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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Music curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and the order of things

In last week’s blog I wrote about assessment in music education. As part of this I offered a working definition of assessment.

‘Assessment consists in evaluating or judging the value of something, or someone, in accordance with certain expectations, an idea or a reference, related to personal and/or shared values.’ [1]

I also suggested that assessment, curriculum and pedagogy exist in a symbiotic relationship, needing each other to live and speak. [2]

Ok, so let’s have a definition of pedagogy:

‘Pedagogy, understood as ‘the core acts of teaching (task, activity, interaction and assessment) framed by space, pupil organization, time and curriculum, and by routines, rules and rituals.’ [3]

Here we note that pedagogy is framed by curriculum. So it may be that curriculum has the upper hand in this three-fold relationship.

In my recent post (see https://wordpress.com/post/jfin107.wordpress.com/7065) I reported on ways of thinking about curriculum as developed by Carolyn Cooke and as set out in chapter 5 of the book Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School. [4] Here curriculum is viewed as ‘lived experience’.

All this prompts me to offer a definition of curriculum and in particular a music curriculum. Here goes:

The music curriculum can be defined as a dynamic set of musical processes and practices framed within historical and contemporary cultural discourse and dialogue that comprise the material musical encounters of pupils and teachers.

A definition that is partial and of course ideological. Discuss.

In the October edition of the Music Teacher Magazine Anthony Anderson makes a case for ‘Time to Think’ about the music curriculum and above all else the process of curriculum design. [5]

This call would seem to be prescient in view of recent utterances from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools.

(See https://schoolsimprovement.net/ofsteds-chief-inspector-amanda-spielman-discusses-findings-recent-research-primary-secondary-curriculum/)

Notes:

[1] Beauvais, M. (2011) Assessment: a question of responsibility. UNIVEST. Retrieved from http://dugidoc.udg.edu/bitstream/handle/10256/3592/Beauvais_en.pdf?sequence=2

[2] See Bernstein, B. (1975) ‘On the Curriculum’ in Class, Codes and Control, Volume III Towards a Theory of Educational Transmission, Basil Bernstein, Routledge and Keegan Paul.

[3] Alexander, R. (2005) Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. York: Dialogos.

[4] Cooke, C. (2016) What is a music curriculum? In Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School edited by Carolyn Cooke, Keith Evans, Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce (3rd edition), Routledge.

[5] Anderson, A. (2017) Time to Think. Music Teacher Magazine, October, pp. 47-48.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

The pleasures of entering a dialogic space

The dialogic idea has a long history and comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and guises. There is Socratic dialogue in which discussion works towards better understanding of where one stands on moral and political issues. And there is John Dewey maintaining that it is through the openness to enquiry and ongoing dialogue that the school can be a place where democratic principles are lived out preparing the child for their future role in developing a participatory democracy. (We see the respective influence of both Socrates and Dewey in ‘Philosophy for Children’ and ‘Enquiry-based Learning’.)

For Paulo Freire the dialogic principle is a means of emancipation achieved through bringing into the light the existential-political concerns of the oppressed as a way to awakening critical consciousness, while for Bakhatin the dialogic is viewed as the root of thought and language. It is this idea that is currently most influential amongst dialogic theories. Dialogic work is above all else about thinking together.

One influential application of the dialogic principle currently in evidence in some schools is directed towards rethinking classroom talk. The work of Robin Alexander [1] challenges standard methods of instruction – the drilling of facts, emphasis on recall and the imparting of information through cues. In its place is discussion and dialogue. Alexander defines dialogue (teacher-class, teacher-group, teacher-individual or pupil-pupil) as ‘achieving common understanding through structured, cumulative questioning, and discussion which guide and prompt, reduce choices, minimise risk and error, and expedite ‘handover’ of concepts and principles’ [2]. With this the teacher is released from the all too common deadening attempts at classroom interaction through sterile questioning and instead is offered a classroom where all can be engaged in thinking through talking.

