Moving to Canada to study music education is enlightening because I keep asking questions about the systems and traditions here, and that in turns makes me question my previous experiences as a pupil and teacher in England. It’s been a delight, therefore, to explore John Finney’s new book: The story of music education as told through fifty blogs, March 2012 – March 2013, which gives context and questions in equal measure. To people unfamiliar with English music education, this is a fantastic introduction to our language, daily experiences and overarching themes. To those who work within the system already, it is a chance to reflect on the good, the bad and the unique of what we do; chances are, you’ll laugh at the reference to West Country Tractor Music (Blog 24) and feel slightly shame-faced about relying on Pachelbel’s Canon (Blog 6).
I read most of the book on a train journey to Toronto last month, and have dipped back into it several times since (that’s another plus; The story of music education… is £2.99/$5.26 on Kindle, rather than requiring library membership and strong biceps). It’s about what actually happens in the classroom. Schubert slots in with Plan B and Billie Holliday. Children and teachers question, explore, dissent and surprise. Ofsted, lesson observations and the National Curriculum all feature. References to other scholars are accessible, interesting and relevant, and the two academic articles included are just as engaging and reader-friendly as the blogs. Gary Spruce says in the Foreword that ‘Finney’s writing is unsettling and challenging…with the experience of being a regular visitor to music classrooms.’ I was definitely challenged, but felt in no way insufficient or patronised – probably because it was clear that Finney really does know what teachers do.
So read this book, and read it on a device with internet access and good speakers. Several blogs have links to related articles, YouTube videos and other publications, and they are really worth spending time with. My own favourite was the recording of ‘Something Stupid’ that accompanied Blog 36. I’m sure that every teacher knows a boy like this one, a boy who wanted to do something “‘easier than this guitar crap'” and thought that singing was “‘for gays'”. I wondered how the boy remembers the experience now and whether he has found a safe space in which to continue singing. It prompted me to reflect on some of my own former pupils with similar academic and social profiles; their fears, my frustrations and, on occasion, musical solutions as moving as this one. And that’s the beauty of Finney’s writing: We can relate. These are real stories, told sparingly enough that there is space for our own memories and ideas to surface. Read this book.