Our third post in our (re)learning to teach music series. The posts over this week and next week focus on the tasks in John Finney’s chapter ‘The Place of Music in the Secondary School’.
Music education was conceived as an education in citizenship and in many respects as an education to be regulated in the way that Plato proposed (i.e. preserve the state, ensure social order. Etc) Based upon your observations and experience of teaching to what extent do you consider this a relevant issue in light of what you have seen and taught? AND to what extent do you think the task of music education is to educate taste?
Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser
The motto of my school proclaims, “Grounded in Scotland, Ready for the World”. While I’ve been a citizen of many countries, I consider myself to be a citizen of the World, and it is my belief that Music Education has contributed significantly in preparing me for this global citizenship – “Grounded in Music, Ready for the World”. Music has helped me connect with people from Malaysia to Mexico, Singapore to Scotland, and many in-between. Increasing globalisation aside, the Music Education systems I’ve experienced have had significantly more similarities than differences. While global Music Education is by no means homogenous, my lived experience would suggest that if Music Education was conceived as an education in citizenship, then it is an education in global citizenship.
Regarding taste, I have a saying – “Music is like vegetables. Some you like. Some you don’t like. But they’re all good for you”. One of my goals is to instil a love and appreciation of all music through the motto – “You don’t have to like it; you just have to appreciate it”. My mother said as much about broccoli when I was young. Music Education exists to provide children with an impartial yet informed experience of as many styles of music as possible. Ponder the evolution of your music collection from ages 12 to 22. The difference, for many, is considerable. To revisit the vegetable battles of my youth, my mother would regularly exclaim – “You mightn’t like it now, but you’ll probably like it later”. Annoyingly, as always, she was right. I love broccoli now, just as I love music thought fanciful in my youth. It’s our responsibility to inform, guide, and prepare their aural palettes so they can dine with joy and meaning from the many musical menus their global citizenship will expose them to. My pupils leave having eaten from as many musical plates as possible, while being given the opportunity to share in what makes them like (or dislike) each and dissect why their tastes differ from those around them. After all, I doubt I would’ve tried broccoli again had my mother not sown the seeds of validity and possibility all those years ago. Thanks, Mum.
David House @House_dg
Music education was conceived as an education in citizenship and in many respects as an education to be regulated in the way that Plato proposed (I.e. preserve the state, ensure social order etc).Based on your observations and experience of teaching to what extent do you consider this a relevant issue in light of what you’ve seen and taught? Inasmuch as all education can be viewed as providing a model for citizenship – modelling the place of the individual within society – I would place music education firmly within that frame. Working together in the classroom as a group of musicians, dealing with issues of ensemble and solving problems via musical dialogue, alongside strategies to assist with individual development – these are all key to understanding our place within society. AND to what extent do you think the task of music education is to educate taste? I think that it is: drawing a clear distinction between education as opening up students minds to areas of knowledge, and experiences which they otherwise would not have encountered and education as imposing a view of specific ‘taste’ as more or less desirable than others. Very quickly one is drawn into a minefield of imposed, explicitly or implicitly, value systems – of which much has been written and which has also become hotly contest and politicised. My view is that the task of music education is to present a variety of music with integrity, openness and honesty – allowing students the chance to experience, engage and explore.
Elizabeth Dunbar @HuntSchoolMusic
First and foremost, Music education shouldn’t need to exist to serve any purpose. It should be permitted to exist for its own sake. That said, Music educators, and those who benefit from their work are fully aware of the tremendous benefits of being part of a Music community, both in schools and beyond. We’re seeing that longing for community right now on social media, while we are in ‘lockdown’. And how are people reaching out to one another during this time? Through shared experiences, and many of those shared experiences are musical ones. We crave kinship. We enjoy the camaraderie and working for a common goal. We enjoy supporting one another. Music is one of the ways in which people feel they are not alone.
Intelligent school leaders champion projects that increase a sense of community. They recognise and appreciate the benefits of opportunities that bring young people together in organised groups, societies, teams, vital life lessons that takes place beyond the classroom.
I am fascinated by the range of students that join us at school, in music making that takes place beyond the classroom. There are the ‘bold as brass’ types who are banging your door down in week 1 of year 7.
