Rocks

Emily was coming up five and excited about our annual holiday in St Ives, Cornwall. St Ives had long become a habit and already Emily knew about the little shop in St Andrews Street where there were gems for sale. And soon after arrival that’s where we were looking for another gem or two to add to Emily’s prized collection.

Gem stones, things of great beauty, and for Emily of great aesthetic significance at this moment in her life.

In another place 8X4 are concluding their science topic on human relationships. They ask their teacher, a favourite of theirs, what is the next topic?

‘Rocks’.

‘Rocks … what has that got to do with anything?’, they say.

Mr. X will be taking you and he can make anything interesting.

In another place I observe a beginning teacher teaching year 8 and the subject is ‘rocks’.

The point of the lesson is to categorise rocks into three kinds…you know…Igneous ……

The lesson is dry, factual, cold, business-like…well…just rocks in three columns really.

I am sitting at the back of the class next to a quiet, studious girl and I venture to ask her what she knows about rocks.

Well, since primary school days she has been reading the magazine Gems of the Earth and in her garden there are some interesting rocks which she tells me about.

Back to copying down the three columns and learning those categories.

I am left wondering about where the subjective life of the child fits into a formal education that is school and that is concerned to impress upon the child an objective world.

Is the subjective life to be silenced?

Must feelings, meanings, thoughts, insights, curiosities be privatised?

More than finding your musical voice

According to Biesta one of the factors preventing the arts (music) from being properly educational is that the arts are promoted as an opportunity for children and young people ‘to express their own voice, to give their own meaning, to discover their own talents, to enact their own creativity, and express their own unique identity …’ [1]

In the light of an overbearing system of accountability where an audit culture rules, where opportunities for self-expression appear exceptionally constrained, this positioning of music education as antidote is attractive. Engagement, creativity, the child’s unique expressive voice easily become an unqualified starting point and end point of a music education.

While recognising the opportunities provided by a music education for children and young people to express themselves, to have a voice, or as Biesta puts it, ‘to appear as individuals in the world’ [2], expression in itself is never enough.

Biesta develops his argument by considering what it might mean to exist as a subject, a person who doesn’t simply do what they want to do, or who is concerned merely with shaping their identity, but one who learns that ‘to exist as a subject means to exist in dialogue with the world’. [3]

Biesta uses the image of infantile existence as opposed to grown up existence, the one placing ourselves at the centre of the world, the other in dialogue with the world. And it is in being in dialogue with the world that we learn not simply to follow our desires. [4]

I hope readers will bear with me for leading them into questions of what it means to exist, to be in the world, and in dialogue with it. But I do think it relevant to questions about what makes music education educational and what it might mean to be musically educated.

To be in dialogue with the world, (and now let’s say the world that is drenched with music and inhabited by music makers), involves learning responsibility for that which is different and strange, alienating and other.

In this way the musically educated person will be the one with an altered musical outlook rather than the one who has merely learnt to express themselves.

Notes:

[1] Biesta, G. (2017) What if? Art education beyond expression and creativity. In (eds) Christopher Naughton, Gert Biesta and David R. Cole. Art, Artists and Pedagogy: Philosophy and the Arts in Education.  London: Routledge. Page 14.

[2] Op cit

[3] Ibid, page 15.

[4] I am reporting Biesta’s argument in an extremely concise way and in danger of barely doing it justice. However, I hope something of its character is communicated.

What is knowledge rich?

The years 1965 to the coming of the National Curriculum in 1992 were a time of energetic debate on the nature of knowledge and the curriculum. The debate yielded a rich body of literature now little known and no part of today’s stuttering and starting conversation around the subject where the race to knowledge organisers, curriculum templates and the reprofessionalising of teachers as the new curriculum-knowledge bearers gathers pace.

‘… we must shift from seeing education as primarily concerned with knowledge to seeing it as primarily concerned with social practices’. 

(Hirst, 1993)

In earlier blogs, and responding to Hirst’s injunction, I worked with the example of bell ringing and mentioned the longevity of the varieties of Indonesian Gamelan playing; and pointed out that particular musical practices will have particular ways of being and thinking; they will have primers and principles, ways of knowing and becoming knowledgeable. But the proposal is not that all musical practices have equal value. There is the challenge of selecting from culture. Writing of musical practices Wayne Bowman notes: 

‘They are good only to the extent they contribute to human, or, in music education’s case, educational ends. No value (no, not even musical value) is ultimate, unconditional, good without regard for situational particulars or ends served. If and when music is good, that goodness is always a function of its contribution to ends beyond itself. The same is true of music education.’ [1]

The value of musical knowledge, in its many shapes and forms, is contingent. Martin Robinson recently blogged drawing attention to knowledge as being of an ‘uncertain kind’ and different to scientific knowledge. And drawing from Mary Midgley comes the idea that there might be ‘knowledge as knowing what to think, what to do, even not knowing what to think and do. This knowledge organised by values.’ [2] 

Yes, values, so distinctly absent from much of the current discourse about knowledge and the curriculum.

