Musical autonomy revisited

I have been interested to see which of my blogs have been most read over time. There are two that stand out and still draw in readers daily. The one ‘representing musical experience’ written in honour of Jerome Bruner and providing deep insights into the bridges between musical experience and the ways in which we represent it through enactive, iconic and symbolic means. If you want to discuss musical notation acquisition then this is one place to start.

The other, ‘what is musical autonomy’? gets the most read prize.

There are three points that should be added in republishing this blog.

  1. It is not about ‘musical autonomy’ understood as the contentious aesthetic concept that raises music above its social-cultural existence. That is quite a different thing to
  2. The idea that we can become musically autonomous beings with the agency to act independently musically. Much lazy talk within music education latches on to this and that was my motivation for the blog. Perhaps the title was disingenuous.
  3. The blog deals with the educational aim of achieving rational autonomy. One obvious critique of this position is its rejection of human interdependence.

What is musical autonomy?

If a goal of education is to develop self-governing critically engaged citizens, and if this is considered fundamental to making a democracy, then there needs to be a carefully considered balance between autonomy and heteronomy. These are big ideas. First autonomy.

The idea of ‘autonomy’ emerged from the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, that time when we came to understand ourselves a bit better and imagined that with the aid of rational thought we could make progress and achieve a more perfect state of humanity. Most haven’t given up on this despite disappointments. [1] 

The idea of being an autonomous human being is very attractive. We take this to mean that we exercise the capacity for self-government. Our actions are truly our own. We have agency and we can act authentically. [2] Music teachers like the idea of pupils having autonomy over their music-making. Autonomy is thought to be a good thing and a worthy goal. 

But autonomy has an antonym, heteronomy, meaning ‘under the will of others’. This is interesting because until recently it was under the will of others that autonomy was thought to be achieved – the will of the school, the teacher, peers, examination boards, for example. 

Education’s big idea, the achievement of what has been called ‘rational autonomy’, expected a submission of the will to the authority of the past, its store of knowledge, know how and the formalities of the school.

This noble educational goal was to bring students to a point of rational autonomy through taking them beyond what they already knew or felt at home with. Education released the student from being bound to their immediate context and limited experience. Their thinking would become ‘context independent’. It was the school and the teacher who were vested with the authority to mastermind this process. 

Despite a common conviction that the music teacher can take their students from what they know (i.e. their music) to what they don’t know, this process of musical enlightenment has not proved successful for the majority. 

Now it is argued that heteronomy must give way to autonomy in order to make space for musical critical thinking and reflection to be achieved, and that this requires space in which students are able to express their opinions and to participate in the making of their musical cultural environments. [3]

While there is currently much energetic and enthusiastic rebalancing of the autonomy-heteronomy scales, little attention has been paid to defining the curriculum in these terms. The focus has been on pedagogy. [4] 

In Ronald Meighan’s view the place to start is to be clear about how the curriculum is defined. A conception of curriculum precedes pedagogy. [5] Three possibilities are offered.

Consultative Curriculum
Imposed programme; student given regular opportunities to input thoughts and feelings. Feedback can be reflected upon by the teacher and modifications made.

Negotiated Curriculum
Power sharing between teacher and student is increased, and where a common understanding is developed between both about the course of study that is to be undertaken

Democratic Curriculum
The learners create, deliver and review their own curriculum.

In the book ‘Masterclass in Music Education’ secondary school music teacher Eleanor Vessey analyzes the move from a consultative to a negotiated curriculum. [6] A remarkable degree of trust was built up between teacher and pupils opening up the possibility of an ongoing mature dialogue about how the curriculum might unfold. The teacher’s authority was enhanced. The pupils became self-governing and critically engaged and on the road to achieving musical autonomy. The Democratic curriculum beckons. 

Meighan’s model may be more useful than the ‘Informal, Non-formal; Formal’ one.

Notes:

[1] The Enlightenment project, as it is called, has come under severe criticism expressed in the move from modernity to post-modernity. Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘The Dialectic of the Enlightenment’ argues that the dominance of scientific rational thinking has served to dehumanize and instrumentalize society. Christopher Small’s seminal work ‘Music, Society, Education’ critiques the tradition of Western European music as being hidebound by scientific rationality.
[2] The idea that we are free to act authentically is of course challenged.
[3] See ‘Music Cultural Pedagogy in the ‘’Network Society’’’, Winfried Sakai at http://jets.redframe.com
[4] One example of the emphasis on pedagogy is Lucy Green’s influential ‘Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy’.
[5] See Meighan, R. (1988) Flexi-Schooling. Education for Tomorrow, Starting Yesterday. Ticknall, Education Now Publishing Cooperative.
[6] See ‘Masterclass in Music Education’, (Eds) Finney, J. and Laurence, F. 2013, Bloomsbury.Advertisements

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The struggle for the music curriculum

If music is to be a part of general education then any consideration of music education’s purposes needs to engage with wider educational debate.  And this will involve considering what conceptions of education we hold alongside our conceptions of music education.

Of course, conceptions of education and music education have never been fixed or agreed upon, rather continually contested. There have always been, as we might say, ‘interested parties’, groups promoting this or that as the desired purposes.

Raymond Williams proposed that the 19thcentury debate about the purpose of education could be best understood in relation to three such groups:

  1. The public educators (who saw education as a natural right).
  2. The industrial trainers (who saw education as a means of economic efficiency).
  3. The old humanists (who saw education as a liberal or humane way but not as vocational training).

Williams maintained that the school curriculum which emerged was a compromise between all three with the industrial trainers holding the upper hand. [1]

Gordon Cox, in his distinguished account of music education in England 1924 -1999, suggests that ‘the struggles between groups representing different conceptions of what musical experiences should be embodied in the curriculum, and to what ends the curriculum in music might be directed’ [2] can be understood with reference to analysis by Kliebard. [3]

In characterizing the groups who have competed in promoting what conception of education should prevail Kliebard proposes that there are:

1. The humanists, the keepers of tradition, tied to the finest developments of the Western canon, and committed to the traditional skills that were associated with it.

We might note the current interest in establishing a knowledge-based/knowledge-rich curriculum.

2. The developmentalists, committed to a curriculum in harmony with children’s real interests.

We might note the ongoing advocacy for a learner-centred curriculum.

3. The social meliorists, who maintain that schools act as major forces for social change and social justice.

We might note claims made by both 1 and 2 above in the cause of social justice.