“Hello, I’m Sally and I’ve come to help you run senior choir” comes immediately to mind.
Other students will need a little more encouragement, but once they start to experience the sense of community generated by music making with others, they are hooked for life.
Beyond all the obvious musical gains, being part of a group is a tremendously important opportunity for socialisation and confidence building. At Huntington we purposely seek out students who we know will benefit from being part of the Music ‘family’, because we have seen the difference it makes to young peoples’ lives, time and time again. Sometimes I will say ‘Just come and listen at the door and see if it’s something you might be interested in being part of’.
You think you’ve seen it all and then this happens: During the school’s Summer Arts festival, the Music department relocates to the library. We clear the ground floor, build a stage and get to work. Last year, Libby one of the school’s fab SEND team, approached me and pointed out a student who was out of lessons for reasons I won’t go into here. Libby said the boy had asked her if he would be allowed to be part of something like this – pointing at the 124 happy musicians, rigging sound, building the stage, rehearsing, laughing, chatting. Naturally we said yes, and today, despite his difficult circumstances, he has piano lessons, attends rehearsals twice a week after school, and performs with us at public events. He lives 30 miles away. The Music ‘family’ is a vital part of making him feel like he is a valued member of the school community.
Music doesn’t exist to preserve the state or ensure social order. Indeed, there are countless examples of where Music and the Arts are used for quite the opposite, to challenge and to question authority. As we know it’s a powerful means of championing a cause, and rallying support, but even in that context, it is a force for bringing people together. While Music’s purpose is not to educate citizenship, it happens to be a happy by-product.
What is taste and can it or should it be taught? If by taste you mean discernment, or the ability to filter then it’s a part of how we function every day. Let’s say I’m discussing melodic writing in a composition, and getting into the realms of the subjective, eg how successful the melodic writing is, then we will dip a toe into the world of discernment. I like to use a shoe shop analogy. You browse, you pick up 2 or 3 pairs, you try them on, you take a bit of time to weigh up the factors (because let’s face it you’re going to be spending a lot of time in these shoes), but ultimately you make a decision. It’s alright to chose something that is different to what I would choose. We have different tastes and that’s ok.
It used to be the case with recorded music that we had to discern, we had to choose wisely because we had to make the journey to the specialist shop, we had a limited amount of money to spend, so we took our time making a decision.
That’s a hard concept to get across in a channel flicking, disposable, 5 second attention span, world we live in now. Lingering and thinking about it is irrelevant, because you can undo a bad choice in the blink of an eye. Why waste time discerning. We as adults are just as guilty, sitting there, telly on, with iPads on our laps, hovering over the search bar. The world is out there, yet we all end up down the same cul de sacs, listening to the same old same old.
Students often ask me what my favourite music is. I always answer in the same way, not to be clever but because this is the truth, I like to listen to something new every day. So rather than trying to teach taste, what we should be doing is encouraging students to be musical adventurers, explorers, travellers, discoverers of the remote corners of the musical world.
Rather than trying to teach taste what we can do is teach students how to hear, and in that process of discovering how the music is made, we unlocking the door to what’s beyond the surface – hearing past the lyrics or even the melody, into Music’s inner workings. If this prompts a second listen, a deeper listen, there’s your ‘dwell time’, as an art curator friend of mine would say. Once you have spent a little time with Music that is down the path less travelled, then you are more likely to stick with it, and want to find out more about it. You can’t teach taste, but you can teach students how to listen, filter and gain an appreciation of the richness of both familiar and unfamiliar musical worlds.
James Manwaring @twbsmusic
I have thought a great deal about the way in which citizenship is displayed in a music department. It is nice to think of students being citizens in a musical world. I see this in action every day at school. Students come to rehearsals, lessons and music room and feel like they are part of something. There is a community that exists in the department that is unique and exciting. And there is most definitely a social order. There are the new students who are learning their ways and the seniors who are taking on lead roles. There are students who find their place in this musical society where they may not find a place elsewhere. Those who can hide behind an instrument or sheet of music and yet be part of something.
And we all want to belong to something don’t we. It is Human nature to want to feel part of something. That is why Zoom is doing so well during this lockdown. People want to belong to a group, they want to feel like they are a citizen in a world in which they can belong.
