No composing before Key stage 4!

There is abroad the idea, and now shaped into an ideology, that knowledge comes before creativity. Such is the fervour of this poisition that in the case of music this is taken to mean that children should be protected from the art of composing until they reach the age of 14. This is the age that marks the transition from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4 and when a requirement of the GCSE exam taken at age 16 is that music is composed and presented for examination.

By knowledge is meant knowledge about musical notation (and sometimes referred to as ‘the theory of music’) and knowledge about the music of composers from the past. It might encompass knowledge of how to sing and play well, how to sight sing, but I rather think this will not be included in this particular conception of knowledge.

In pronouncing ‘no composing before Key stage 4’ we see highly stipulative definitions of both knowledge and creativity.

In an act of music educational conciliation I offer the following – how to incorporate knowledge of notation into your teaching in Year 7 and how this can enable musical composition. And how to broaden conceptions of both musical knowledge and creativity.

Notation is often introduced through playing the keyboard or some other instrument. Often teachers are mindful that this shouldn’t be some kind of code cracking exercise but that this involves aural grasp of what is to be played, so let’s sing it first, think-imagine sound etc.

Or let’s approach this through sight-singing? Here are some ideas.

Sing songs that have characteristic use of simple time rhythms ta tate ta ta-a  = crotchet, quavers, minum.

I realize that this takes Year 7 back in so far as they are capable of much more complex rhythms. But stay with me.

Up my sleeve I have the slow movement of Beethoven 7 and the rhythm ta tate ta ta  etc. and its four two bar phrases [late correction].

Introduce pitch- soh, la, me as found in song repertoire; play with a variety of patterns and variety of rhythms;

Use a two-line stave with sight singing of soh-me-la (G,E,A) with hand signs. Lots of playing with this over time, drills and starters.

Move to staff notation still on a two-line stave with ta tate etc rhythms.

Whole class instrumental call-copy using EGA patterns. Then call-respond.

Compose say Marches (have a characterful title eg March to the …; March for a…) using EGAD (two four bar phrases or say two one bar phrases plus on two bar phrase) add drone or ostinato bass. Notate on two-line stave; play each other’s marches; add missing three lines; add treble clef.

Sight singing in two parts. Two part songs.

Listen to In the Hall of the Mountain King – tate tate tate ta etc; rhythmically notate …….

So, year 7 composing with much knowledge: knowledge embodied, knowledge of processes and if the pupils’ creativity has been awakened, thought of as a life force, then we might expect aesthetic knowledge too.

What I have offered is a closed form of music education but one that makes sense of pupils composing music before Key Stage 4 as a source of providing a rich and varied form of musical knowledge and with the possibility of nurturing the creative impulse.

We might now be emboldened to engage in whole class improvisation using Beethoven’s rhythm as a starting point. Perhaps playful improvisation might contribute to fluent and expressive performance of music in general. Thus we move from closed forms to open forms.

Perhaps we might be inspired by Grieg’s creativity and conceive of a workshop approach as seen here:

https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/working-with-the-hidden-hand-of-edvard-grieg/

Walford Davies, Master of the King’s Music  1934-1941 and Professor of Music at Aberystwyth University, is remembered in music education for his radio broadcasts for children at the beginning of the second world war. Music education historian Gordon Cox has this to say about his convictions.

‘His central concern was that ‘rhythmic melody’ could be regarded as a veritable mother tongue. He pointed to children who could rap out rhythm and develop four bar tunes: he had received such examples from four-year olds.

At the heart of his thinking, however, was the belief that written sounds were a trifle compared with the experience of the thing itself. The priority was first to teach children by ear, encouraging hearty team singing, then cultivating a decent tone, and developing the ability to sing by sight. But he was adamant that only when musical construction and design were addressed would ‘the full Hamlet’ be achieved. Therefore children should be given the chance to design their own tunes.’ [1]

Should not the ‘full Hamlet’ be available before Key Stage 4?

Should we not note the way in which very young children work on the songs their parents sing to them, playfully transforming the musical material?

Should we not note children’s capacity ‘to rap out rhythm’?

