Have your say: Letters to the Editor May 2021
Saturday, May 1, 2021
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My thanks and congratulations to all those involved in the production of the Model Music Curriculum (MMC) - a perfectly timed and well thought through resource that will help return some much-needed attention to music in schools and provide a good source of debate.
Having spent the last 25 years teaching music in schools, often with 50+ per cent Pupil Premium, I feel this document hits the nail on the head regarding the vital role this subject has in nurturing the very soul of the school community. However, let me join the debate with two points:
1) The dotted minim problem: The MMC specifically tabulates required knowledge of note lengths.
What's a dotted minim worth?
Three beats, yes?
Wrong - we're in 6/8.
Six beats then, oh, but it's compound duple, so it's, er, two.
Crotchet, minim, quaver etc. are all meaningless words that do not help clarify notation nor support numeracy. Music theory gives us a great opportunity to reinforce students' understanding of fractions - as long as we use the American system: 4/4 is four quarter beats in a bar; a dotted half note is a dotted half note.
In the context of new music technology, this understanding of note lengths becomes even more important. Can't we do away with these pointlessly archaic terms and use a system that supports numeracy?
2) The power of a brief: Teaching music using real-world vocational briefs is a fundamental game changer for the curriculum. It gives learning a context and forces learners to think creatively. The students I teach are often very hard to motivate, but briefs make this task far, far easier.
Not highlighting this approach is a lost opportunity in the MMC. This is made even more frustrating when the document only refers directly to GCSE as a progression route - a qualification that only 5 per cent of students in England were entered for in 2019, thus undermining the MMC's aim for ‘universal provision’.
This, plus a stunning lack of reference to any vocational context in this model curriculum, makes me fear for an industry already on its knees. If we can help students feel what it's like to be a ‘real’ musician, the true power of the subject can be unleashed. I believe that the future of this marginalised subject rests on a national understanding of this point.
Will Taylor, Doncaster
Give them joy
All but a few hate exams, but we think of them as a necessary evil. We can surely do better than that! Innovation is driven by demand. We now have both the demand and the wherewithal to finally do away with a system that at one stage was essential and is now, at best, massively outmoded and, at worst, cruel.
When education was made compulsory for everyone, it was necessary to use averages (Todd Rose, The End of Average): a syllabus for the average student going on for multiples of one year (the amount of time it took the Earth to go round the Sun).
We even think that stress is important, or our children won't work hard. What an appalling indictment of learning.
Our technicians have achieved wonderful things in the last few months. Please, excellent technicians, devise a way for young people to learn, with careful guidance of teachers, the things that they choose to learn, in addition to a core of necessary studies. Give us a wonderful network of instruction online with teachers to guide and assist in small groups. Indeed, let us not lose a single teacher in this process because we think it will save money, but, rather, use teachers for what the majority are best at, encouraging, challenging, discussing and praising: not instructing and feeding facts.
There is an increasing number of ways to assess without using clumsy exams. Little nuggets of information are tested individually and go towards a personal, mostly subjective, profile, which is later combined with a CV.
Let the only categorisation be into collaborative and non-collaborative activities. It is mostly, but not exclusively, collaborative activities which bring joy. We talk about our education system preparing people for the job market. Yes of course, but let's give them some joy, too, by finding out which collaborative activity or activities bring them the most joy - music, sport, drama, art, dance, yes, or maths! - and giving them plenty.
Ralph Allwood MBE
I have now read Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason's book, House of Music: Raising the Kanneh-Masons [reviewed in MT February], about bringing up a family of brilliant and musical children. I have also reflected on my own privilege of having grown up with access to free instrumental tuition and supporting musical activities. These experiences literally changed my life, and I know I can speak for many of my colleagues who grew up with the same level of state financial and cultural support.
But the point is, Kadiatu's family hasn't had that support and have had to work astonishingly hard to gain their musical rewards. Both her and her husband Stuart still get up before dawn to support the remaining children at home and the journey will continue for many years yet. They have understood that where the state doesn't support, they have to step in. The trouble is, most parents don't have the time, inclination or finances to do this and shockingly underfunded state schools cannot possibly fill in the gaps.
I am still often surprised by how many well-educated people don't get it. For individuals such as myself who have been ‘zapped’ by music, the joy of making and listening to it is enough. There is a kind of seeking of transcendence which is a lifelong love - addiction, even. Music teachers all know that the study and participation of music is not a luxury add-on, and we all understand the educational benefits.
Personally, I don't need to justify these, but many ministers, educationalists and parents do. I get that. I understand that people need to explain money, resources, time spent on something that seems arty (it is), abstract, and just a little bit poncey.
There are solutions, of course; not all of which require money, but which certainly require creative thinking and a willingness to run with these ideas. To give just two examples; there could be a far better cultural connection between state and private schools. Many musicians move freely between these two areas and the contrast in resources is startling - even shocking. It upsets me that a beautiful new theatre in an exclusive school is only used by seven per cent of children.
It would also be exciting to see professional orchestras doing much more in their local communities - not just the occasional, very well-intentioned outreach project, but much more regular, proactive work. There are loads of potential schemes out there, and if I have ideas, then presumably others do as well.
Music needs to be studied at all levels, appreciated, valued, and celebrated. I can't believe it's even necessary to write this, but never before have musicians needed to be valued so much and never have we needed them so intently.
Anne Templer, St Neots