What is unique about a music department as opposed to say a sports team or academic class is that age is irrelevant. A music department brings together students of all ages and experiences. Those who have been playing their instrument might be higher up the pecking order of course, but this not dependent on age. Whilst ability is important there is also the wonderful thing of seeing more experienced students helping the beginners!
As music teachers we have to facilitate and control this society and social order is needed. We need a pathway for students to follow and we need to cater for everyone. I believe that music departments should be open to all and that they should be alive every day!
I do feel that as a music teacher I also have a role in steering students towards what to listen to. I am not a fan of forcing anything down their throats, but I want to show them what is out there. I love all sorts of music, and I show them that. I embrace the music they want to listen to and I am honest about how it makes me feel. I am also genuine in my love for all styles and genres of music. Not every young person will love every piece, but at least we can introduce them to new and exciting music.
One thing I have seen over the years is that students will listen to stuff that you don’t expect them to necessarily like. We have the job of opening that door for them. I have had students come and tell me that they listened to all of The Ring Cycle after a lesson where I brought it to life. Just last week a student said they had listened to most of Billy Joel’s albums after I mentioned The Stranger to them – one of my favourites. The other week I celebrated the birthday of Rachmaninoff and encourage students and parents to listen to the mighty third piano concerto! Whatever it is, we can guide students, and parents, and help them develop a varied and wide taste in music. But I will never shove it down their throats or pretend that what they like doesn’t matter.
Music departments have identities and they form identities in our students. They allow students to grow, develop and shine in so many different ways. The varied music that we play and perform helps them on this journey. They find their identify in the songs they hear and perform and I see that every day in my department. We have the most wonderful job in the world and I am sure that other departments are jealous of what we have and the role that we play in young peoples lives! This is making me miss my department, school and students even more!
Steven Berryman @steven_berryman
‘… musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful: and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justify blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar’. (taken from Plato’s Republic extract here).
This ‘true’ education achieved through the ‘more potent instrument’ of musical training enables ‘true taste’. If you follow the link above you can read the longer passage as they discuss the modes and their impact on character/behaviour. I can see how linking taste and the civilising educational qualities of music could be related (such as the use of classical music at certain tube stations – you can read more here). It makes you wonder if music really can have that effect on the ‘soul’.
Music is widely regarded nowadays, not as a language at all, but as a ‘pure’, inexpressive art, like architecture; and even those who do feel it to be some kind of language regard it as an imprecise one, incapable of conveying anything so tangible as an experience of life or an attitude towards it. Thus Albert Roussel spoke of ‘the musician… alone in the world with his more or less unintelligible language’. And Aaron Copland has expressed a similar opinion, in a slightly less radical way: ‘Is there a meaning to music?’ – My answer to that would be ”Yes”. Can you state in so many words what the meaning is? – My answer to that would be ”No”. Therein lies the difficulty.’ (from the Preface of Deryck Cooke’s ‘The Language of Music’).
I wonder too if taste really means anything these days. We’re drowning in musics, and I wonder if the idea of good and bad (meaning anything other than “I like this/I don’t like that”) is really a concern in the classroom. I can imagine a different generation of teacher would have a hierarchy of taste placing certain musics above others, but I wonder if we have that enacted in classrooms anymore. I wonder if we are in danger of losing music with ideas worth grappling with at the expense of meeting the tastes of the class; and the tricky balance of the conflicting taste of pupil and teacher would need some sensitive handling. I wonder if we consider taste enough in the way the curriculum is planned, or if we question ourselves enough about what musical taste is this curriculum implying? Is it one that promotes a diverse ranges of musical thinking or is it monochromatic?
‘Many people use the term ‘matter of taste’ to refer to matters thought to be purely subjective, implying that no judgments concerning them have objective authority. Horace’s aphorism De gustibus non est disputandum (‘matters of taste are not properly disputable’) is sometimes quoted in support of this view. In other words, matters of taste are personal preferences only, not matters of right or wrong, or otherwise responsive to reasonable dispute’. (from this article).
