Category Archives: Music Education

Ten Pieces is not enough! Coming to a primary school near you – 100 pieces!

Coming soon to a primary school near you – a prescribed list of 100 pieces of classical music that every child should be familiar with. No, this isn’t a joke. This is the cornerstone of future Tory music education policy according to the speech given by Nick Gibb at the Music Education Expo this week.

For clarity, here’s is the complete extract from the speech together with the suggestions that the preeminent expert on music education thinks should be included (that’s sarcasm BTW ;) ):

While there is already a great deal of good practice, we also want to make sure there is support available for teachers who may need it – in particular, practical help for non-specialist primary school teachers. I am delighted that Classic FM and the ISM are going to compile, and give schools access to, a new list of 100 pieces of classical music that every child should be familiar with by the time they leave primary school.

Being familiar with the best known classical works is as important as reading the canon. Music has been important to me personally and my suggestions for pieces to include would range from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to Parry’s setting of ‘I was glad’ and Allegri’s ‘Miserere’, which I still remember singing as a choirboy. I very much hope there will be strong engagement from those within music teaching with ISM and Classic FM as they develop the list.

The full speech can be read here. I challenge you to find another single idea about the future of music education within it. Music Education Expo is the premiere music education event in the UK each year. As a platform, Gibb had the chance to set a future vision for music education under a Tory government. This was the best he could come up with. I’ll leave you to make your own judgement.

El Sistema: A conference to explore and critique what it means for music education

The Venezuelan youth orchestra program known as El Sistema, founded in 1975, has attracted considerable international publicity and funding in recent years. Said to be an effective means of resolving a wide range of social problems and now operating under the banner of ‘social action through music’, it has inspired attempts to adopt and adapt it in dozens of countries around the world.

However, there are very few critical analyses of the program’s aims and no rigorous studies which demonstrate that it achieves them. Furthermore, its methods are poorly understood and obscured by idealistic rhetoric. Efforts to transplant El Sistema overseas have taken place without reliable written sources about its history and its pedagogical and philosophical program. Continue reading

Musical Futures cited as a model of progressive music education

Geoffrey Baker’s new book, El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth, is a stinging critique of the Venezuelan instrumental and social music education programme. Baker’s research is far reaching, drawing on observations of the programme throughout Venezuela and interviews with key participants in the programme and students themselves. As a piece of qualitative and ethnographic research, it is beautifully constructed. Throughout his book, which I reviewed here for the Music Education UK websiteBaker is at pains to justify his assertions about the programme and, when necessary, points to the limitations of his research and the conclusions therein.

In the final chapter of his book, Baker points to a number of projects that exemplify what he calls a more ‘progressive’ form of music education. At this point, it was lovely to find references to Musical Futures, a project that surely every music teacher here in the UK must be aware of that has made a significant and positive contribution to music education over the last ten years. This was what Baker has to say about Musical Futures:

One of the most radical and promising music education initiatives is Musical Futures, which began in the United Kingdom in 2003 and is spreading internationally. Musical Futures builds on Green’s (2002, 2008) work on informal learning and its application to the classroom. It’s central element is copying recordings by ear, and it integrates listening, improvising, and composing into the learning process, which is holistic and student-led (rather than sequential or drill-based) and promotes student choice of instruments and repertoire. Green (2008, 199-80) applies this informal learning pedagogy to ensemble playing and classical music, revealing that there is no inevitable bond between El Sistema’s curriculum, collective ethos, and conservative pedagogy. (Baker 2014, p.318) Continue reading

Sounds in the Cloud: Is music education too important to outsource to the cloud?

Morris’ post-doctoral paper ‘Sounds in the Cloud: Cloud computing and the digital music community‘, written in 2008, is remarkable prescient. At an early stage in the development of the cloud, it explores the technological and cultural implications of cloud-based music, how the cloud itself is leading to the commodification of music (and not in a good way), and how our relationship to music is changing as a result. Through the adoption of various metaphors and an analysis of [then] current trends, Morris is pretty scathing. Firstly, he argues, the cloud fundamentally changes our relationship to music itself:

[Music] is now part of a network of technologies and blended into a multi-mediated computing experience. Phones come with music, as do Web sites, video games and new cars. CDs are routinely given away in newspapers and magazines as promotions (Straw, 2009). Social networking sites, search engines, and other such technologies use online digital music as a draw for their services. Rather than a commodity of its own, music is integrated into so many diverse services that it becomes difficult to talk about music as a specific experience at all. Music appears to be ubiquitous: it is both everywhere and nowhere. [my emphasis] Continue reading

Many LA’s are slashing their budgets for music services from April 2015

The Classical Music magazine are reporting huge cuts to the budgets of music services across the UK, including in Wiltshire (£140k cut) and Bromley (a planned cut of £305k over two years). In Redbridge, councillors planned to cut £166k from the music service budget but this was overturned following a public protest. Today, via Twitter, I have received further news that last night Kirklees councillors have voted through large cuts of £300k to Kirklees Music School in Huddersfield. Through other work that I’m doing, I am also aware that there are large cuts to the LA budget for music services in many other parts of the country that have not been announced yet.

