How does it fit together?

What role does music(al) learning play in the music industry? Is it to promote engagement with music so they will become lifelong consumers of various musics through buying equipment/instruments to allow them to engage with the music (as a maker, creator) or to buy music through live event tickets, recordings, sheet music etc. Should it be an end to itself? Does it matter if someone who enters (a) music education should leave wanting to be part of the music industry as a consumer or even a participant that contributes and benefits from the music industry?

As a teacher of music I desperately wanted to share my music(al) discoveries with classes. I felt I was akin to the gentleman in BBC’s The Fast Show that would open a door, appearing to announce ‘This week I have been mostly listening to…’. Going to concerts, chatting with fellow musicians and other arts practitioners gave me an enduring supply of new knowledge to share, and to use as a springboard for curriculum planning and provide opportunities for students to engage with music.  I was the consumer of this knowledge, and would happily recycle it for my classes. I wanted to model a questioning, curious approach for students: I want them to rush off and make their own musical discoveries. I wanted them to return to me with discoveries they needed to share, so I could then reuse this knowledge with others, and so on. One such discovery was Christopher O’Riley. I had asked a class, about ten years ago, to bring in music they were fascinated by. One student brought one of Christopher O’Riley’s Radiohead transcriptions CDs. It launched many years of investigating this reimagining of material leading to articles and projects.

Students could join the source of inspiration for the teacher. This I liked. Arts organisations and music venues represent a repository of knowledge for me. I can visit these, like a library, to refresh my bank of experience to ultimately refresh the curriculum. The Learning Departments in these organisations seek to engage younger (or perhaps other particular groups) in their art form, providing opportunities to engage authentically and often connected to the programme of events taking place at the arts organisation already. It would make sense that the role of their arts education was closely linked to audience development – are they trying to create a sustained engagement with their art form through learning? Or are audience development and learning separate concerns without a symbiotic relationship? Is there something wrong a learning department seeking to encourage a particular group of potential audience to visit again, and become a consumer of the organisations’ produce? Or should the Learning Departments’ work be seen as an end to itself: to engage authentically but free from any need to encourage or coax a potential new audience to return to the venue again and start to purchase the produce.

Where do we fit in with all this as music teachers? Are we the ones who take the young people to Learning Department projects and act as chaperones? How do we become part of the process, rather than passengers? Create and Sing Carmen at Royal Opera House is one such project where the teacher becomes a practitioner, able to facilitate the project with the external practitioners. This seems a great model. Wigmore Hall’s Chamber Tots works on a similar model of training the schools to be able to take the lead with a project so there is a sustainability. Do teachers buy-in to the art form if they are actively engaged in the delivery of these Learning projects, rather than seen as the silent partner?

I question then, how much out-sourcing is viable, desirable, if at all necessary when we are keen to offer an authentic music(al) experience to students in schools? Should every project/unit of work be an opportunity to engage with an external practitioner or arts organisation? What does this say about our status as teachers of Music if we are working with authentic ‘experts’ to promote engagement? Should we feel threatened by external expertise, or is it justifiable to acknowledge we cannot know all musics intimately enough to deliver this music authentically to classes? Is it acceptable to teach music devoid of that authenticity? Does it matter?

As a Head of Department you are regularly in receipt of opportunities from a plefora of music education ‘businesses’; offering products, learning oppprtunities with their ‘experts’, new resourses to ‘save time’, new pedagogies that will ‘change music education’. Have teachers of music been bombarded sufficiently with these music education businesses to feel they are no longer in control, no longer the ones who can shape and lead a music education but ones who the consumers of the music education industry. Is our confidence knocked by so much opportunity that negates the need for us to seek out inspiration, seek out musics that might be worth sharing with our students?

As a teacher of music, we regularly evaluate what we offer. Is this working? Did they ‘learn’ something? Have they ‘progressed’? We’re doing this in the lessons, between them, years after them. That renewal and rejuvenation process is what makes teaching such an enjoyable profession. We never teach the same students year on year (‘you never dip your toe in the same river twice’) – well, not in the same point of their education. Comversations with some art organisation Learning Departments highlighted to me that this evaluative, reflective process is not enjoyed by them too. Music education projects might happen year on year, but some do not stop and ask ‘what happened? Did they achieve what we hoped? Was something else achieved? Should we change anything?’. This seemed a little ludicrous in some respects: how can money and time be invested in providing music education opportunities that no one reflects on? How can you keep offering the same experiences year on year and not check they are of the desired value? It also struck me as interesting, in conversation with a Learning Department officer, that a connection with the main programme of the organisation was seemingly unimportant. It was important for the young people to have a memorable opportunity (we hope all good learning opportunities are memorable?) but not a requirement, or desirable outcome that the same group of young people might venture again, independently, to the arts organisation to engage with their regular programme of events. Why not track this engagement after a learning project, particularly an extended project? Would it not be great to know that your project had led to a sustained engagement with the organisation, that might lead to a future committed audience member?

Co-creation seems a powerful tool for promoting engagement with young people. It certainly is becoming a popular one (Royal Albert Hall begins a Young Producers project, hot on the heels projects at Wigmore Hall, and ongoing projects at Barbican, South Bank Centre). What fascinates me is that there appears to little concern for the sustainability of these projects. Is the engagement with the young people during the project is sufficient? Are these organisations charting the sustained engagement these young people make after the project has concluded? Are they charting the impact on the young people in creating an artistic curiosity in them, and an independent curiosity that means they are able to navigate the wealth of artistic opportunity (be it as consumer or creator) to find their own place in the arts world(s): cultivate their own tastes, pursue their interests and ultimately become a ‘regular’ at their chosen arts organisations. Should these young producer projects be generating a more entrepreneurial spirit?

As I begin my relationship with King’s College as a Visiting Research Fellow (in the School of Education, Communication and Society) these questions are going to help shape some of the investigations I will do over the two years: what is the place of co-creation in creating a sustainable model for younger audience engagement? What role can teachers of music play in facilitating and promoting this engagement? Whatever the answers I am hopeful it will reveal that music in the curriculum has a considerable amount to offer beyond peripheral benefits to facilitate learning in other subjects: I hope it will reveal curriculum music promotes engagement with the world (cultural worlds?) that help make us engaged and curious citizens.

I will be leading a new network for the Chartered College of Teaching for music teachers in London: details here. 

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