As Martin goes on to argue, much of the current discourse around knowledge speaks of a paucity of attention to the ‘value for what’ question.

Martin concludes that:

‘A knowledge-rich curriculum is values driven – and not just one set of values determined as right or wrong – but the difficult search through competing values that help us determine how we might live …’ [3]

I would like to think that there is some synergy here with Bowman’s 

‘ … we acknowledge and embrace musical experience and study as fundamentally ethical resources – as practices in and through which people wrestle with and seek to answer the vitally important educational question, What kind of person is it good to be?’ [4]

But let the arbitrator be an example that might deemed to be, in some sense, knowledge rich.

The account was written in November 2017:

As last Sunday approached I turned my thoughts to what music I should play before and after the morning service in the village church where I was to play. It was Armistice Sunday and there would be times of thoughtful remembrance in the service.

I felt sure that before the service I should play something solemn and fixed on Handel’s Largo as it used to be known. [5] However, I remained far from certain about what music I should play at the end of the service. Should it be bold, loud, triumphant, glorious? I wasn’t sure. By Sunday morning I still had no clear idea about what would be right. I did have the book in which Handel’s Largo featured amongst ‘100 of the world’s favourite pieces’ and my thoughts rested on several possibilities.

In the event, and as the service proceeded, I began to sense what would be right. There were the silences and I thought of my own forebearers killed in both world wars. There were poignant words read by a frail age-ed man and the final hymn was to be ‘I vow to thee, my country’.

I now became clearer about what would be right. I would play ‘I vow to thee, my country’. The congregation would make good sense of this repetition I thought.

As the time approached to play my final part in the service I again felt the mood of the place as I imagined the people’s feelings and sensibilities. And now with a sense of what was right here and now I drew the Lieblich Gedact stop [6] and played the first line of ‘I vow to thee, my country’ slowly and as a single line melody, the second line harmonised and so on with some variation and ending with a lone voice in the lowest of registers.

Later I reflected on what kind of knowledge I had been engaged in.

It wasn’t a matter of knowing that this is the case, these are the facts, here is theoretical knowledge [7] to be applied, but a practical form of knowing bound to particular circumstances drawing upon feeling and intuition to discern what was right. Thought was bound to feeling. It was knowledge that was experienced, felt, saturated with value and independent of concepts and categories and not translatable to any other kind of knowledge.

All this has great relevance for the music classroom and just what it is that is being valued (assessed) and for the ways of knowing that are being prized, for the ways pupils are making sense of their experience.

In response to the demand for a knowledge curriculum, for facts to lead the way, for knowledge to be reduced to statements of truth, for 100 pieces of classical music to be recognised and named, it is helpful to be reminded of a practical form of knowledge that I have tried to communicate above. This will be about learning and living out dispositions towards making music well, finding out what feels right so that all other manifestations of musical knowledge can be imbued with meaning, significance and placed with care in the order of things.

Notes:

[1] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/scholarly-paper-the-ethical-significance-of-music-making-by-wayne-bowman/

[2] See https://martinrobborobinson.wordpress.com

[3] Ibid

[4] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/scholarly-paper-the-ethical-significance-of-music-making-by-wayne-bowman/

[5] ‘Ombra mai fu’ from the opera Serse.

[6] See http://www.organstops.org/l/lieblichgedeckt.html

[7] Just to note that Michael Young’s Powerful Knowledge is theoretical knowledge.

Knowledge and creativity in conversation

For Michael Oakshott education is a transaction between the teacher and pupil. The teacher’s task is to engage the pupil in a conversation that brings inherited ways of understanding the world, made up as they are of distinctive human practices, into a conversation with the present. Conversation here is thought of both metaphorically and literally. Oakshott, a political conservative, is the voice of a dynamic form of traditionalism.

Many of the new traditionalists in our own time are exercised by the notion of creativity. Their claim is that if creativity is to be recognised at all then it is the reward for the acquisition of vast amounts of knowledge. And here knowledge is conceived of in a unitary form – propositional knowledge approximating to fact.

The real enemy lurking here, and why creativity is viewed as a suspect concept, is what is loosely labelled as discovery learning. Thus a dichotomy is set up in an uncompromising manner and crudely presented as a traditional-progressive divide. Knowledge good, creativity bad.

