog I bounced off a BJME article to raise questions about what would make a sufficiently robust justification for music being in the school curriculum as part of an education for all pupils to the age of 16.

Justifying music in the school I suggested needed to go beyond popular causes like becoming a musician, achieving musical potential and even the beguiling idea of acquiring a strong musical identity. [1]

I asked three questions.

  1. What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?

The question attempts to take thinking beyond the populism of much current discourse within music education or what is called ‘the sector’.

Last week I proposed that in response to this first question two more questions are uncovered.

2. To what extent should the purposes of music education address the nature of music as a human practice historically and contemporaneously manifest in the world? (Ontology)

3. What kind of knowledge and ways of knowing should a music education be most concerned with? (Epistemology)

It is these questions that need to be addressed in the ongoing construction, reconstruction and justification of music as a school subject.

Below Chris Philpott contributes to the debate that these questions give rise to by considering the ways in which, typically, music as a school subject has been constructed and by implication the ways in which it has been justified.

The construction of music as a school subject

  • What I call a hierarchical dichotomy where the arts, including music, are a balance to the harder and more disciplined sciences.
  • Instrumentalism: the notion that music somehow serves some other greater economic, numerical or literate ‘good’.

There are two seemingly contradictory nuances to this construction. Firstly, there is the construction of music as an amelioration and counterpart to a more rational and (more important) scientific world promoting a stratified, hierarchical epistemology that militates against the arts. Such a construction adopts a dualism that has subjugated music (and the arts) beneath other ‘harder’ subjects thus establishing a hierarchical dichotomy.

However, while on the one hand music is constructed as a ‘soft’ subject whose strengths lie in our inability to ‘measure’, paradoxically it is justified for its transferable and measurable impact on other aspects of our life. In a culture of accountability politicians who ‘sponsor’ initiatives and statutory curricula are attracted by evidence that can show the potential impact of music on wider educational success and thus economic good.

These notions have done music no favours, and one reason for this is that there is

  • No confident discourse surrounding the nature of musical knowledge – one that is understood and is fluently expressed amongst teachers and music educators; a confident discourse surrounding musical understanding; a confident discourse surrounding musical meaning. Quite apart from music being only a softer amelioration to a harder world, the meanings of music are complex, they’re dirty and they’re hard, and I think the justifications in the past have been very much over-sanitised in terms of why music should be in the curriculum. Part of the reason for that is this lack of confident discourse. [2]

In music education there is a lack of confident discourse surrounding the subject’s ontological (what music is) and epistemological (how we come to know music) foundations. And this is a matter of some urgency.

There is a ‘bring back knowledge’ wave sweeping through our schools. Senior leaders are asking of their music teachers to set out the musical knowledge that constitutes the music curriculum and Ofsted in their new-found interest in knowledge will be presenting an attitude towards this. Knowledge will be coming your way.

Clare is a music teacher in a Cambridgeshire school and is part of her school’s working group on a knowledge-based curriculum. Clare tells me how she is growing in confidence in articulating the complexities of the nature of musical knowledge. She is being listened to. [3]

Notes:

[1] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/and-all-shall-be-musicians/  for a critique of the ‘all shall be musicians’ mantra.

[2] An extract from a paper presented at the 2014 Camden Town Music Education Symposium. For a full expression of the argument see Chris’s chapter ‘The justification for music in the curriculum’ in Debates in Music Teaching (eds) Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce. Rutledge: London.

[3]  Clare recommends reading  https://jfin107.wordpress.com/?s=musical+knowledge; https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/embodied-musical-knowledge/; https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/knowledge-creativity-music-education-and-making-special/

 

 

 

 

In praise of the British Journal of Music Education

‘The research highlighted the tensions between different conceptions of the purpose of music education and in particular the nature of the curriculum.’ [1]

This is just one of several valuable discussion points made in the report of research carried out over a three year period into the relationship between informal learning and musical progression. It is the case of Musical Futures Champion Schools. (I recommend subscribing to the British Journal of Music Education and reading the article in full.)

For the teachers involved progression was expressed in terms of pupils

Demonstrating higher levels of attainment

Developing a wider range of musical skills

Developing a good understanding of a range of musical genres

Having mostly exceeded my expectations when it comes to improving their musical skills

Fulfilling their musical potential

 

For the pupils the development of their musical skills was expressed in terms of

Becoming a better musician

Learning to listen to music differently

Doing thing things as well as others

Feeling confident in music lessons

Having good musical skills

Having achieved a lot in music lessons

Thinking they are a musical person

‘Overall, teachers reported that Musical Futures had enhanced the progression of their students and increased take up at Key Stage 4. In some cases this had led to changes in the qualifications on offer with an emphasis on those which were vocational rather than academic. This created some tensions in catering for the needs of different groups of students who had a range of different musical skills.’ [2]

But back to the top and those tensions between different conceptions of the purpose of music education and in particular the nature of the curriculum.

