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In this edition of the Sampler, my aim is to provide some context and food for thought on music education in general and also to highlight some specific examples of children and young people composing and creating music. There has been lot of gloom and doom around the state of music education in recent times, with worrying news around the numbers of pupils taking GCSE music falling, a squeeze on the size of secondary school music departments and few primary schools having the confidence to deliver music to their children, especially music of the creative variety. Budget constraints, changes in how teachers are trained and the current accountability regime in schools all conspire to make the lives of music educators (never mind the students they should be teaching) a challenge, to say the least!
An excellent place to find out the facts and figures around the current situation in arts education is the Cultural Learning Alliance, whose work embraces all art forms and champions the right to engage with art and culture for every child.
Martin Fautley, Professor of Education at Birmingham City University, has also been a music teacher and teacher trainer and writes a humorous and insightful blog which give a taste of the debates going on in music education at the present time. His most recent post reflects on trends in music education through time, with composers Murray Schafer and John Paynter both getting a mention. I found it fascinating that a proclamation by Mrs Curwen, a music educator writing in 1855, to “Never tell a pupil anything that you can help him to discover for himself” generated so much interest and debate in the 21st Century!
Educator and academic John Finney’s blog is always a stimulating and thought-provoking read and I was delighted by a blog he produced after attending our Listen Imagine Compose Away Day back in June . John’s blog also includes a number of other thoughtful pieces about creativity in music education and there is a systematic examination of what knowledge in music education might comprise (hint: it doesn’t mean knowing Beethoven’s dates!).
It’s not all bad news out there. There are amazing teachers and educators doing fantastic and inspiring things, supporting children and young people who are enthusiastic, talented and creative. It’s important to remember this and to celebrate them!
Some of the most inspiring and creative primary teachers I have met recently were from a primary school in Bristol. Here’s a video of Laurel, one of the teachers I met, in action with her class. She was using Sound and Music’s primary school resource, Minute of Listening, as a stimulus for cross-curricular work:
Whilst Listen Imagine Compose supports teachers in the teaching of composing, a recent Sound and Music project supported composers to teach in primary schools, drawing on the Music for Young Players scores held in the British Music Collection. John Paynter, mentioned in Martin’s blog above, is one of the composers in this series, which also includes scores by David Bedford, Hugh Shrapnel and Howard Skempton. We found that the scores, with their underpinning principles of accessibility and inclusion whilst engaging with experimental composition techniques, still have relevance in the classroom today. You can see what we learned in this video:
And finally, 70 young composers aged 14 – 18 gathered at the Purcell School for an amazing week of creativity and composing last August for Sound and Music’s Summer School for young composers. By the end of the week, there were 70 new pieces of music that were sophisticated, challenging, diverse and fresh. There are lots of photos and blogs by the students themselves here: https://samsummer.uk/ Remember, you heard of them here first!