In this blog I will consider the complex matter of knowledge and creativity. It will obviously be very limited in its scope. Nevertheless it may at least help me to think more clearly and hopefully others too.

Knowing from the start

The first point to make is that humans from before birth have perceptual capacities that have knowing qualities. There isn’t a blank slate. We are never without knowledge. From infancy mental schemas are formed, a schema being a way of organising experience into a framework of knowing. The child comes to know how to manipulate objects, how to open a door by turning the door handle to the right and so on. For the infant, at least, these are action schemas and in the case of music manifest though gesture, whether vocal or bodily [Late edit: Susan Young has rightly pointed out that to claim ‘chiefly in vocalisations’ misses the wider perspective of gestural schema.] There is a musical mind developing in response to and with the support of the environment. The child’s musical gestures can be thought of as a nascent form of creativity, as symbolic gestures seeking to make sense and find meaning. [Late edits] The child’s gesturing is a way of knowing, a form of knowledge. Thus the child has knowledge to draw upon.

The child comes to school with songs and rhythms in mind and body. There is always material on which to work. The question now arises, and it is at the heart of the dispute – to what extent is this knowledge and the capacity to remake it (creativity) to be recognised in educating the musical mind?

The new traditionalists insist on the sustained transmission of codified knowledge, carefully organised into a logical sequence through direct instruction. Only then can the possibility of creativity be considered. Creativity, as mentioned earlier, is conditional upon the accumulation of a particular form of knowledge sometimes strangely referred to as the theory of music.

The case of exploring melody

Let me take the case of Project 18 in Paynter and Aston’s Sound and Silence titled ‘Exploring melody (1) Runes and incantations.’ [2] The new traditionalists are likely to immediately raise objections. Projects are hostile to ordered learning and why explore melody when it can be directly taught?

However, the Paynter and Aston project begins by making connections with music in culture and society. There is an anthropological basis for the exploration. It is rooted in human practice.

‘The project will explore melodies that arise naturally from words of runes and incantations’. [3]

The first assignment is for a group of about four people – ‘chant this rhyme together’ is the instruction.

The expectation is that with repetition this will become half-speech, half-song. Nascent creativity is drawn upon.

The teacher encourages this tendency to ‘sing-song’ but instructs that the pitch be kept low in view of the mystery of the words. And now the instruction is to work on it to make it into a dirge-chant perhaps accompanied by solemn drum beats.

The project continues and always rooted in musical social practices.

Conclusions

So here is an example of creativity nurtured by context and constraints that allow for imagination to work. What I refer to as nascent creativity is recognised and celebrated. There is space for the child to feel a sense of agency and to find meaning. And if you are looking for knowledge there it is in abundance, not a list of key words or abstractions but knowledge of different kinds, knowledge about music in society, about pitch, about melody, vocal cadence and phrase and the creation of musical character and meaning, as well as knowledge of culturally rich material. There is knowledge as experience, knowledge embodied, practical knowledge and most significantly, knowledge made through imagination and creativity as part of the transaction between teacher and child. Yes, a conversation.

The new traditionalists promoting knowledge-based curricula are likely to have only a faint understanding of the kind of relationship between knowledge and creativity as set out above.

To summarise. Let it be recognised that:

  • music is a human practice rather than a body of knowledge
  • musical practices exist to be conversed with, critical examined and refreshed
  • there exists an easy relationship between creativity and knowledge
  • there needs to be a space made if the child is to use imagination and find meaning
  • it is creativity that allows for knowledge to be made

Why explore melody when it can be directly taught?

Notes:

[1] Oakshott, M. (2001) Education: The Engagement and its Frustrations, in T. Fuller (ed.) The Voice of Liberal Learning. Indianapolis, IN, Liberty Fund.

For a thorough philosophical engagement with Oakshott’s paper and a healing of the traditional-progressive dichotomy see Sheppard, S. L. (2011) School Engagement: A ‘Danse Macabre’? Journal of Philosophy of Education, 45, (1)

[2] Paynter, J. and Aston, P. (1970) Sound and Silence. Cambridge University Press. Page 142.

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

Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here, 
as well as a Privacy & Cookies banner at the bottom of the page.
You can hide ads completely by upgrading to one of our paid plans.

UPGRADE NOW DISMISS MESSAGE

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

Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here, 
as well as a Privacy & Cookies banner at the bottom of the page.
You can hide ads completely by upgrading to one of our paid plans.

UPGRADE NOW DISMISS MESSAGE

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