The statements above provide examples of purpose and I select three which I think are popular and immensely attractive, and sound sensible reasons for engaging in the practice of music, and self-evidently so. [3]

Fulfilling musical potential [4]; being musically skilful; becoming a musician – often expressed as achieving a musical identity.

But are these sufficient in the name of a music education claiming subject status in the school curriculum and sponsored by the state?

And perhaps as important, are they sufficient in the light of the national conversation about the purposes of education in general and the place of music in the school curriculum? Much of that conversation revolves around issues such as knowledge and culture.

Hence the question that is needed:

What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16? [5]

And which I suggest might form the starting point for conceptualising both the nature of music as a subject of the school curriculum and the character of that curriculum.

And so two further questions:

To what extent should the purposes of music education address the nature of music as a human practice historically and contemporaneously manifest in the world? (Ontology)

What kind of knowledge and ways of knowing should a music education be most concerned with? (Epistemology)

Perhaps the point to make is that rarely are such questions aired let alone discussed. And in the words of John Paynter:

‘Understandably, the tendency has always been for us to skip the philosophy and go straight to the ‘’meat’’: the ‘’things to do’’. [6]

The BJME paper ‘Can the adoption of informal approaches in school music lessons promote progression?’ is to be welcomed. And it must be acknowledged that the issue under consideration was ‘progression’. But the research does provide a vivid case of a current curriculum conundrum and so offers a source for ongoing debate about purpose and the nature of curriculum.

But is such a debate welcome? Will we continue to start, as John Paynter put it, in another place?

A look at popular conference programmes (e.g. Music Expo, Music Mark) would suggest that we will.

The existential struggle for recognition, the competition for scarce resources, the gadarene scramble for declaring what works, the uncritical adoption of promotional slogans and the exigencies of liquid modernity together easily crowd out and silence possible debate or much hope of taking time out to address purpose.

Such is the way of the world and of music education.

Ah! But we do have the British Journal of Music Education.

Notes:

[1] Hallam, S., Creech, A. and McQueen, H. (2017) Can the adoption of informal approaches to learning in school music lessons promote musical progression? British Journal of Music Education, 34:2, 127-151.

[2] ibid, p. 127

[3] The development of musical skills is the way many music teachers express their core endeavours.

[4] ‘Fulfilling potential’, a term much cited by politicians as a short cut for all manner of things. I don’t know about you but I hope my potential is never fulfilled.

[5] I am labouring the point that discussing the purpose of music education in general is distinct from discussing its purpose for all children and young people up to the age 16 as part of a general education.

[6] Paynter, J. (1982) Music in the Secondary School Curriculum. CUP: Cambridge. p. 14.

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

 

On the nature of musical knowledge

Stuart Lock‏ @StuartLock  10h10 hours ago

Just returned home from the most amazing @CottenhamVC Dance show. Super proud of all the pupils. Such hard work from pupils and staff.

Here is a head teacher, may I say with acknowledgement to twitter, celebrating his pupils’ knowledge of dance, a remarkably rich form of knowledge.

But what kind of knowledge is this?

Clearly not propositional knowledge, the true statement of facts, but rather knowledge ‘of’ dance.

But what does ‘knowledge ‘’of’’ dance’ mean?

In last week’s blog (https://wordpress.com/stats/day/jfin107.wordpress.com) I drew upon the work of Louis Arnaud Reid in establishing the primacy of experience-knowledge in the arts. Yes, knowledge by acquaintance or as Reid puts it, the ‘occurrent experience of knowing and coming to know’. [1]

The dancers were of course both thinking and feeling, knowing in their bones and through intuition gaining knowledge unmediated by conceptual thought. [2] And to use another of Reid’s concepts, ‘meaning was embodied’. [3]

For Reid, this kind of knowing defies expression in the form of propositional statements. It is simply not reducible to such statements. Statements of fact about dance or music are another thing altogether, as is ‘knowing how’, or as some prefer, ‘procedural knowledge’. And the idea of musical skill doesn’t come close either.

The occurrent experience of knowing and coming to know are the reason for engagement in music and the arts. This is why they exist. To speak of musical knowledge in terms of the propositional statement of facts alone is a gross dissembling.

