ConTENT with CONtent?

Result day looms. I’m sure I’m not alone as a teacher in preparing to receive the news of my pupils’ performance. Contemplating results day in turn leads to thoughts of the new term ahead and the various performances and the schemes of work I’ll be teaching. I genuinely enjoy looking back on the previous year and celebrating successes but also areas where more development can take place. Results help here in giving summative assessment of how well pupils have tackled new topics and set works but of course are not the only measure of success. Choosing repertoire to study should not only depend on those that yield the best results but should be chosen to ensure we push our students to engage with repertoire that will challenge their musical understanding and allow them to demonstrate progression.

I think it’s essential teachers believe in and connect with the material they teach and as such my thoughts go to the repertoire I wish to explore with my classes as the starting points for next years work. I feel there is an obligation for me to present repertoire that not only engages and inspires my classes but ensures my pupils are exposed to the music of the canon. I believe in a subject-based curriculum where it is the content that drives the teaching and not concept. Concepts undoubtedly surface from any study of musical works and as such it is important to structure repertoire that will present concepts in an order that allows musical progression. Musical progression is too often defined in terms of practical and composing skills – which are indeed necessary skills of musicians – and these are important in deepening a pupil’s understanding of repertoire but there needs to be a body of core repertoire that we present to our pupils too. Such repertoire will allow pupils to acknowledge the history of Western art music – and it’s non-Western counterparts – and empower them to explore the ‘classical’ music world today.

The music that we study with our pupils needs to considered with care, but also needs to be studied with rigour and not superficially played – perhaps too briefly – to provide an example of a particular concept or idea. By using repertoire as a resource of ‘clips’ we diminish the artistry of larger works and need to think carefully about using excerpts too often. Pupils need to know that these excerpts come from a work and as such as we owe it to them to show them complete works as much as possible.

There can never be enough time to share every possible work of canonic music but it should be seen as a mission over the school-life of a pupil. GCSE and A-level specifications offer increasingly focused set works, and diverse ones, and doing our bests to be am ambassadors for the Western Art tradition – while acknowledging the diversity of music – seems an essential part of our work as school music teachers. I sometimes fear our own personal insecurities with certain music hold us back from sharing certain repertories – “they won’t like Monteverdi” – and there can be fascinating links to be drawn between musics not only from other cultures but between art music, folk and other popular styles. Above all we should show our classes there is one music and not a hierarchy of styles. One music for all listeners.

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