Kate Wheeler @Katemariewheel2
Social order requires people to behaviour in a way that will enable stable, productive and cultural activities to take place. In schools’ pupils need structure and routine in order to succeed and thrive. As teachers we have rituals and routines embedded in us from the moment we wake up in the morning and we should ensure that pupils have routines when entering our classroom so that they understand our expectations.
A typical music lesson always starts with us greeting our students at the door and instructing them on where to sit depending on what type of lesson is on the agenda. I always have music playing at the start of the lesson relating to the topic covered and as a stimulus for discussions, this also allows for latecomers to be dealt with. The pupils know this routine and they know what to expect, they are aware of the standards and the behaviours that they need to maintain at the start and during a music lesson. Over the years I have had lessons were for one reason or another these routines have not taken place and this has impacted on behaviour and outcomes. Social order is still relevant and it is important that it is instilled in our pupils so that they are taught how to respond and how to behave in certain situations. As teachers we also should model these behaviours to ensure we are nurturing a ‘do as I do’ culture rather than a ‘do as I say’ therefore promoting mutual respect.
In John Finney’s book music is described as ‘good music’ or ‘good taste’. My first thought on this was; what sounds good for me may not sound good to someone else. Who is to say what sounds good? I loved studying 20th century music at university however, I know that it is not to everyone’s taste when there is no sense of pulse and mostly atonal. Teaching in a range of schools I have taught pupils who thrive when performing choral music and love musical analysis and at the other end of the spectrum I have taught pupils who cannot read a note but are amazing guitarists. The tastes of the pupils mentioned would be very different and who is to say what is good or bad.
What we can do as music teachers is look at the pupils we have in our classes and tailor our curriculum so that they are getting a broad and balanced education that is differentiated to suit the needs of the learners.
Alex Laing @KHSArtDirMusic
The Platonic notion of education in music being vital for education in citizenship is an interesting one, especially as it perhaps sits uneasily with our modern tendency to be suspicious of all paternalism and to see it as the first step towards the encroachment on individual human rights. I would like therefore rather to turn the question on its head and say that we need to be much more holistic in our approach to music education and see it (however passionately we espouse it) as an integral, but not sufficient, part of the effort to foster good citizenship and good humanity in the next generation.
I am fortunate to be working with Nicola Benedetti as one of the conductors for her foundation’s sessions for string pupils and their teachers. She regularly tells everyone: ‘I wish as a child I had done A LITTLE less practice and instead had gone out more and experienced more’. In other words, to make a good musician, or a good anything else, one has to have a rounded and a wide experience. It is no surprise to find that some of the best musicians one can find are the all-rounders. I adored the idea as a student that composers and artists and writers would get together socially in addition to collaborating. The music of the Ballets Russes seemed much more vivid to me when I understood that Picasso was designing sets.
There are plenty of fabulous all-rounders in the music profession. I know many top drawer performers who are also excellent cricketers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, top performers of any discipline tend to admire those who are the best in other disciplines. Sue Tomes, the pianist, for instance, takes great delight in watching Roger Federer playing tennis and remarks on the ease and gracefulness of movement when others deploy brute force, and that his playing is pleasing to the spirit in the same way as some music is. The same amount of work has gone into his apparent effortlessness as goes into the effect generated by a master musician.
I was also intrigued to read, in the text we were sent to contextualise today’s questions, the quotation from the 1927 Board of Education recommendations for music teachers that ‘the music first learned by children should be drawn from our Folk and Traditional songs’. The Board argues that this forms a ‘strong and vital … tie between the members of a school, a college and even a nation’. I find this of particular interest as someone born, brought up and schooled in Scotland but who has spent his entire teaching life in England. The 1927 situation is still very true for Scotland, and most school children north of the border will learn Scottish country dancing and know marches, Strathspeys, jigs, hornpipes and reels. Some will join pipe bands and some (including myself on fiddle) Ceilidh bands. Nicola Benedetti, being a proud Scot, makes use of this aural tradition also in her sessions. But in England, it seems to me, we lack such a strong tradition outside folklorists’ meetings and specialist groups. Britten and Vaughan Williams made use of English folk music, like Bartok and others in their own countries. But this grounding in folk music does not seem to have continued to any extent into subsequent generations of children and adults in England. Are we ready for another English Folk Song revival?