The case of music

However, in responding to Alexander’s position there are two matters to note in the case of music. First, if music itself is our primary medium of thought and means of communicating, any consideration of dialogue starts with the idea of musical dialogue. This is what can happen when we improvise music or rehearse music together. Or when a conductor is responding to the responses of the players being led. Call it musical interthinking if you like.

Secondly, in music and the arts we may not be always interested in ‘reducing choices…minimise risk and error’.

And are we wanting to ‘expedite the ‘handover’ of concepts and principles’? Well, certainly there is an important place for this, yes, but here I am moving in a different direction. If you will come with me I want to think about the significance of creating ‘dialogic space’ as a principle of pedagogy for music. Space is of course a metaphor bringing together physical space, time and human relationships. But first some more thoughts about dialogue, each of which can be thought of as a feature of musical dialogue as well as dialogue about music.

‘A dialogue depends upon succeeding utterances and so can never be closed down.’ [3]

‘Listening well requires a [particular] set of skills, those of closely attending to and interpreting what others say before responding, making sense of their gestures and silences as well as declarations.’ [4]

‘When humans enter into dialogue there is a new space of meaning that is opened up between them and includes them within it.’ [5]

The above sentiments can be applied to the processes of making music, to musical utterances, what each other ‘say’ musically as well as what we say about music.

Wegerif speaks of ‘opening, closing, widening and deepening a space’ and this helps to think about the classroom and how it might be as a place where a space can be opened up, nurtured, not closed down or circumscribed by necessity. And unlike Alexander’s moves towards achieving common understandings and consensus we can now move in a different direction, for the opportunity arises for making meaning and the engagement of critical thought which will need some dissensus, not always consensus, different understandings, not always common understandings and some resistance to closure.

In my blog ‘Who will try a dialogic musical gathering’ https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/12/08/who-will-try-a-dialogic-musical-gathering/  I provided an example of how we might organise the sharing of responses to musical work without any intention to establish facts about the music or to come to any agreement about its character or how it is.

The February edition of Teachtalkmusic at https://teachtalkmusic.wordpress.com/ is hosting an experiment with a Dialogic Musical Gathering. You are welcome to take part.

References:

[1] Alexander, R. (2005) Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. York: Dialogos.

[2] Ibid, page 30.

[3] Bakhtin, M. (1981) The dialogic imagination. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.

[4] Sennett, R. (2012) Together: The rituals, pleasure and politics of cooperation, London: Allen Lane.

[5] Wegerif, R. (2011) Towards a dialogic theory of how children learn to think, Thinking Skills and Creativity 6: 179-190.

In praise of making and remaking

In my previous two blogs I gave thought to what became the parable of the Iron Men. In particular I attended to the title of Ed Finch’s original blog ‘Making and Re-making’. I did this because it captured a straightforward way of thinking about children’s creative capabilities.

The children worked mimetically, making and re-making, a process involving imitation and imagination, and with playful intent. They were a part of making something of value that was fresh to the world.

The process of making and re-making would seem to be what children do as a way of making sense of experience and I am reminded of a presentation given by Meryl Sole at the 32nd World Conference of the International Society of Music Education held in Glasgow, Scotland in July 2016.

I wasn’t at the presentation but it was enthusiastically recounted to me by members of http://soundcastle.co.uk/ as they sought to learn more about young children’s musical lives and their ways of being musical.

I have a copy of the abstract for the session and see that Meryl’s study showed children aged 2-3 making and re-making songs in the time between their parents singing with them at bed time and the children falling asleep. [1]

‘These songs were representative of their interactions with their parents and the bonds that they share through music.’ [2]

On Tuesday evening and following the launch of the http://www.inspire-music.org/Inspire Music Project at Morpeth Secondary School I recounted this to Emily Crowhurst as we walked to Mile End tube station. It registered with Emily straight away who made the connection with the way young children invent stories of their own at that alone time before sleep.

Wasn’t this impulse to make songs and make stories an example of children’s nascent creativity? Or indeed creativity itself?