1. Being the birthright of all and providing all with a particular form of high cultural capital derived from 1 above where social change would take a cultural restorative form, and

2. In liberating children and young people from the structures that prevent equity and the hegemonic power of 1 above.

4. The advocates of social efficiency, who believe that social utility was the supreme criterion against which the value of school subjects was measured.

We might note the 21stcentury skills movement and the linking of music education with the creative industries.

Of course, such typologies are not intended to be exclusive and I have barely used them to analyse the case of music education. Therein lies a task for the reader that I hope will  cause reflection on the purposes we each promote and the kind of curriculum we each desire.

Gordon Cox points out that while all this changes to some extent over time, it is the humanist tradition, (1) above, that has always been pre-eminent. Its relationship to academic status works powerfully in its favour in the case of music. (The new model music curriculum will demonstrate this presumably.)

One response to all this contestation is to seek out the dissolving of the types into one unified conception.

Alas, music education, like education itself remains, and is likely to remain a contested concept.

There are struggles to pursue and compromises to be made across what are for the most part irreducible tensions. [4]

Notes:

[1] Raymond Williams (1961) The Long Revolution. Penguin Books.

[2] Gordon Cox (2002) Living Music in Schools 1923-1999: Studies in the History of Music Education in England. Ash gate. Page 129.

[3] Kliebard, H. M. (1995) The Struggle for the American Curriculum 1893-1958. Second Edition. Routledge.

[4] The process of reforming the GCSE (2013-14) examination makes for an exemplary case of such struggle.Advertisements

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Appreciating Music

‘The national curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.’(1)

In response to this the first of the curriculum’s two aims, the new National Curriculum for Music proposes that ‘As pupils progress, they should develop critical engagement with music, allowing them to compose, and to listen with discrimination to the best in the musical canon.’(2) Elsewhere there is reference to ‘great composers’ and ‘the history of music’, reinforcing a commitment to a curriculum that conserves and honours the past – the best that has been thought and musically created – as a birthright of the educated citizen. 

The new curriculum is striking in its deployment of the retro language of ‘the canon’, ‘the history of music’, ‘appreciation’ and other prompts recalling the period following the Second World War when such language was common currency in our schools and when ‘music appreciation’ was a distinctive entity within the music curriculum. 

Classroom ‘music appreciation’ lessons involved listening to recorded music supported by a teacher underlining points of significance through talk and piano demonstration. It was a practice inherited from the pioneers of the music appreciation movement responding to the invention of the gramophone and the wireless at the beginning of the century. The intention had been to cultivate musical taste through the introduction of music from the classical repertoire not easily accessible to the average child. 

However, its introduction was not without some concerns, as seen in the Board of Education pamphlet of 1933, which noted:

‘…that singing of songs may be elbowed out of the syllabus by over-indulgence in Eurhymics; that listening to a wireless lesson leaves little time for the less colourful but very necessary practice of sight singing; that our children enjoy more and more culture and perform less and less music.’ (3) 

The rigour experienced through singing, sight singing and music reading was threatened by a time consuming and overindulgent music appreciation lesson as well as other novelties of the time. 

By the post second world war period the problem posed by ‘music appreciation’ was one of a narrowly conceived repertoire coupled with ways of teaching that were increasingly linked with pupil passivity and disaffection. One influential response came from the publication ‘Sound and Silence’ in 1970. John Paynter and Peter Aston’s 36 projects inviting creative experiment were interpenetrated by some 350 musical works. A fresh relationship was being struck with the past and its authority. The school music canon had become differentiated if not dissolved.

There now came the possibility of music being known and appreciated in the context of pupils’ own creative work. Disparate components of the curriculum could be seen in a more integrated light where the acquisition of skill, including the skill of discrimination and judgement, went in tandem with the development of pupils’ creativity. A die had been cast that opened up imaginative approaches to bringing an eclectic range of musical practices into close proximity to pupils’ own making and thinking and thereby furthering their appreciation of music.

Whether through approaches developed by educational outreach such as the LSO Discovery programme, where music from the orchestral repertoire came to be known and appreciated through compositional workshop-ing, or through newer forms of integrated practice derived from the informal learning practices of popular musicians, pathways to fuller appreciation of music have become many and diverse. 

Taking appreciation to imply learning to value, respect, understand, give due regard to music’s provenance and to do so with a sense of pleasure and even gratitude, we have a counterweight to ‘I know what I like’ and the contemporary search for personal authenticity. 

However, the proposal that an undifferentiated musical canon exists to be deferred to and appreciated, where there is a ‘one best’, is at odds with much that is vibrant about contemporary music education as it finds a synergy with the energy and fluidity of lived culture at the current time. It is to be hoped that the tensions created will be productive.

Notes:

(1) National Curriculum Framework. DfE, October 2013.

(2) Music Programme of Study for Key Stage 1-3. Department for Education, October 2013.

(3) Cited in ‘Music in Education in Thought in Practice,’ p. 282. Bernarr Rainbow with Gordon Cox, 2006, The Boydal Press.Advertisements

Music education and relevance to the interests of the kids

‘’It is one of the most deeply rooted superstitions of our age that the purpose of education is to benefit those who receive it. What we teach in school, what subjects we encourage in universities, and the methods of instruction, are all subject to one overarching test: what do the kids get out of it? And this test soon gives way to another, yet more pernicious in its effect, but no less persuasive in the thinking of educationalists: is it relevant? And by relevant is invariably meant ‘relevant to the interests of the kids themselves’.’’ [1]

Thus writes Roger Scruton, philosopher of both conservation and political conservatism. He has written on the aesthetics of music, on beauty, sexual desire, environmentalism and much more. His thought has surely been influential in the making of recent educational policy.

For Scruton culture is the ‘best that has been thought and written’. Culture is a form of knowledge. Culture is civilising. Learning to appreciate the best involves learning the right feeling. [2]

We need not subscribe to Scruton’s clearly argued position on culture, aesthetic value, the significance of the canon etc. to raise questions about the current enthusiasm for music education to be ‘relevant’ to the interests of the kids themselves’.

It seems that what is meant by relevant to the interests of the child in the case of music is relating to the music that chimes with the child, the music that they easily identify with, see themselves in. The music that readily confirms who they are, the group to which they feel they belong, the music they come to school with in their heads, their lived experience

Another perspective on what interests a child is given by Kieran Egan who shows how children’s interests are centred differently at different stages of development. [3]

First comes the mythic stage when children respond best to stories. Then the romantic stage when children are keen to gather facts about distant matters yet which relate to matters close to home. Next the philosophic stage, a time for developing generalisations and principles and finally the ironic stage, a sign of the mature mind, where focus shifts to the exploration of those instances which do not obey the rules.