Regular readers of this blog will know that this is something that I alerted you all to some time ago, in posts such as this and this. Continue reading

GUEST LECTURE: Andrew Curren, Consultant Paediatric Neurologist, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

Faculty of Education, Birley Fields, MMU Thursday 12th March, 10.00 – 3.00pm

andrew-curran-publicity-photoWe are delighted to welcome Andrew Curran, a Consultant Paediatric Neurologist working at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, to the Faculty of Education, MMU. Andrew is committed to using his extraordinary knowledge of the workings of the human brain to make a difference in the educational experience of all young people. He believes passionately in the importance of understanding the individual, connecting with them emotionally and leading them into self directed learning. His book, the Little Book of Big Stuff about the Brain (published by Crown House Publishing), is recognised as one of the leading books about understanding brain based learning and the importance of emo- tional literacy in our classrooms and in our lives.

Andrew will be delivering two guest lectures during the day.

Lecture 1, 10.00 – 12.30, Birley Fields G.44

Andrew’s morning session will explore the brain, its neurology and how this impacts on a child’s learning. In Andrew’s words …

What is the message that I am delivering through many years of studying the neurobiology of the human brain that appeals to so many people? It’s really very simple.

If each child in front of you feels understood, then this is good for their self esteem. If these two things are happening then the child will feel self-confident. And if these three things are extant the child will be emotionally engaged with learning. And if that happens, then the child’s brain is neurobiologically optimised for learning.

Lecture 2, 1.15 – 2.45, BirleyFields 2.51

In the afternoon session, Andrew will predominantly focus on the brain and music, considering how the two interrelate and the consequences of this for teaching and learning about music. Andrew brings a unique perspective to this through his own work as a singer/songwriter.

All are welcome to either session. BUT …

Please email Dr Jonathan Savage (j.savage@mmu.ac.uk) to confirm your attendance.

Space is limited.

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Music Education Hub funding announced for 2015/16

In what is a busy news day for music education, the next round of funding for the music education hubs has been announced by Arts Council England. The full details, including a spreadsheet of funding for each music education hub, can be found here.

The announcement is matched with a new report from ACE called ‘Ensuring Quality‘. This will be essential reading for all leaders of music education hubs.

We were also pleased to see that the Greater Manchester Music Hub is named checked by ACE in terms of the work they have done in developing their youth ensembles.

New A & AS Level and GCSE Music subject content announced today

The Government have released the new GCSE Music subject content today. The link to the guidance is here or you can download the Music .pdf file here.

The AS and A Level Music subject content has also been released. Details from here and the specific file can be downloaded here.

It will be interesting to hear what teachers make of these guidelines. The general consensus in the music education community to this point is that they are going to be intensely problematic. The preoccupation with staff notation and Western Classical music (only between the years of 1650 and 1910) both remain in the formal guidance. Time will tell.

Additionally, the Government have published their equality and impact study here, and their general response to the ‘reform’ process here.

Funding for music education hubs for 2015/16 announced

Following on from the announcement yesterday that Darren Henley is to take control of Arts Council England, funding for music education hubs was announced today for the period from 2015 – 16. This will follow the existing formula, together with a distribution of an additional £17m (the precise way in which this will be distributed is to be confirmed at a later date, although I have heard rumours that a significant percentage of this will support new or innovative approaches to music education – whatever that means).

I’m not sure if Henley’s new post and this announcement are linked in any way, but it is good news nonetheless. Here’s the full ACE announcement made today:

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Darren Henley takes over as Chief Executive of Arts Council England

henleyDarren Henley has been appointed as chief executive of Arts Council England, replacing Alan Davey who recently took over a new position as controller of Radio 3.

Darren Henley is well known to those of us working in music education having led the Government’s review into music education which resulted in the establishment of the National Plan for Music Education. He also conducted a similar review into the provision of arts education.

Darren takes over control of Arts Council England at a difficult time. Many commentators are predicting further significant cuts in their budget whoever comes to power in next year’s general election. Arts Council England has already lost around a third of its total Government funding and has had to implement a 50% reduction in administration costs over the last few years.

The position of music education hubs is also precarious. There is no news of precise funding levels for the period from April 2015 onwards despite there being a commitment to additional funding. Arts Council England are demanding new budgets from every music education hub in early January despite hubs not knowing what their allocated funding is. This is clearly ridiculous.

However, it is important to remember that the funding for music education hubs does not come from the Arts Council directly. It is funding that is paid by the DfE to the Arts Council. My understanding is that the Arts Council has still to receive notification from the DfE about the funding being made available for hubs despite their constant requests for clarification and further information.

Looking further forwards, there is no additional information for any funding for music education hubs from April 2016 despite the National Plan for Music Education covering the period to 2020.

Many music education hubs are in a fragile state. My understanding is that many are facing yearly deficits and having to access funding from their reserves as Local Authority and other sources of funding are diminishing. The political and financial uncertainty caused by all of this is worrying. It really is a shoddy way to run music education in this country. Let’s hope that Darren’s appointment to this new role will sharpen up the relationship between ACE and the DfE and lead to a period of more stability where hubs can plan confidently and effectively for the future of music education in their local areas.