Here I come back to some thoughts about the relationship of music to sport. And, since Plato is being invoked, it is worth remembering that he considered sport as an important former of the human character too. He himself was a competition-standard wrestler. As with his other thinking, Plato ranks sport into levels. The lowest level is when it is done primarily for monetary gain – premier league footballers take note! (musically, this might equate to studying with the aim of picking up marks or exam grades) The second stage is when it is done for honour and glory (musically, this could equate to studying or performing with the goal being famous or gaining adulation from an audience) and the optimum stage is when the doing of it is sufficient unto itself. At that top level, sport fosters the soul and can and should be done alone. Music does too in the same way. Here I am reminded of Yehudi Menuhin and his dedication to the practice of yoga. Yoga of course is not a sport, but Plato would (one assumes) put it into the same bracket as his optimum level (along with Tai Chi and the stylised practice choreographies in most martial arts).
Being holistic and encouraging students to engage in multiple disciplines, including sport, is of course a double-edged sword. It is hard not to grind one’s teeth when the training sessions of the 1st XI or 2nd XV clash with and trump choir practice, or when an away match or a swimming gala coincides with the last vital rehearsal for the symphony orchestra. But it is important to remember that both things can build team spirit and the joy of joint enterprise. And combining them can be done. I remember as a schoolboy at the Edinburgh Academy coming into string orchestra rehearsals still muddy and in my games kit after a rugby match. It helped that our wonderful Head of Strings, was also one of the rugby coaches. Unusually in Scotland, this also made it cool to be a string player, the more so as some of the best rugby players in the school were happy to be seen in the grounds carrying cellos and violas around.
The second question, about educating taste, is a tricky one. Taste is set entirely by what one responds to. While musical taste is to a certain extent cultivated early in life by what one’s parents or teachers introduce one to, much does remain unaccountable. Children (and adults) can react negatively as well as positively to having their taste ‘led’. Our job as music teachers is again to be as holistic as we can, and this is sometimes very difficult because, like everyone, ‘we know what we like’. It is easy enough to show passion and enthusiasm for what one knows one likes and believes to be ‘good’. I would never insist that a devotee of Rock Music love the music of Bach, but I would encourage them to notice the similarities (or even the influence?) of Bach’s first cello suite on the opening of Guns n’ Roses Sweet Child o’ Mine.
6 responses to “A matter of civilised taste”
Thanks all, for another really interesting piece of collective writing.
One of the things I am wondering, (and I don’t want this to sound as a criticism, can I say, please) is how what you write finds its outworking in what you do? We know from the work of Argyris & Schön (1974) that all of us hold espoused theories and, alongside these, theories in use. The differences between them:
“Espoused theories are those that an individual claims to follow. Theories‐in‐use are those than can be inferred from action” (Argyris et al., 1985 p.82)
So, what I am wondering is, how do the espoused theories that you have all so eloquently expressed, pan out in your schools; in the curriculum (written and delivered), in the classroom, and in music making generally? David House (in the blog) writes that “Very quickly one is drawn into a minefield of imposed, explicitly or implicitly, value systems”, and this is a not too dissimilar issue.
Now I am not saying this just to make a cheap point, honestly! It worries me that SLTs (OK, *some* SLTs) think they can do this, and adjudge accordingly. I also worry about this when Ofsted come to call, especially if they are non-music-specialists. Robin Hammerton wrote a tweet recently about musical order arising out of classroom seeming chaos, as music educators I’m sure we are familiar with this!
Having read the contributions it is clear that all of these expert practitioners are running significant and impactful music departments. Part of my work at Birmingham City University is being involved with PGCE students, and one of things that is often found is the apparent ‘invisibility’ of expert teacher thoughts-behind-actions to ITE students. If we say, after a lesson, something like “did you notice that bit when Miss did/said…”, it can often have escaped escape the ITE guys, and the background to this action, whatever it was, will certainly be invisible. This becomes an issue in training. So, how can we enable the expertise of these splendid practitioners writing in this blog series to share their practical wisdom, their phronesis, along with their espoused theories, outlined so nicely herein, with the next generation of teachers coming through?