In this view a child’s musical interests live alongside other interests and ways of understanding. Young children enchanted by music telling the story of the Pied Piper and year 9 drumming, dancing and singing an apartheid song are examples.

For Egan, it is the development of human interest that is important where ‘relevance’ is a matter of connections made and this can be with what is strange, alien, unfamiliar as well as familiar.

Scruton maintains that education is for affirming, sustaining and growing a particular set of cultural values. It is duty bound to maintain a conversation between the past and present and that while teachers love their pupils, they love knowledge more. Education is subject centred not child centred. The example of engaging with what is of human interest above is unlikely to persuade.

However, while we may not agree with Roger Scruton, we ought to be able to articulate something more than ‘it’s for the kids’.

After all music education is hardly ennobled if we think it is only for the benefit of those who receive it.

Notes:

[1] Scruton, R. (2007) Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged. Encounter Books: New York. p.28.

[2] Chapter 3 of Culture Counts is titled ‘Knowledge and Feeling’ and deals with the goals of knowledge, types of knowledge, ends and means, knowing what to feel, teaching virtue, conserving practical knowledge and answering the critic.

For a fascinating debate on ‘culture’ see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOdMBDOj4ec

Scruton’s concept of culture is distinctly at odds with the anthropological concept of culture.

[3] See http://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/studying/articles/KE%20-%20Cognitive%20Tools%20of%20Children%27s%20Education.pdf

The role of Musical Imagination in the Knowledge-based Curriculum

Keynote given to the Listen, imagine, Compose gathering in the CBSO Centre Birmingham on Tuesday, June 25th.

Were you here at last year’s Away Day? I found it thought provoking and I certainly felt envigerated as I walked towards New Street Station for my cross-country journey home. But as the station came into view I was struck by the foil cladding on the station’s exterior. There was brilliant sun that day and New Street Station was ablaze with mulitiple reflections playfully defying easy comprehension. My imagination was in play and I wondered how that had come about. But that is past and here I must address the idea of the musical imagination, an idea central to the Listen, Imagine, Compose imagination? Are there helpful ways of thinking about this?

David Hargreaves and Alexandra Lamont report a potentially important theoretical advance in this respect, and one supported by the growth of neurological evidence. Imagination can be thought of as the basis for all musical perception and production …musical imagination, [which] consisting of internal cognitive representations, is at the core of both musical perception and musical production …’ [1]

Imagination is the essence of the creative perception of music. Imagination is at work in the activities of composing/improvising, performing and listening. Are we surprised by this? Probably not. Musical imagination is at the heart of our musical life. So, I started thinking, with the support of my imagination, about how we might encourage the musical imagination of our students. My starting point came from something I observed on last year’s day here. 

We had heard from composers that they had come to know ever more about their ways of working. Awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes we call meta-cognition and this we think our students should acquire. Without this they may well be doomed to eternal stagnation in developing and progressing as composers. That is, without knowing about their emerging and developing processes of making music, those that are productive and those that aren’t, little will be developed. So, some questions that might start the meta- cognitive process with our students.

Did you know you can imagine music?

Can you tell me about your musical imagination?

Did you know that in playing a musical instrument and in singing you are using your musical imagination? 

Next time you have an ear-worm, catch it. Before it wriggles away freeze it if you can. Play with it. It could be the start of something. Don’t throw it away. How will you preserve it, make use of it?

Next week come to your music lesson imagining some music. What if we put all the music that is being imagined into our musical pot?

In our music lesson next week we will do a lot of musical imagining.

A hundred years ago

In 1922 psychologist Marie Agnew carried out a novel experiment – ‘A comparison between the auditory images of musicians, psychologists and children.’ Marie writes:

‘By auditory imagery (usually called mental hearing) we mean the ability to hear sounds in imagination and memory to some extent as if they were physically present to the ear.’

Marie’s chief interest was in the strength of the musical image. In her tests subjects were asked to recall the final notes of the American National Anthem in imagination. One interesting finding was that unlike the musicians, the psychologists resorted to a range of movement strategies (finger pointing, arm waving) in order to recall the music).

So let’s all imagine the last five notes of our national anthem. Now play with those five notes. Play them slowly on a muted trumpet in the style of Miles Davies.

But as Hargreaves and Lamont show it would be mistaken to restrict musical imagination to only sound that which is not physically present.

Interestingly, only a handful of philosophers have attempted to grapple with the concept of the human imagination. In his review of what philosophers have arrived at Kieran Egan suggests that ‘Imagination is the capacity to think of things as possibly so; it is an intentional act of mind; a source of invention, novelty.’ [3]

Egan goes on to propose that ‘an imaginative person is one with the ability to think of lots of possibilities, usually with a richness of detail.’ But wait a minute, there is an important priviso. 

There can be no imagination without knowing something, without knowledge. We couldn’t have imagined the last five notes of the national anthem played by a muted trumpet in the style of Miles Davies without knowledge. Are we ever without knowledge? My three month-old grand daughter Mabel seems to me to be making and drawing upon knowledge of a kind. Mabel is not without her sucking and grasping schemas.

So what about this knowledge-based curriculum?

I think it helpful to know where it comes from? Wasn’t the curriculum always concerned with knowledge?

In 2014 there was a shift in official policy with the stating of a freshly conceived aim for the curriculum. It is interesting to compare it with the previous curriculum. 

The curriculum of 2008 should enable all young people to become:

• successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve

• confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives

• responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society. [4]

And now:

‘The national curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledgethey need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said, and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.’ [5 (my italics)]

It is only now, six years later that the full significance of this statement is being felt in our schools and increasingly by our music teachers. There is talk of bodies of knowledge, disciplinary knowledge, knowledge domains and knowledge organisers and with Ofsted’s new framework for inspection on the case. What sources might we look to in order to better understand this shift of emphasis? I suggest three.

1.The liberal-humanist tradition (The best that has been thought and said in the world…)

In Matthew Arnold’s essay Culture and Anarchy (6) he proposed that culture be the means ‘of getting to know, on all the matters that most concern us, the best that has been thought and said in the world’. 

Arnold introduces the idea of cultural touchstones, those works, and he was thinking chiefly of literary works, the great works of the literary canon, that were considered essential to securing civilisation. 

