HMC Cluster Meeting

We hosted an enjoyable HMC Cluster meeting at my school, City of London School for Girls in early June. I enjoy the conversations about what and why we do the business of Music Education and we all agreed, after spending a few hours hearing from two provocative speakers (Aaron Williamon and John Finney) and the later conversation turning to more practical thoughts, that we should meet again and keep talking. 

John Finney (Cambridge University) explored how we can conceptualise music education, commenting that Key Stage 3 is often perceived as the ‘wasted years’, where challenge and progress can be absent. Through five case studies he was able to focus on questions of how we can encourage numerous points of departure in the classroom, facilitating students finding their own voices and responding with freedom. John sees music education as one rich in human interest, celebrating the otherness in musical cultures and imbued with ethical considerations. 

Classroom four was where John highlighted how we can achieve a deeper response in Music through the focus on human interest with musical objects that are complex and contextually rich. The lessons would ‘avoid early closure’. John’s reference to Richard Taruskin’s ‘Danger of Music’ highlighted his increasing interest in how little children can engage with writing about music. 

His overall message was one of embracing complexity, allowing time for a deeper response, and a response that came with flexibility and a sense of identity. 

Colleagues asked John about the restrictions of the curriculum, and John countered this by suggesting giving space to think was a form of rigour, and there was indeed more scope for critical thinking, and avoiding ‘saming’ musics of other cultures into the western art music mould. There were comments about the pressures of inspection and ‘box ticking’, and another colleague referred to the breadth of teaching music and how it engages with other areas (such as history, art history etc.). 

The mission of the research from the Musical Impact presentation by Aaron Williamon (RCM) was to investigate ways of enhancing the mental and health well-being of those training in conservatoires. The studies involved large numbers of students. The outcomes were revealing – perfectionism rife, students doing minimum exercise (not very good at planks!). Though Aaron was not able to share the next steps until the evaluation of the research is made public in the coming months it is clear it will be important reading for Music educators. 

John stayed at the end of the day to watch the results of the Year 7 Music Day at the Museum of London. He mentions his experience on his blog: ‘Yesterday I enjoyed very much the compositions of the year 7s of the City of London School for Girls performed in the Museum of London where they had been working all day and responding to ‘The City is Ours’ (see

There were eight newly created works, none of which I or the girls could possibly have imagined at the beginning of the day. Their teachers I imagine entered into the day without giving much thought to ‘learning’, rather more thought to the subtleties of their teaching and being sensitive to the personhood of their pupils. (I like the idea of teaching without learning. [3])’

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