What is so good, though, is to read what teachers are actually thinking. All too often in busy schools and classrooms that aspect doesn’t shine through strongly enough! And it should, we have some great thinkers and doers in this country, and we need to celebrate that!
Anyway, all that aside, I’m already looking forward to the next part.
Take care, all.
Argyris, C., Putnam, R. & McLain Smith, D. (1985) Action Science: Concepts, Methods, and Skills for Research and Intervention, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Argyris, C. & Schön, D. (1974) Theory in Practice, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
In response to Martin’s feedback…
You are so right to challenge the group when you ask “how do the espoused theories that you have all so eloquently expressed, pan out in your schools; in the curriculum (written and delivered), in the classroom, and in music making generally?”
Speaking for my own blog entries to date: It’s not theory, it’s not pie in the sky musings, it’s there in the department, embedded in lessons, in extra curricular work, in the culture, in practice. That’s where my examples come from, not from what I would like to do, but from what is happening on the ground. It’s by no means perfect, we’re always learning and changing and developing, we all have disastrous days, but it’s what we aspire to, and at every turn we work to make it part of our daily habits in every lesson. Learning is for life not for Ofsted. It’s better to keep on aspiring and developing and not quite getting it right, and trying a different approach, than thinking you’ve got it sussed. None of us have, but if we are interested in the journey and our ‘espoused theories’ are there in our practice, then that’s a step in the right direction.
Loving this convo. We don’t get much chance to talk like this in our school lives as we rush from one lesson/rehearsal/meeting to another. No break/no lunch/late finish/fall over. Rinse/repeat.
Historians say that the past is useable. The 1927 statement from the Board of Education can used as a lens through which to look at current policy making in music education.
The writer of the statement was focusing on some kind of agreed repertoire of songs shared by all and, so it was thought, it was this that would contribute to and strengthen a sense of national identity. There is reference to Folk Songs and Traditional Songs. This was a matter of good taste (no Music Hall songs or ‘little ditties’). Following argument at the beginning of the century between Cecil Sharp and Charles Stanford a National Songbook had been agreed and this had a good fifty year run in our nation’s schools.
In more recent times some attempts have been made to once again bring unity through agreed repertoire and perhaps again linked to some extent with strengthening national identity. It seems there is an ambivalence about this. On the one hand a longing for unity and a common culture, on the other, a resistance to this kind of conformity that would inhibit the freedom of the teacher and their school.
Our teachers above, on the whole, favour the latter.
It is government policy that schools teach British Values. How would that play out through music? No, please don’t go there!
Having successfully sat the ‘Life in the UK’ Test nearly 12 months ago, as part of my application for Permanent Residency, I’m surprised to say that I can still remember the five British Values. They are: Democracy; The rule of law; Individual liberty; Tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; and, Participation in community life. I agree – “please don’t go there” – however, as I was trying my hardest to remember names and dates of things that will never cross my path again, I did contemplate how I as a Music Teacher was contributing to British society, and the education of its youth, at the time of taking the test. At the time, I concluded that the further I moved down the list of values, the greater my contribution was. Reading the thoughts of my colleagues, it would appear to be a common thought process.
As for agreed repertoire, the complexity and near impossibility of coming to such an agreement is perfectly highlighted by giving a group of Year 5 children a list of three songs and asking them to agree on which one we should sing next. And, harping back to the five British Values, it could be said that an agreed repertoire list would be in direct conflict with number two – Individual liberty. But as you said, probably best not to go there.
Just seen that this evening there is a coming together as a nation through song. What is the song that will unite the nation?
Martin – i think we all have the perfect musical school in our heads, which is constantly mutating according to our imagination, research and the needs of the children. This model is then confronted with the many barriers to implementation in reality, which are well documented, in our profession – timetabling, staffing, training etc. It might mean mean some plans are completely shelved (no support for your plan of all staff singing instead of talking for the entire week). Some principles might be compromised in certain circumstances (okay, use some of the music assembly time to give out maths prizes). In others, we need to cry and stamp our stubborn mule-hooves until we get our own way. I think the ability to navigate all this is as essential for the success of a music teacher as their curriculum or pedagogy. Which barriers arise and the best way to deal with them varies wildly according to the setting. But where secure, supportive infrastructures exist, music thrives in schools, and so do music teachers.