In the music national curriculum there is reference to ‘the best of the musical canon’. [7]

2.    Core Knowledge (cultural literacy; cultural capital)

In 2009 working in the Faculty of Education in Cambridge I was invited to be a part of group to meet with the then shadow minister for schools. In his possession was a heavily ear-marked copy of a book by E. D. Hirsch titled Cultural Literacy. We were asked what we thought about knowledge. How would you have answered?

The shadow minister’s thoughts were bound to the writing of E. D. Hirsch who maintained that an educated citizenary would be one that would share in the kind of understanding that would be required to understand the cultural references found in a broad sheet newspaper. For this to be achieved a curriculum would need to be clear about essential items of knowledge that would make the literate citizen. On New Street Station I would be able to sit with strangers and while not discussing Wagner’s Tristan chord  we would know and have experienced say Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Miles Davies’ Kind of Blue, probably not Stormzy. To know the best of the musical canon provides us with cultural capital. [7]

But there is a third source. This comes from the sociologist Michael Young and it connects in various ways with 1 and 2. 

3. Powerful Knowledge

Those who acquire powerful knowledge can see beyond their everyday experience-it is not reliant on context;

It frees us from living in the present; 

This knowledge is acquired in specialist educational institutions, staffed by specialists i.e. schools;

It is organised into domains with boundaries and these domains are associated with specialist communities, music being an example;

There is a strong boundary between out of school knowledge and that acquired within school. [9]

So, all in all we are now living with a freshly created discourse with potent propositions to persuade us of a course to follow. 

Knowledge is power;

Some knowledge is more powerful than others; 

There is deep and there is shallow knowledge;

There is disciplinary knowledge and this can be ordered and sequenced;

It is a knowledge-based curriculum that will provide for cultural capital, social cohesion and social justice.

For this dominant discourse to work there needs to be one way of thinking about knowledge. The knowing of this and the knowing of that. That this is a trumpet, a muted trumpet, for example, is a form of knowledge easily set down as an outcome of learning and a contender for the knowing of essential facts. In the case of music the tendency, let me emphasise tendency, is to make a list, a mono-cultural list of listening and performance repertoire that can be placed into a logical sequence. This is to the exclusion of what is contemporary, diverse and unsanctified by the dominant tradition. Creativity is viewed as an aspiration and deferential to the best that has been thought and said rather than being of the essence, a life force drawing us to music and driving it along. In the dominant scheme composing music is contingent upon knowing a lot of particular things. 

Are there other ways of thinking about knowledge, about what it is to know music?

Yes, there are many. My choice today is to invite Aristotle to give a lead through his three-part model.

1. Episteme

This is theoretical knowledge, a pure form of knowledge detached from practice (contemplation about  theories of music, for example). 

2. Techne – a form of craft knowledge-knowing how to make things – a reasoned productive state of mind (musical skill and knowledge are a unity).

3. Phronesis, leading to breakthrough thinking and creativity and enabling the individual to discern and make good judgements about what is the right thing to do in a situation. Practical wisdom. (Knowing how to make and do music well here and now.)

There is no hierarchy here. Theoretical knowledge is not at the top of the mountain. Each form is distinctive and has an integrity of its own. Neither techne nor phronesis are reducible to the theoretical.

And of course it is though composing music that we can come to know music in all three ways proposed by Aristotle. And a key part of this will be through the tasks we set bearing in mind that our coming to know will flourish with the musical imagination in play. [10]

Task setting and releasing the imagination

Project 12 of Paynter and Aston’s Sound and Silenceis titled ‘Short Sounds and Long Sounds’ is an exploration of the ways in which instruments have limitations as well as versatility in respect to duration.

Using instruments (but not voices), explore the production of long and short sounds. Which instrument is able to produce the longest sound? 

Shall we imagine a very long sound, a very short sound? 

What technique will give you the shortest sound? 

What possible techniques can we imagine?

Concentrate on the relationships between sounds of different length and silences of different length. 

Notes of any pitch may be used: it is the ‘shortness’ or ‘longness’ of the sounds which matters. Create a piece of music out of these sounds and silences.’ [11]

In accepting this exemplar the teacher of composition is given great responsibility and required to exercise a considerable amount of judgment. There is no script to follow. Just how much support will be needed? What will the teacher offer themselves by way of a model? How much information (know how) will be shared to enable work to commence, to spark imagination, to arouse curiosity? What kind of classroom climate will need to be engendered for motivation and musical impulse to be stimulated, for experiment and exploration to be embarked upon, for boundaries to be set in a way that both constrain and at the same time release imagination. 

In the example above there is an invitation to explore but there are constraints. 

Thus, in accepting Paynter and Aston’s assignment we have entered the truly secret garden of what is a complex dialogue between teacher and pupil, pupil and their medium, and the creation of musical knowledge.  

What are you now imagining? What is this classroom like? What will the music emerging be like?

‘Imagination is the capacity to think things as possibly so …’

Three Questions

How do you make clear to your students the significance of imagination?

How can task setting with its interplay of freedoms and constraints open up space for imagination?

Can recognizing musical knowledge as existing in a variety of forms be helpful in reconciling a knowledge-based curriculum and imagination? 

Notes:

[1] Hargreaves and Lamont (2017)  The Psychology of Musical Development. Cambridge University Press. Page 49. 

[2] I regret to write that I have lost touch with this seminal paper. I am sure it is out there somewhere. 

[3] Egan, K. (2001) Imagination in Teaching and Learning. Routledge.

[4] See www.qca.org.uk/curriculum

[5] See 3.1 in https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-framework-for-key-stages-1-to-4/the-national-curriculum-in-england-framework-for-key-stages-1-to-4

[6] Arnold. M. (1869) Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Cultural and Social Criticism. John Murray.

[7] See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-music-programmes-of-study

[8] See, for example https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20041597

[9] See internet references to Michael Young and Powerful Knowledge.

[10] See for example http://infed.org/mobi/aristotle-on-knowledge/

[11] Paynter and Aston (1970) Sound and Silence; Projects in classroom music. Cambridge University Press. Page 53.

In Search of Music Education

Paper given at @TrinityLaban#TeachingMusician.  April 10, 2019.

You will have gathered that my perspective on music education comes from within the school. My heart is in a Key Stage 3 classroom. Now, to speak of music education is to speak of something that is much more than classroom music. Yet it is music in the school that continues to claim a central hold on the idea of an entitlement for every child and young person to be exposed to a music education. And earlier this morning, through the evolving thought of Christopher Small, I managed to stay within the bounds of what music as part of a general education for children and young people might be like, how it would need to ask the kinds of questions raised by Small: what kind of thing or activity is music, what is it for, what is its significance in the social and political life that we belong to, how is it emeshed in human culture, culture thought of as ways of living, ways of relating and making sense of our existence.