Thus, it is regrettable that the current calls for the bringing back of knowledge, for knowledge rich curricular, appear to insist on the one form of knowledge, that is, the propositional statement of facts. [4] Yet, there is a knowledge much more powerful.

We can only imagine head teacher Stuart Lock and the audience experiencing the CottenhamVC Dance show as a delight. They were the dance while the dance lasted. And that is something to celebrate.

Notes:

[1] Reid, L. A. (1986) Ways of Understanding and Education. Heinemann Educational Books.

In last week’s blog I asked who would read the book ‘Learning to teach music in the secondary school’? In chapter 3 Chris Philpott addresses the question, ‘what is musical knowledge’? In the chapter the question is answered in relation to ‘the what, how and where of musical learning and development.’

[2] Reid uses the term cognitive-feeling as a way of conceptualizing pre-conceptual thought. He points out the reliance of psychologists on the concept of ‘emotion’ and the disregarding of ‘feeling’. Feeling, of course, has a cognitive component.

[3] Much of the world’s music is made without recourse to the propositional statement of facts. In our national system of music education there is a dialogue between different ways of knowing and coming to know ‘about’ music and we think this conversation is valuable.

[4] In the making of the new GCSE examination a new category has been created – knowledge. There is performance, composition, appraising and knowledge (In syllabuses this is expressed as knowledge and understanding.). Disappointingly, the knowledge here is knowledge as the true propositional statement of facts (wonderful things in themselves), a set of abstract concepts. This failure to pluralize knowledge is reflected in what is valued in the exam.

 

But will anybody read it?

‘It is commonly agreed that a main aim of education is the attainment and development of knowledge and understanding. The ‘knowledge’ which is sought is generally assumed to be what can be expressed clearly in true propositional statements of fact, of ‘discursive knowledge’ about history, geography, science, economics , technology …

The assumption is valid, as far as it goes, and these are important fields of knowledge. But is ‘knowledge’, ‘knowing’, the ‘cognitive’ to be identified with this, and confined to what can be said in ordinary or other symbolic language? Surely not. We speak of knowing through sense perception, of knowing people, works of art, the morally good and bad. We speak of knowing how. Yet we can not say adequately in clear propositional language what it is we know and understand in the various fields. Generally speaking our knowing and understanding of such things must, at least at the outset, be based on direct, personal, intuitive experience.’ [1]

Thus wrote Louis Arnaud Reid at the beginning of the preface to ‘Ways of Understanding and Education’.

Reid was responding to the proposal that all areas of knowledge, including music and the arts, could be understood as being rooted in a body of clearly stated facts. Musical knowledge meant knowledge about music.

Reid goes on to show how this reductive approach to the arts separates thinking from feeling, how music as embodied experience is lost to abstractions.

In our symposium ‘Learning to teach music in the secondary school’ held at this week’s RIME conference in Bath Chris Philpott, Gary Spruce, Carolyn Cooke, Keith Evans and myself presented the problematic nature of learning to teach music in the secondary school at this time in the face of so much reductive thinking that is abroad, and not least in relation to how musical knowledge is conceptualised. Official documents assume a unitary concept of knowledge. There is nothing of the richness that Reid was concerned with, that which is intuitive, felt, experienced deeply and the source of meaning.

In the symposium we were reflecting on the book that we had contributed to and which is written for beginning music teachers and indeed those more experienced. [2] We wondered who would read it, how it would be used and if ignored what would be in its place. Would the new music teacher simply feed from twitter chat, promotional blogs, official policy documents?

The level of critical debate amongst music teachers rarely rises above the mundane, the self validating and the self protective, and there remains the cry of what shall I do first period on Monday morning. And of course there are some marvellous exceptions.

Yet there surely is a thirst to examine matters such as ‘the nature of musical knowledge’; ‘the nature of musical pedagogy’ and the ‘nature of music teacher education’ and the relationship between these, a thirst to stand back and give serious thought to the why, how and what of music education. There is indeed much evidence of a thirst for knowing about musical pedagogy, but is this in the context of considering the nature of musical knowledge? I think not.

The book ‘Learning to teach music in the secondary school’ provides an opportunity to do this without losing contact with classroom practice.

The book is full of powerful pedagogic knowledge, buzzing with propositions about music education that call for thinking and intelligent responses.

But will anybody read it?

Well the book is in its third edition, so somebody must be reading it somewhere, or is it sitting on a shelf. I wonder.

Notes:

[1] Reid, L. A., (1986) Ways of understanding and Education. Heinemann Educational Books.

[2] Philpott, C., Spruce, G., Cooke, C. and Evans, K. (2016) Learning to teach music in the secondary school (3rd. Edition). Routledge.