I’m on a week’s holiday with the family, which prompts tweets like this one:
To which David Ashworth sent a fascinating, almost spooky reply, given that Little Nephew (who is 4) had also enthusiastically demonstrated and then delegated the performance of the various sound effects of Yellow Submarine:
David’s tweet prompted thoughts about music that has interesting features, but is not good to listen to. For example, I have no doubt that many GCSE teachers are glad to see the back of Peripetie! I personally love some of Schoenberg’s music, and the logical bit of me can understand why that particular piece was included in the old anthology – but I did not enjoy listening to Peripetie regularly, and often found myself encouraging pupils to listen to Verklarte Nacht for a bit more context about Schoenberg’s output. I imagine it’d be a bit like learning all about Yellow Submarine without ever hearing Yesterday or All You Need Is Love.
Then Nigel Taylor saw my reply to David, and made this fabulous point about the different ways to experience music:
All of this reminded me of a recurring conversation amongst music teachers: is it a good idea to get kids playing the music they like to listen to? Will it inspire them, or put them off? And if the latter, why? Because we are trying too hard to make our lessons relevant and ‘cool’? Because the resources available aren’t ideal for replicating the recordings that they are used to? Because the music is too technically demanding, or not demanding enough? Because teachers try to make it conform to western classical norms by the use of staff notation or other inauthentic alterations? I raised concerns about this last point in a recent presentation about the permeation of the western classical music canon and its approaches into school music education generally – but that’s another story. And of course the frequent assumption that using recently-released music automatically equates to informal learning and/or “fun lessons” is another story again.
And there’s the media response whenever we have new exam specs that include popular music: in 2015, AQA featured in the press for “refreshing” the GCSE listening paper by including The Beatles (that’s The Telegraph’s word, not mine). But to our pupils The Beatles are OLD. And whilst I’m definitely not saying that this means young people won’t enjoy studying their music, we should recognize that it is not necessarily any more “refreshing” to them than, say, Mozart. Indeed, when teaching the legacy Edexcel GCSE course, I found that my classes often mentioned the Mozart and Handel pieces as their favourites in the anthology, and not because they were ‘classical kids’ who performed Mozart and Handel outside of school. In a list of 12 pieces, these were no more relevant or irrelevant to them than the popular music and 20th century music choices.
Thanks then to both David and Nigel for raising some useful questions about interesting and good music, and about different ways of experiencing music. After half term, I’m going to ask them to my KS2 classes and see what they have to say. Finally, this seems like a great photo/blog matching opportunity. Bananas are yellow, like the aforementioned submarine. I really hate bananas, but I liked that this one had been personalized – and was somewhat disturbed to find it abandoned in the road. We should be less willing to abandon music that contains interest, even if it is not good to listen to.