What I didn’t do earlier was to speak of official policy making, the role of the state in making a music education for all children and young people, in determining what is taught and how it is taught and for what reason. So now as counterpoint to what I set out earlier I will sketch something of the moving landscape that has been music education in recent years, highlighting aspects of official policy and responses to it that have led to those changes that have brought fresh opportunities as well as daunting challenges. I do this before giving some thought to the ways in which a music education might be more than learning to sing or play a musical instrument and expose some problems with the latest of offical pronouncements about music education as practiced in our schools? Or if you like, I ask what kind of subject is music? Is it a subject? In this way I may or may not be able to bring to the surface some fresh thinking about the state we are in today and some possible futures. 

Music Education and the Public Sphere 

In recent years all those of us who invest our lives in music education have become part of what is referred to as the music education sector. There is a uniqueness about this, for no other subject of learning and given a place in the education of all children and young people are deemed to constitute a sector. We hear nothing of the history education sector, the mathematical education sector, for example. 

The designation of the term sector is normally given to ‘a distinct part or branch of a nation’s economy or society or of a sphere of activity  … ’ [1]

Music education then is big stuff, and thought to be culturally, socially and economically significant.Furthermore, we hear increasingly of its transformational powers, its redemptive qualities and its role in furthering the cause of social justice. 

We also hear of its rapid growth as a participatory activity. In my home city of Ely, a small city, the now three community choirs flourish with one claiming an international reputation and thenthe Rock n Roll Ukulele group in its first year attracting more than 100 new members, most of whom have never played before. [2]

The sector’s umbrella organization The Music Education Council envisages: 

‘a situation where everyone in the UK – from 0 to 100+ is able to:

  • Learn about and through making music; 
  • Enjoy opportunities to make the music of their choice in a variety of settings; and
  • Experience the benefits that arise from making quality music’ [3]

Here is music education viewed as a vast arena of activity where, like sport, participation is the watchword and thought of as a facet of human flourishing. 

For our government’s part, and since the enactment of a National Curriculum for music in 1992, music has been recognized as a foundation subject as part of a general education. And governments of all hues have become acutely aware that music is something of a special case. Politically, music education needs to be attended to; for apart from anything else, there are both minor and major celebrities ever ready to speak loudly in music education’s name. Sir Simon Rattle and Pierre Boulez, we recall, had played a part in settling the disputes surrounding the making of a national curriculum for music in 1992. [4]

Into the Age of Measurement

But the John Major years that followed the creation of a National Curriculum saw attention paid not to music but the nation’s literacy and numeracy, and there was concern about the nation’s moral decline and significantly there was attention paid to assessment structures, that is, the measurement of educational outcomes, leading to an intensification of school inspectionand accountability. For the teaching force this meant that professional judgment could no longer be trusted if standards were to be raised. Standards were and remain closely linked to a core preoccupation of government – the need to demonstrate that attainment in subjects relevant to economic performance is high and rising, that is, those subjects designated as core – English, Maths and Science, for it is here that it is believed that the global race is won or lost. [5]

Music Education and the Political Will

With the New Labour government came expressions of ‘achieving full potential of all’, the individualization of the learner citizen, and for Tony Blair there was to be a Cool Britannia. Culture, media and sport minister Chris Smith noted:

‘The opportunities to explore the best contemporary culture and to express individual creativity are two vital components of any education system committed to developing the full potential of all its pupils.’ [6]

And in the Education White Paper 2001 Minister of State for Education David Blunket made a bold commitment in respect to music. There would be opportunity for all to learn a musical instrument under the flag of Wider Opportunities.

The main aim of this programme is to create opportunities, over time, for every KS2 pupil to receive a sustained period of tuition on a musical instrument or to receive specialist vocal tuition. The learning experience will allow every child to have first hand experience of live music, group singing, ensemble playing, performance and composing. The programme in schools should look to ‘normalise’ instrumental and vocal learning – so that every child considers him or herself to be a musician.[7]

I recall that amidst 1960s optimism Wilfred Mellers, John Paynter, Christopher Small had called for all to be thought of as artists, for all were endowed with creative capacities. To be as an artist was a part of who we are. And John Blacking in his groundbreaking study of the Venda people of Southern Africa had asked ‘How musical is Man?’ [8]Even those who were deaf danced to the music. And now all shall be musicians, an ambitious expectation placed upon music education.

What followed was in Howard Goodall’s view a music education renaissance. [9]Much energy went into the making of a Music Manifesto [10]promising a new joined-up policy for music education. 

In due course funding followed, a £32 million settlement, was directed towards enabling children of primary school age to receive instrumental tuition as part of a group, there was the Sing Up campaign which aimed at putting singing at the heart of every primary school and there were pilot projects replicating the principles of El Sistema. At the same time Musical Futures funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation disturbed the stagnant pond that was secondary school music, seeking to address young people’s disenchantment with formal music education by introducing informal pedagogies into the classroom. The New Labour years were coming to a close with music education was on the move. The Conservative government in waiting was awake to this.

In the year leading up to the 2010 British General Election the Conservative Party began taking a conspicuous interest in music education. The then shadow minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, an enthusiastic dancer of the Lambada, wrote in glowing terms of the work of a primary music teacher near to parliament in Pimlico. He also told of his own music education where at age 11 he had been introduced to Wagner’s Ring Cycle. And there was talk of bringing back orchestras and choirs in every school as a priority. [11]In place of the New Labour rhetoric of creativity, innovation and the significance of contemporary culture, the voice of cultural restoration came to the fore accompanied by a commitment to new levels of academic rigour and a reaffirmation of the authority of academic disciplines. ‘It is the study of academic subjects that our nation’s economic prosperity depends upon’, said Michael Gove, and, ‘Music is an enriching and valuable academic subject. Research evidence shows that a quality music education can improve self-confidence, behaviour and social skills, as well as improve academic attainment in areas such as numeracy, literacy and language’. [12]

A ringing endorsement indeed.

But as we were to learn, some academic subjects are to serve economic prosperity more than others. 

A National Plan for Music – the renaissance gathers momentum

Michael Gove had read the music education script of the New Labour years and without much ado Darren Henley, the then controller of Classic FM, was commissioned to review the situation. A National Plan for Music followed and was seen as an opportunity to reshape music education through identifying ways in which fuller musical participation could be achieved, how music education could become more inclusive, how inequalities of provision across England could be addressed. [13]

It was recognised that schools cannot do everything alone and that they need the support of local musical structures. Thus the vast majority of funding would be invested in music hubs. Music Hubs were to be the agents of change. 

