Preserving a canon?

I keep returning to the forum post about the dumbing down of music in the classroom and seeing more comments that still negate the importance of content. As the work of the Prince’s Teaching Institute extols – it is rigorous subject-based teaching that is of real educational value and not the pedagogy-obsessed national curriculum. The content-less music curriculum is wonderful in allowing teachers the choice in shaping the curriculum to meet the needs of their pupils. I still fear ‘broad’ content means post 1960s, and primarily non-classical genres to some teachers. It’s great to see real breadth covered in A-level and in some GCSE syllabi, even if the repertoire is not always inspiring.

What would a content-rich curriculum for music look like? That I’m yet to contemplate fully but I think recognition of what the (or ‘a’) canon is and why attempts should be made to perpetuate its content. Why try and preserve a body of works in our teaching? To protect works of the western art tradition from ‘extinction’? Perhaps I’m suggesting we are akin to museum curators as music educators but curation is a skilful task; we can’t always be populating our lessons with recent works. It will create a generation of ‘culturally impoverished’ young people who possess little awareness of a musical world that many of our generation and before were taught. Why deny our young people an experience of classical music?

I’m not sure what has happened with regards to the progression between school and university study but I think the gap is widening; good music departments at university level offer a wide historical and cultural span to their teaching and I think we should endeavour to offer something similar. “Introduction to Music Studies” (2009, CUP) is a great book for getting a sense of music study at university level today. I think fostering links with the bigger picture of music study beyond the school context would help endure rigour is retained in the music classroom.

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