Should we ignore young children’s spontaneous song making so common in mid childhood and adolescence?

Should we really deny children’s creative impulse until the age of age 14 when music in school is no longer compulsory?

Should we not develop a plural concept of musical knowledge along with variegated notions of creativity?

Note:

[1] Cox, G. (2002) Living Music in Schools 1923-1999: Studies in the History of Music Education in England. Ashgate. (pp. 33-34)

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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

 

 

 

 

Musical engagement for what?

There was a time, perhaps at the turn of the century, when classroom teachers were observed in their teaching with a focus on the moment by moment attention of their pupils. Full attention was even considered to be an indicator of maximum learning. It was as if by appearing to attend equated with learning. A pupil’s gaze out of the window meant that the pupil wasn’t learning.

In feed back on their teaching teachers would be informed about the degree of their pupils’ attentiveness, and often in precise quantitative terms. While this particular reign of terror may not have been common, it is an example of the way in which what has come to be labelled pupil engagement became a marker of successful teaching and viewed as being co-extential with learning. Musical engagement equals musical learning.

It would seem that engagement has become a quick and easy label through which all kinds classroom activity can be justified, and a good selling point for particular methods and materials – ‘This or that will engage your pupils.’ – presented as an end in itself.

The promise of engagement erases … well … disengagement, a lack of engagement, dispirited pupils, pupil alienation.

My purpose here is not to bury the idea of engagement but to clarify what it might mean. And I must confess the origins of my own interest in the idea.

Somewhen in the 1990s Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory attracted my attention. I engaged with it. Flow theory offered some understanding of how we are when deeply involved in an activity, and music seemed to be a good example, so involved in fact that we lose all sense of time, distractions are excluded and self-consciousness disappears. One attractive element here was that engagement could be linked to intrinsic motivation, often thought to be some ultimate goal of education. [1]

In the case of flow I was thinking of engagement on a micro here and now time scale, that state of being where we are … well … deeply engaged in the music. But then I came across the term engagement being used on a macro time scale referring to pupils musically engaged over the period of a year meaning that during that time they were learning to play an instrument. These pupils may or may not have experienced flow. The term engagement here meant a commitment over time.

Unfortunately, research into the idea of engagement has failed to yield much in the way of clarification, except that there are three kinds of engagement: behavioural, emotional and cognitive. [2] This doesn’t seem to take us very far and begs the question, what engagement is for?

‘Engagement for what’ would seem to be a reasonable question. Is it sufficient to view engagement simply as a matter of pupil motivation, as getting involved, committed? The implication is that once engaged, then you are off rather like a motorist engaging a gear and releasing the clutch.

This would make sense if your view of music education is that of a teacher stimulating their pupils to make music and being the facilitator of musical learning as a sufficient end in itself. However, if your view of the teacher is of somebody who places substantive matters before pupils, musically worthwhile ones, then engagement would be seen as emanating from the pupil themselves in the act of understanding something significant.

So, are your pupils musically engaged? What is it that is engaging them? What are they coming to know and understand?

Notes:

[1] Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991) Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. Harper Perennial.

[2] See Frederiks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C. and Parks, A. H. (2004) School Engagement: Potential of the Concept. State of the Evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74. 1, pp. 59-101.

Choral reading

Talking, reading and writing about music is my straightforward way of thinking about the part music education can play in whole school literacy development. In my Aspects of Literacy blog (see  https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/aspects-of-literacy-in-the-music-lesson/) I placed these activities outside of the medium of musical expression itself. They were presented as the means through which we can think about music. Talking about music, reading and writing about it as means of extending musical understanding. That was my line.

But of course talking and speaking, can become the music too, as can reading out loud, and are closely allied to what in music education we refer to as vocalisation, thought by many to be the most elemental source of musical cognition. Vocalisation is the term we use to encapsulate the myriad ways of using the voice musically.

Motherese, rhyming, chanting, rapping, singing, reciting and choral speaking, for example, are examples of culturally embedded modes of expressing the musical impulse and sources of making meaning.