Core aims

§  Instrument teaching and playing in ensembles;

§  Clear progression routes

§  Regular singing, choirs and vocal ensembles

Extension aims

§  Continuing Professional Developmentin supporting schools to deliver music in the curriculum. 

§  Instruments: Provide an instrument loan service, with discounts or free provision for those on low incomes. 

§  Experiencing music: Provide access to large scale and / or high quality music experiences for pupils, working with professional musicians and / or venues.

However, publication of the plan prompted significant criticism for its almost exclusive focus upon the primacy of compulsory performance training. With its suggested methods, ensembles, and music all based firmly in the western classical tradition, the Plan was thought to be prescribing a limited vision of musical learning based almost solely upon training in traditional modes of performance.[14]There was no mention of musical creativity, composing or the critical engagement with music. And special interest groups were quick to speak. No mention of music in the Early Years, no mention of music technology and no serious attention to the longstanding deficit in primary school provision, that is, in the education and training of primary school music teachers. And while a key principle was progression understood as movement to ever more rewarding ensemble performance, there was no thought given to the route ways to music in Higher Education.

The vision of the National Plan fed directly into the revised National Curriculum for music. As did a less than positive Oftsed report on the state of music in our schools. Reviewing evidence from inspection between 2008 and 2011 it was noted that: 

The quality of teaching and assessment in music also varied considerably. Examples of memorable, inspiring and musical teaching were observed in all phases. However, in too many instances there was insufficient emphasis on active music-making or on the use of musical sound as the dominant language of learning. Too much use was made of verbal communication and non-musical activities. Put simply, in too many cases there was not enough music in music lessons. [15]

‘Not enough music in music lessons’ – a gift to the headline writers.

Music itself as the dominant medium of learning and sometimes expressed after the manner of Modern Foreign Language teaching in terms of ‘music as the target language’ became a popular slogan in attempts to revitalise classroom practice. And I note on my twitter feed just this week

“In a class of 60 minutes, the students should be playing for 59 minutes.” ~ J. Chalmers Doane #talklessplaymore

The Call for More Rigour: the National Curriculum and Exam specifications revised

A reformed national curriculum in 2014 emphasized the development of talent and musicality, performance training, the reading of staff notation and the notion of greatness and the musical canon.Throughout the curriculum’s documentation there was emphasis on the concept of ‘the best’ as defined by the western classical tradition: ‘the best in the musical canon’, ‘the works of the great composers and musicians’, and ‘high quality live and recorded music’. [16]The political Right’s longstanding call for cultural restoration which had failed to bite in the making of the first National Curriculum in 1992 was now resurgent. [17]

In league with a reformed National Curriculum came revised GCSE and A Level Music specifications with the official call for more academic rigour. The proposed revisions of GCSE music proved contentious with a large swathe of music teachers pointing out the unsuitability of the proposals for many of their pupils. Social media saw debate about the purpose of Key Stage 3 and its relationship to GCSE. Was Key Stage 3 to be a time in itself or preparation for GCSE that only a minority of pupils would pursue? Is the house still divided? [18]

GCSE specifications in music were compared with those in Art and Design that, unlike Music, was to be assessed wholly on the basis of course work. 

In the case of Music, Ofqual, the examinations regulator, proposed ‘that marks for non-exam assessment in GCSE, AS and A level music qualifications should be 60 per cent, reflecting the balance between the practical and theoretical elements in the subject content.’

Were there no theoretical elements in Art?

Some music educators had long envied Art and Design’s easy complementarity of making and critique and the way that critical and contextual understanding was made manifest through the pupil’s processes of art-making. Why was music not conceived of in this way?

Different arts subjects have different histories, different trajectories. But could Music Education learn anything from Art Education? 

Fragmentation of the school system

But now twenty years after the first National Curriculum and twenty-five years after the inception of GCSE Music the landscape of schooling had dramatically changed. Now a national curriculum was no longer strictly an entitlement for all children and young people age 4-14, for schools designated as Academies and Free Schools there was a freedom granted from the National Curriculum. 

And in recent developments there are Multi Academy Trusts [19]that formulate their own particular brands of music education. Academies have sponsors and sponsors frequently have particular musical ambitions for their schools and their pupils and for wider musical culture. And some of these are considerable. Where this takes the form of heavily sponsored programmes of instrumental provision, it is not uncommon for all pupils to receive two music lessons weekly in years 7, 8 and 9.  Over the past five years I have observed how this works in the Isaac Newton Academy in East London Academy. The school’s sponsor is a Big Band enthusiast. All pupils are equipped with a big band instrument and each week in their big band lesson three music teachers enable the class to work in sections and all together to make big band music. There is another music lesson each work designated core and of a general nature and complementing the band lesson. The school’s first GCSE group, a third of the cohort, have achieved well. In West London is the West London Free School, dedicated to a classical liberal education, and like the East London school provides two music lessons weekly at Key Stage 3 and now with half of each cohort achieving well at GCSE music. No Big Band here but orchestras and choirs. And now there is the philanthropy of Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber whose Music in Secondary Schools Trust believe that young people’s lives can be transformed through classical music education. We offer free musical instruments, high quality teaching, and performance opportunities to over 3,700 students to improve their educational and social outcomes’. [20]     

These then are the new torch-bearers, but news comes to me from my twitter feed:

‘Daughter returns from school after receiving mock GCSE results today (in August style mock ceremony) with news that many are now required to drop PE, French, Art etc in order to have additional hours on Eng/Ma. Is this normal???’ 

And another tweet. This one from Gert Biesta:

‘When children become a liability for their school’s performance, education has come to an end.’

In too many places music and quite unlike the London schools I have drawn attention to, music may be no more that a part of a carousel, a once three weekly experience, a half-termly experience and no year 9 experience. [21]

So is the future of music education to be built upon philanthropic models? Might such beacons of flourishing that I have highlighted spread their enlightenment? At the present time such developments would seem to merely exaggerate unequal levels of provision as school performance measures shape curriculum priorities in the majority of schools and a general decline in provision. 

Music Education: State of the Nation

This reality is taken up by a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, The Incorporated Society of Musicians and the University of Sussex expressed ‘concern about the crises facing music education in England in particular… the overall picture is one of serious decline. If the pace continues, music education in England will be restricted to a privileged few within a decade, and the UK will have lost a major part of the talent pipeline to its world renowned music industry.’

