Last Thursday, I got a tattoo. It’s henna, and is starting to fade now. Presented with a selection of designs, I immediately chose the Arabic word for happiness because it is such a fitting description for the time I’ve just spent in London. Unexpectedly, every time I notice the tattoo I feel even happier; it prompts me to recognise happiness in whatever I am doing at that time. It feels similar to wearing an emotionally significant piece of jewellery. This emotional response has surprised me, because I only got the tattoo to support a school charity event. I don’t have any real tattoos, mainly because I actively avoid unnecessary pain but also, I increasingly realise, because I tend to avoid permanent decisions. Several friends have absolutely beautiful tattoos though, and I am slightly jealous of their physical braveness and their confidence to make a permanent, visible statement about their identity.
My tattoo will probably have disappeared completely in a couple of days. Which is a good thing because I’m seeing Grandma on Friday and I know that she hates tattoos! But does that make it less significant or valuable than a permanent tattoo? If so, is a live music experience therefore less significant/valuable than a recorded one, or a temporary art installation less valuable than an oil painting? When my tattoo fades, will I still notice that I am happy? Alternatively, would a permanent tattoo gradually lose it’s significance and ability to make me think? Or would its meaning change over time, as my body changes and new experiences give meaning to the symbol?
At the end of term, my Year 10 class were partway through a GCSE composition task. I asked them to write a brief review of their work so far, including the question “What do you still need to do before your composition is finished?” One pupil wrote that his composition “will never be finished because I can always improve.” Is this true? Can musical performances and compositions ever be finished? If the answer is yes, how do we know that they are finished, and does “finished” imply any sense of permanence? Does the prevalence of recorded music (generally “finished products”) mean that children are less likely to place value on their work-in-progress performances and compositions?
Teacher-brain then takes me to curriculum. It seems that we reward product much more than process in most externally assessed music qualifications here in the UK. Does a curriculum model that encourages finished products mean that children are more likely to feel a sense of achievement? Or, if we err to describing music as something that keeps changing and cannot be finished, how does this change our priorities for a music curriculum? If we were presented with a completely blank canvas, what would we make permanent and what would be added only temporarily? And would pupils make the same choices, or have the same memories as their teachers about the experience? It’s one to think about.