At the close of my Aspects of Literacy blog I recommended talking to the English teacher. The english teacher will know a lot about language and literacy. My experience of such discussion highlights the complexity of finding common ground such are the differing perspectives of the English teacher and the Music teacher. However, I have found these discussions nearly always enriching.

I recently had the pleasure of adjudicating a primary school poetry speaking competition. Here was poetry coming alive involving movement and drama and learnt by heart. I was pleased to tell my English colleague, Gabrielle Cliff Hodges, about this leading to Gabrielle telling me about her trying the approach of choral reading within her subject.

The term choral reading is used to mean a reading in which multiple voices are ‘orchestrated’ in order to construct a reading of a poem. Gabrielle told me how English trainee teachers create poetry anthologies through a process of using their voices like musical instruments to create their readings of different poems. In coming to decide on how to read the poems, groups find themselves arguing about meanings and the range of vocal qualities that can be brought to bear. Human voices are used like musical instruments to create harmony or dissonance, rhythm or counterpoint, hence a choral reading. [1]  Oh, and what about cadence?

All this reminds me of a way of working with vocal material in music lessons. We might call it orchestrating the song although that would imply the use of instruments. I have in mind song arrangement and not really the same as making a cover version.

The song/vocal material, as in the case of choral reading above, has meanings to be argued about alongside decisions to be made about the use of expressive devices in order to re-present it.

The song/vocal material is of course a form of poetry and we will have something to talk to our English colleagues about from the music teacher’s perspective. In turn listening to the English teacher will be instructive. And I know one school where time is allocated for perspectives to be shared and common understandings to evolve between music and English.

As is quite usual I am writing from a secondary music teacher’s perspective. How different must be the primary teacher’s perspective on all this. Or is it?

And do secondary school music teachers think of themselves as teachers of english? Ofsted expect music teachers to promote literacy in their lessons. But doesn’t this need to be handled with care even if ‘all teachers are teachers of english’.

I wonder, has my love of language come through my music? Anyway, wherever it came from I am grateful.

Notes:

[1] Gabrielle describes the process in more detail in a forthcoming article due to be published later this year.

 

 

 

 

Aspects of literacy in the music lesson

In last week’s blog I proposed that Richard Trauskin’s writing about Steve Reich’s Different Trains (mediated by the teacher) might serve as a central resource in introducing Year 8 to

contextually rich, complex material which keeps offering fresh insights and challenges’ and that ‘embraces complexity, resists early closure and allows time for pupils to explore unexpected pathways into deeper learning, responding with flexibility to follow new turnings.’ [1]

In seeking to find principled reasons for pupils to read about music I am venturing into the realm of ‘literacy’ and the use of language.

By language I mean words as the source of meaning and by literacy I mean meaning made through talking, writing and reading. I am using the term language fairly precisely and the term literacy narrowly. [2]

Since the mid-eighties all teachers have been exhorted to be teachers of English. Of the many possible contenders to assist in creating curriculum coherence, literacy has long been a champion.

I write after a period when the music education twittersphere has bubbled with a surfeit of proclamations determined to ensure that music lessons are musical – ‘is music the target language’, ‘how musical is your lesson’, ‘is your assessment musical’, ‘but was it really musical’, ‘were they musically active’, ‘what was the musical learning?’ And so on.

Let it be said that to live and spend time within the medium of music, to in-dwell musical experience is, we think, the essential core aspect of a music education. Other things, including the use of language, crucially support, yet at the same time can present dangers – too much talking about music when music can do the talking, too much valuable time taken away from the thing itself. And then the problem with the school’s learning walkers on patrol expecting that in music lessons pupils write down what they have learnt. And then there is the tyranny of the ‘key words’ movement. [3]

I am assuming that it might it be principled to read about music in a music lesson, before or after a music lesson and thus contribute to the pupil’s wider literacy development as well as enhanced musical understanding? And I am assuming that reading could act as the catalyst for talking and writing that in turn might further enhance and inform the making of music.