The report makes eighteen recommendations. 

But hard on the heels of this report has come

The Music Commission and its vision for the music education sector

Launched by ABRSM in July 2017 at the Barbican Centre and chaired by Sir Nick Kenyon, the Commission brought together new scholarly research and recommendations for policy direction, guided by the expertise and experience of the Commission panel. Its final report earlier this year called for significant changes to the way that governments, music organisations, schools, teachers, parents and learners think and talk about progress and progression in musical learning.’ [22]

The Music Commission takes up the dominant narrative of our times, that of ever-greater and sustained musical participation for all, and understood as the source ofmusical identity, feeling musically competent and being identified by self and others as a musician. David Blunkett, we recall had promoted the idea that all shall be musicians. And now a persistent rhetoric. [23]But the key idea here is progress and progression.

Making Sense of Progress and Progression

So we are now asked to distinguish between progress and progression with progress, I assume, meaning the accumulation of musical learning as a part of ongoing musical experience and instruction – and progression as the longer view of finding a pathway that sustains a commitment to learning ensuring ongoing musical participation and in the Commission’s words, ‘the realisation of a musical life’.  From learning to play a musical instrument as part of First Access Schemes [24]to ensemble membership to mature musical participation and perhaps, just perhaps, enrolment on a higher education course in music.

For the music teacher in school the notion of progression until fairly recently had meant the movement of their pupils to the next National Curriculum sub-level and if inspected the requirement to demonstrate rapid progress in learning over a time scale of twenty minutes. The age of levelling and expectations of such observable micro-progress may have past but not the demands for data showing progress. And now we hear of children age 11 placed on their flight path to desired levels of attainment at age 16. [25]

At a fairly recent Music Education Council Seminar Mark Phillips HMI confessed to not knowing what progression in musical learning was other than the music teacher’s capacity to place worthwhile musical material/experience before their pupils. 

A Model Music Curriculum

The setting up of an expert group to devise a model music curriculum by School’s Minister Nick Gibb has caused more than a little turbulence. So much so that a letter has been written to the Department for Education protesting.

This protest has gained some media attention. [endnote needed]

A central issue in this is the question of who controls the music curriculum? And what kind of process should be adopted in the making of a music curriculum? And, now to the point, what part should a government minister play in this process?

John White writing more generally about the matter maintains that:

‘The proper vehicle for democratic control is a Curriculum Commission at arms length from ministerial interference, made up from interested sectors across society chosen for their impartiality.’ [endnote needed]

White is particularly concerned about arriving at a well-reasoned set of educational aims free from political interference.

The first aim of the national curriculum devised in 2013 appears to have been written by the barely hidden hand of the then minister of state for education, Michael Gove. Since that time the hand of partisan politics has become ever more transparent and now intensified with Nick Gibb setting in place the enactment of his music curriculum through the voices of hisexpert panel. [endnote needed]

In their book Education and the Struggle for Democracy: The politics of educational ideas Wilfred Carr and Anthony Harnett trace the ways in which the educational system became the work of the New Right in British politics during the 1980s. [endnote needed] However, even this analysis didn’t forsee the way individual minister’s personal agendas and zealously enacted convictions would underline this ongoing struggle for democracy.

John White’s expectation that interested sectors play a part in the democratic and inclusive process of curriculum making would seem reasonable.

In its place we now see the interests of selected sectors advanced to satisfy the minister’s personal agenda and thus diminishing hope of impartiality.

An organisation will be appointed to draft the model music curriculum which: 

supplements, but is consistent with, the programmes of study in the National Curriculum; 

ensures that pupils acquire essential subject knowledge such as musical notation, pitch, tempo and timbre and an understanding of the works of great composers;

sets out the detailed subject knowledge which pupils need to acquire in a clear sequence of steps that should be taught at each key stage; 

provides a structure for vocal and instrumental practice and performance; 

is consistent with best practice.

Is it that, in the myopic concern for achieving progress and progression, sight has been lost on a different idea, musical development as seen in the changing ways in which pupils exhibit musical behaviours, the changing ways in which they think about it, talk and write about it, think about it critically? 

Will all becoming musicians include learning to think about music critically? Could a music education be more that learning to play a musical instrument? Is it something more than musical participation? 

The Lost Dimension of the Music Curriculum

The English National Curriculum for Music 2013 opens with a ‘Purpose of study’ statement. Here we read ‘As they [pupils] progress, they should develop a critical engagement with music…’ [26]

I wonder what is meant by ‘critical engagement’?

To be critical is to be thoughtful, discriminating, analytical, reflective, evaluative, knowing, insightful and a symbol of becoming wide-awake to the world; musical experience calls for this. It calls for a growing awareness of what music is, how music is used, how music is given meaning and how meanings are continually negotiated and re-negotiated. It calls for a recognition that music has ‘human interest’; social, cultural and political. Without criticism music ceases to be a subject of significance.

I will present a classroom scenarios. 

Thinking differently in the time of Tsunami and the Arab Spring

As an undergraduate David had been schooled in critical musicology. With this in mind the opportunity was grasped to test out ways in which a class of year 8 pupils could be challenged to think about music differently, how their habitual ways of thinking about music might be disturbed. A sequence of music lessons with composing at the centre were presented to pupils as an enquiry structured by the question: what does music mean? David provided his class with what he referred to as provocative scenarios. His intention was to stimulate the student’s curiosity and questioning, as they embarked upon their composing.David writes about making music together as a whole class:

‘All students sat in a circle playing barred instruments. The first third of their piece  we created used the Japanese semi-tone major 3rd scale on B (B-C-E-F-A). Against the backdrop of a pianissimo rolled E, an F was gradually faded in and out, exploring the initial tensions of the tsunami. The B-C was then added to emphasise the nervous mood. All the notes gradually underwent a crescendo and were sustained fortissimo for a few moments before a sudden silence. A similar process was repeated, this time using a second, more blues-like Japanese scale. The familiarity of the sound led one student to interpret this section as the reaction of the international community.’[28]

And now another pupil has the idea of using the two scales at the same time. And so the lessons proceed in dialogic fashion, with the teacher skilfully leading the way provoking thoughtful questions that challenge assumptions about music and its meanings. And now the introduction of the composition task: to make a soundtrack for a montage of images of the recent Egyptian revolution using the Japanese scales. Why Japanese scales, some pupils ask? More dialogic work follows, with more thinking nurtured by the teacher’s gently teasing responses.

