A cogent statement of purpose for music

Our tenth post in our (re)learning to teach music series. The posts over this week and last week focus on the tasks in John Finney’s chapter ‘The Place of Music in the Secondary School’. We have now completed our two weeks with John’s chapter and we move to the Gary Spruce chapter two.

Alex Laing @KHSArtDirMusic

This is the kind of question that may be posed at a job interview.

The answer needs to be that music is for all at whatever level or in whatever way someone chooses to relate to it.

The importance of music can show itself in multiple ways, sometimes unexpectedly.  A driver may be playing reggae impossibly loudly.  Bing Crosby singing a romantic song may remind us of a relationship long forgotten.  An old man, locked into his thoughts and hitherto unable to communicate, may weep at the sound of a Mozart slow movement.  The opening of the St John Passion may transport us to where we were when we first experienced this magical work.  As Music teachers, we have a responsibility to nurture music in our pupils and to encourage them to remain open to the unexpected events, which may impact on their future lives.

A successful music department will be able to support and develop the learning of a musician who wishes to become a professional, while at the same time allowing those who wish to use music as a recreation or as a therapy the same access to opportunity and expertise.  Music as therapy is something which the school should always be aware of. Pupils often seek out the music department as a haven, a place away from the stresses of everyday life at school. I have seen examples of music unlocking something in a person which then allows confidence to begin to build.

Music must be wonderful in its own right but can also support wider learning. Instrumental music lessons, for example do not just teach music. They also provide support for other areas of study with the level of focus that one on one teaching fosters as well as the discipline to think about one’s own improvements. The former England Cricket captain, Alastair Cook credits his music education as the strongest influence on his powers of concentration while batting. A consistent music programme has been shown to be a very powerful part of turning around some schools in disadvantaged areas that may be in need of improvement.

Participation in music beyond the classroom engenders some of the greatest camaraderie and team building possible.  Running regular concerts, shows, music competitions and festivals is therefore a vital part of fostering this sense of achievement. As Directors of Music we have to be able to lead in a number of different ways.  When we lead from the front we must be energetic, inspirational, confident and directive.  When we lead from the middle we must facilitate, be collegial, be democratic and practical. When we lead from the back we must instil confidence in pupils (and fellow staff) to take the limelight and enjoy the moment, and above all we must celebrate their success. Leading from the back also includes being open to inviting inspirational figures from outside to come and show the school what other wonders are possible, even if we ourselves are not able to provide them.

When a pupil leaves school, so many of them seek to continue music in choirs and orchestras at university and beyond. It is our job as teachers to stimulate the love of music so that everyone who wishes will be able to keep going at whatever level pleases them.

Liz Gleed @MrsGleedMusic

To create a cogent statement of purpose for music is something I know I could spend hours considering. I do feel as though I am a little exhausted from reading years upon years of advocacy statements, internet memes, celebrity soundbytes and discussions of the value of the subject and the impact it can have on young people and their lives. I do not need persuading that music should be valued for music’s own sake; its power to impact on our young people is remarkable. But, as the chapter concludes, ‘we should take time to rehearse our case and be able to defend it in theory and practice’.

As for a response here I would say any statement from me would certainly feature, among others, two core concepts. First up, inclusivity. The ability of the subject to engage and inspire all young people is tangible in any good music classroom. The concept of ‘whose music’ is as relevant as ever and with the support of initiatives such as Musical Futures and Wider Opps, music education has the power to inspire a lifelong love for music, the arts and enable memorable learning experiences and build cultural capital.

The second would be creativity. Music offers a unique place in the curriculum where there is so much room for improvisation and the time and space to create. One of the best things about being a music teacher is the first hour after setting up a composition task then watching the students explore their musical language. Their outcomes often evolve so far past the initial conception in planning and take all manner of forms to celebrate and delight when presented. There is so much evidence of music developing skills in young people such as independence, initiative, resilience, self esteem, collaboration and achievement. Over the coming weeks I will continue to expand, rehearse and defend my case. It is now more important than ever I feel that we all stand together to do so. Let’s hope we can do it in person before too long.

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

Here is my cogent statement of purpose for music: “Music is in us, and all around us. Music holds the hand of our developing speech and gives life to our movement. Music invites us to listen, rather than to simply hear. Music releases the untouched thoughts and feelings that lie within. Music fuels and finesses our aesthetic appetite through crafting our creative capacity. Music willingly welcomes and caringly connects. Music facilitates individual and collective catharsis. Music gives us a voice when our voice runs dry. Music embodies. Music emboldens. Music is in us, and all around us. Accordingly, music should be in, and all around, our schools”.

David House @House_dg

Statement of purpose for Music – [with acknowledgement to John Finney] – “Music coordinates mind, body, and spirit.” [Yehudi Menuhin] To equip all pupils with the knowledge, skills, dispositions and understandings to make music well. To induct pupils into existing cultures of making music as a source of creative and critical engagement. To encourage all pupils, as unique individuals, to engage with the next steps of their lifelong musical journey, and to know a sense of personal freedom through music made well.

Sean Dingley @DGSMusicdept

Music is the language of organised sound and is as innately human as speaking and we, as humans, have a right to know how it works and to communicate through music if we would like to.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

I believe that pupils need to be challenged and stimulated, whether this be through the schemes of work at Key Stage 3, or by imaginative teaching of examination syllabuses. This should allow pupils to listen to, analyse, perform and compose music to realise their full potential and develop their skills and abilities as well as a lifelong appreciation and enjoyment of music.

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

When I joined my current department it was important for me to work with the team to cultivate our bespoke ‘cogent statement of purpose for music’. It’s quite an enjoyable exercise to share values, share ambitions and share expertise. We reflected on what we were doing already and through pupil voice, conversations with parents and colleagues we were able to consider what we felt was important to offer all pupils. We arrived at the following statement that we shared widely – in concert programmes, around the department and in all relevant literature. 

  • MUSIC IS AN ENTITLEMENT FOR EVERY GIRL We provide opportunities regardless of level for girls to be involved as musicians in and out of the classroom.
  • CHALLENGE FOR EVERYONE In and out of the classroom we strive to provide challenges for every musician. 
  • AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES Visiting musicians and practitioners help to make the experiences we offer the girls musically authentic.
  • EMBRACING THE CITY We are part of a vibrant City full of cultural opportunities and we aim for this to form part of the curriculum and extra-curricular opportunities we provide.
  • CULTIVATING PARTNERSHIPS We work with other schools and organisations in the City and beyond to provide stimulating experiences for the girls and to make use of external venues to share the work we do.

As I look ahead I wonder what I’d change (we’d change) and if we are still championing our statement in all that we do. The great thing about having a statement is that you have a measure for keeping your department in check, and for helping propelling development. It’s also one in some respects you never achieve. It’s frustratingly enjoyable. 

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