Inspired by my discovery of the relevance of Taruskin’s writing last week I offer ten more examples of source readings each of which could, like the Taruskin from last week’s blog, serve as a central resource in a music education interested in embracing complexity. And of course, why not talk to your English colleagues about all this. [4]

1. As Orpheus grew older, his music became more and more wonderful. When he went to the old place to play, all the animals and birds in the fields and in the forest gathered around him. Lions, bears, wolves, foxes, eagles, hawkes, owls, squirrels, little field mice, and many other kinds of animals were in the audience. … (From Orpheus and Eurydice in Favourite Greek Myths by Lillian Stoughton Hyde, 1930)

2. Music composed in an undisciplined style is always infinitely improved by the imposition of form, even if that makes it less immediately attractive. But music doesn’t have to be disciplined to be pleasant. Take someone who has right from childhood till the age of maturity and discretion grown familiar with a controlled and restrained style of music. Play him some of the other sort, and how he’ll loathe it! … (From The Regulation of Music, The Laws, Plato)

3. And then it happens. The house lights go down, leaving Holiday illuminated by the hard, white beam of a single spotlight. Suddenly you can’t get a drink … (From Billy Holliday Strange Fruit in 33 Revolutions Per Minute by Dorian Lynskey, 2010)

4. Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?

Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;

Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm

Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.     (From the Erl King, Goethe-Schubert)

5. Before sitting down to write, I often fast for a couple of days. This gets me into a clean, spiritual frame of mind, and opens me up to inspiration. I bring along a whole suitcase of titles and half written songs, and I take all my different instruments. … mainly I write with the guitar. … (From Me & the muse, Dolly Parton, The Observer Music Magazine 4.09.16)

6. Their performance space was Palmyra, the city of ruins left by Roman and other ancient civilizations and ruined further by the depredations of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The orchestra played pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and two Russian composers, Sergei Prokofiev and Rodion Shchedrin, in a second-century Roman amphitheater, the set for a 2015 film produced by the Islamic State that featured the execution of 25 people. The contrast was intended to underscore what Russia sees as its underappreciated role in helping Syrian forces liberate Palmyra from zealots and fighting on the side of civilization against barbarism. … (New York Times online)

7. The theory which I am putting forward posits a dialectical relationship between the two types of musical meaning identified. Musical experience in this model, cannot occur at all unless both aspects of meaning are in operation to some extent or other. … (From Meaning, autonomy and authenticity in the music classroom, Professorial Lecture, Lucy Green, 2005)

8.  Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today… Aha-ah…

9. O you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me, you do not know the secret causes of my seeming, from childhood my heart and mind were disposed to the gentle feelings of good will, I was even ever eager to accomplish great deeds, but reflect now that for six years I have been a hopeless case, aggravated by senseless physicians, cheated year after year in the hope of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible), … (From Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament)

10. Jim Morrison’s contribution to the music he made with the band he helped form, the Doors, was, by contrast to Zappa’s, almost entirely lyric: he was the classic, musically illiterate rock & roll singer who had to rely on his band mates … (From ‘The Modernisation of Rock & Roll 1965-75 in The Pleasures of Modernist Music. Ed. Arved Ashby, 2004)

Notes:

[1] See last week’s blog for Kathryn Jourdan’s teacher and pupil orientations.

[2] I am assuming that there is a strong relationship between language and thought and that talking, reading and writing play an important part in developing thinking – thinking about music.

On thinking see  https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/what-if-music-education-involved-thinking/

On talking see https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/talking-to-think/

I am not, let be emphasised, thinking of music itself as a language, a para-language, a pre-language, a meta-language or any other kind of language. I am not writing about musical literacy or multi-modal literacy. I am not writing about language acquisition. I am not writing about the ways in which music affects phonological processing or the way interventions enhance this. I am not writing about the reading and writing of music.

For a comprehensive account of Language and Learning Music see Chapter 4 of Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School by Chris Philpott, 3rd Edition edited by Carolyn Cooke, Keith Evans, Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce. Routledge.

[3] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/keywords/

[4] In talking to my English colleague I am learning about the history of choral speaking, orchestral speaking and much more.

The reader will think of many more readings and not least those that live in the huge store of song lyrics. And then all those stories that come with music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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’.