Neither scenario is commonplace in our school music classrooms and they may well offend the school of ‘talklessplaymore’. The kind of contextual richness in David’s classroom is not typically found, complexities are rarely embraced and the demands of school assessment structures frequently bring about the early closure of what is there to explore. 

Critical engagement thought of as arising from a critical pedagogy is of course not a lost dimension of the curriculum, it is a yet to be one and one that might provide a fresh synergy between music in the school and music in higher education. 

Final thoughts

In the twenty five years since the making of a National Curriculum for Music, music education has established a strong public persona and politicians have learnt to engage with it, seeking to support it andto ideologically shape it. From the promotion of innovation and a move to greater cultural democracy under New Labour, Michael Gove and subsequent Conservative policy has placed the neo-conservative nation-culture-social cohesion view of culture to work alongside neo-liberal marketisation and the fragmentation of the system.  And now a model music curriculum. Not a statutory music curriculum. Yet, it will be interesting to see how it comes to be marketed, how it will be food to the ever expanding world of music education consultants, oganisations that will be quick to offer new model music curriculum packages. Will it help to bring about that longed for entitlement to a good music education for all children and young people? Will it counter the forces that rage against it? Chiefly a system of schooling, despite rhetoric to the contrary, that through it high stakes accountability measures, remains directed towards the making of the citizen as a unit of economic production.

 


[1]http://www.bing.com/search?q=sector%20definition&pc=cosp&ptag=C26N0822D010817A316A5D3C6E&form=CONMHP&conlogo=CT3210127

[2]  https://www.facebook.com/RockingUkulelesEly

[3]  http://www.mec.org.uk

[4]  See ‘From the Nervous Nineties towards ‘’a long overdue renaissance’’’ in Rainbow, B. and Cox, G. (2006) Music in Educational Thought and Practice, The Boydell Press: Woodbridge.

[5]  The rhetoric of the global race emerged during the 1990s and became firmly attached to education.

[6]Smith, C. (1999) Forward to NACCE (1999) All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Cultural Education. London: Routledge.

[7]

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/355105/Schools_Achieving_Success.pdf

[8]  Blacking, J. (1973) How musical is man? University of Washington Press.

[9]See ‘From the Nervous Nineties towards ‘’a long overdue renaissance’’’ in Rainbow, B. and Cox, G. (2006) Music in Educational Thought and Practice, The Boydell Press: Woodbridge.

[10]See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/3863449.stm

[11]  From a now deleted website

[12]  Sources lost 

[13]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/180973/DFE-00086-2011.pdf

[14]  See, for example, Spruce, G. (2013) ‘The National Music Plan’ and the taming of English music education. Arts Education Policy Review, 114/3, 112–118. 

[15]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413347/Music_in_schools_wider_still__and_wider.pdf

[16]DfE (Department for Education) (2013), The National Curriculum for England,London: DfE. Available online at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-music-programmes-of-study

[17]See Shepherd, J., and Vulliamy, G. (1994), ‘The Struggle for Culture: a sociological case study of the development of a national music curriculum’. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 15 (1): 27-40. 

[18]This is a reference to a review of music education by Keith Swanwick in 1977. See Swanwick, K. (1977) ‘Belief and Action in Music Education’, In Burnett, M. (ed), Music Education Review. A Handbook for Music Teachers, Vol. 1. London: Chappell. The division was between child-centred and subject-centred ideologies of the time. A similar tension may still be prevalent.

[19]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/458632/governance-in-multi-academy-trusts_Sept2015.pdf

[20] https://www.teachingpersonnel.com/news/andrew-lloyd-webber-funds-music-education-62082616355

[21]http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39154242

[22]http://www.musiccommission.org.uk

[23]  It is common to see on social media images of children being assigned musician identity. 

[24]http://www.nmpat.co.uk/work-in-schools/first-access-whole-class-instrumental-lessons/Pages/what-is-first-access.aspx

[25]  The tracking of pupil’s progress is a dominating concern for schools in a high stake system of accountability.

[26]DfE (Department for Education) (2013), The National Curriculum for England,London: DfE. Available online at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-music-programmes-of-study

[27]This account of a music lesson in a school in rural Essex.

[28]This is taken from David’s in-depth study undertaken as part of his PGCE course.

Not another model curriculum dream.

No. I was there and wide awake.

This was the meeting of Music Mark members at the Music and Performing Arts Centre in Northampton. It was a consultation on the government’s model music curriculum.

The discussion was framed by the idea of four areas of music learning: skills, knowledge, understanding and experiences.

The exercises given sought to elaborate on the first three of these and to place them in a nine year trajectory through the key stages of the school curriculum. There was no discussion of the category, experiences. This seems rather odd, for without experiencing music there can be no musical education. I will return to this category later.

Discussions were lively and satisfying with some valiant attempts at conceptual clarification. It’s always good to know how each other are understanding things.

You see, I have come away, perhaps like some others, wondering about the categories that were presented.

But first I must say that it is to be praised that a model music curriculum will insist on the centrality of musical knowledge and the growth of the musical mind in the musical education of the nation’s children and young people. Without this there can be no music education.

Over the past fifty years a distinguished body of scholarship has contributed to understanding the nature of musical knowledge and how it is to be distinguished from musical knowledge reduced to matters of fact, a set of abstractions, true statements and ‘knowing that’, often referred to as propositional knowledge, the paradigm example being scientific knowledge and thought of as theoretical knowledge (Aristotle’s episteme).

A science curriculum understandably will be made up of the ‘knowing that’ variety. A music curriculum will differ in a significant respect. Musical knowledge as delineated through the scholarship of L. A. Reid, Swanwick, Scruton and Philpott and Spruce, for example, gives significance to the varieties of musical knowledge – knowing how, experience knowledge, knowledge by acquaintance, embodied knowledge, for example. Importantly none of these varieties is reducible to ‘knowing that’. 

Conceptually, musical knowledge can not be expressed soley or even predominantly through a conception of knowledge that is of the ‘knowing that’ variety.

But further still, Roger Scruton shows how knowing how can usefully be thought of as being interchangeable with skill. 

So no skills-knowledge dichotomy.

And as L. A. Reid shows, understanding is existentially interchangeable with knowing, with knowledge.

Those of us with extended musical educations will know people without such learning and who have very fine levels of musical understanding gained through, well, experiencing music. So what about the experiences category that is presented as an area of musical learning?

Is this the experience of music gained through singing, playing etc., through the makings and doings of music? I don’t know. Just what is understood by experiences? Is this a case of L. A. Reid’s experience knowledge?

Let us hope for greater conceptual clarity in due course.