Emily asked me what ‘nascent’ meant.

I replied that I wasn’t sure but that I thought it the right word before suggesting something to do with ‘birth’. We soon agreed on ‘coming into existence’.

These are examples of children’s propensity for making and remaking and which the teacher can work with.

Creativity is one of those big ideas like culture, nature, play and as such invites a great many uses and abuses and a gift to ideological positioning. It needs tending with care.

At the launch of the http://www.inspire-music.org/inspire Music Project we were introduced to examples of children making and remaking music, their mastering of musical techniques and practices, and bringing new work into existence. This is creativity.

Notes:

[1] Donald Winnicott understood such uses of music as working with a transitional object in the same way that children work with a blanket, a doll, a stuffed animal. The object served as a space in which to transition between internal and external reality. See Winnicott, D. (1971) Playing and reality. New York, NY: Routledge.

[2] Abstract: Toddler crib song: Repeating and recreating moments of musical bonding. Page 180, ISME Book of Abstracts 32nd World Conference, International Society for Music Education, July 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

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)

Who will try a dialogic musical gathering?

‘DLG (Dialogic Literary Gatherings) is a dialogic reading activity based on two principles: reading a classical literature book (such as Romeo and Juliet, the Odyssey, Don Quixote) and then sharing meanings, interpretations and reflections with the dialogic learning methodology. DLG are organised as follows:

Before the gathering, the class chooses a classical book of the universal literature, and agrees on the number of pages to be read before the next gathering; then, each participant reads the text at home and selects the paragraph he or she liked most or that caught his/her attention to share it in the gathering. During the gathering the moderator gives the floor to each participant, who reads aloud the paragraph and explains the reasons why he/she selected it; then, the moderator gives the floor to other participants so that they can discuss that paragraph. The same procedure is repeated with each paragraph for the full duration of the gathering.’ (http://www.schooleducationgateway.eu/files/esl/downloads/21_INCLUD-ED_Dialogic_Gatherings.pdf)

Could there be dialogic musical gatherings?

I once attended a meeting of a book club. I had read the designated book by Emile Zola and loved it. In the gathering, while there was a moderator present who had great knowledge of literary matters, not all spoke. In my case, despite my many thoughts about the book and lines of interest, my voice was quickly diminished by others who were clearly on the inside of literary criticism.

It wasn’t a dialogic literary gathering.

I recall being a teacher of PSHE (in order to fill my timetable) and using a dialogic approach I enabled group discussion of issues covered. I learnt how my role as a moderator could be minimal. The less the group deferred to me the fuller seemed to be the debate. The dynamics of the classroom changed, relationships different. For me this was learning to let go. Danny Brown tells about learning to let go here: http://www.squeaktime.com/blog/letting-go

Back to Dialogic Literary Gatherings – I have heard of a primary head teacher who is thoroughly enthused by this practice, first adopted by one his teachers and now spread to the whole staff. Will there be improvement in the children’s reading, in their speaking and in their interthinking?

So what about a dialogic musical gathering?

Let’s decide on a musical work to listen to. Mmm! Now a technical challenge. How to make it possible for all the class to listen to the music at home? Any ideas!

If we can find a way then the task will be to note a passage in the music that is of particular interest. This may well encourage repeated listening and progressively sharper focus. Back in class I think we will be able to manage the sharing of thoughts about the music.

Pupils will need to communicate musically as well as verbally.

I will trial this with my U3A Group.

Coda:

Three possible reference points for DLG.

The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas thought big about things and his theory of Communicative Action is no exception. The goal was to promote reason in a world where instrumental reason dominated, that form of reasoning that is dictated by ends, bringing things under control, achieving goals. This gets in the way of mutual understanding, democratic practices and a richer form of reasoning.

DLG models a democratic practice and at the same time touches Matthew Arnold’s “disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world, and thus to establish a current of fresh and true ideas.”

While connecting with Richard Shaull, who, drawing on Paulo Freire, Richard writes: “There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”