Justifying Music Education in Secondary School Curriculums (October 2019)
I have written a full paper on this topic. You can read it here.
Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and life to everything… Without music, life would be an error. (Plato)
Plato lends a helpful hand here when it comes to justifying the place of Music in the curriculum because his words propose that music can develop the aesthetic capacities of the individual human being rather than just the student and their subject knowledge or skills.
I align with this justification more than others I sometimes hear since it overcomes the limitations of saying Music in school can educate children simply for the purpose of increasing their musical knowledge or cognitive abilities but still allows the teacher to concentrate on musical aims and ‘to be free from the distraction of those non-musical ones that education policy makers continually call for’ (John Finney, 2001). The idea of the aesthetic encounter formed the motive for writers with contrasting views; For example, The Intelligence of Feeling (1974) by Robert Witkin created tensions in music teaching because he claimed that arts teaching should be about self-discovery and its ability to heighten and strengthen a student’s sensitivity, thus improving their lives (Witkin, 1974). Yorke Trotter had strong beliefs that there should be a balance between emotional and technical responses to music, with the ‘feeling side’ of the child given priority over the ‘intellectual side’ (Trotter, 1914). To access the ‘feeling side’ and enter the realm of aesthetic appreciation in music, one must be able to experience cognition at the same time (Koopman, 1996). Reid calls this ‘cognitive feeling’ (Reid, 1980).
We may know the notes, understand intellectually the structure of, say, a piece of music as performer or listener; but unless we discriminatingly feel the flow and progress of it directly and intuitively, we are still mainly knowing about it in a detached way (Reid, 1980, p. 12 in Koopman, 1996, p. 486).
Trotter and Reid place the music student above the subject; their views reject what we know about music for the acquisition of musical knowledge and value it at more of a spiritual level, demanding much higher levels of commitment from the teacher (Plummeridge, 2001). This is because the justification of music as an aesthetic experience requires it to be in the present, and not second hand. There must be a complete presence of attention without multi-tasking. For this to happen, the teacher must relinquish their role as the tutor and transform into a facilitator for experience. It is clear that, whatever one's attitude towards musical aesthetics, the teacher can play a vital role in strengthening important links in the chain of musical communication by developing his pupils' listening skills and receptive powers, providing them with creative and executive experiences and influencing their musical attitudes and tastes (Brocklehurst, 1967) There are undoubtedly cons to this argument which brings with it exotic terms such as ‘aesthetics’ and ‘self-discovery’. Koopman argues that music education cannot afford to base its existence on the idea of the aesthetic experience alone since there are so many other subjects that one can gain this experience from (Koopman, 1996). Furthermore, can we really expect a child to experience a revelatory emotional discovery within what is essentially a fabricated environment placed on timetable? Brocklehurst also argues that it is very difficult to measure a child’s emotional response to music since it is mostly an unconscious process that often adults, let alone children, find difficult to describe using words without referring to stereotyped responses (Brocklehurst, 1967).
Nevertheless, Swanwick has argued a strong case that we can all relate to music and the music of others beyond our sometimes limited cultural experiences because we are all acquainted with common patterns of meaning behind sounds, images, symbols and gestures (Swanwick, 1999). In turn there is so much to be gained from delivering music with this justification in mind, particularly when one considers that it does not encourage division between those that are talented and ‘not-talented’ in music.
An alternative DAW to Garage Band (July 2019)
If you have ever used Apple's GarageBand, you'll know what a versatile and beautifully crafted piece of software it is. A very accessible interface with good quality software instruments as well as a plethora of options to manipulate what you've inputted. The only problem? It is only available for Mac's, and, they are expensive. For most schools, they're just not an option.
Two years ago I stumbled upon a piece of software called 'SoundTrap'. It's an online DAW with many similar features to GarageBand. When I saw the word online, I thought, 'no way, there will just be too much lag and delay'. To my surprise however, the application runs very smoothly.
I currently use SoundTrap for many composing topics such as 'Themes & Variations', 'Minimalism' and 'Film Music' as well 'Keyboard Skills'. Students love the variety of sounds on offer and can really get creative with the many editing options available. I'm not saying it's perfect for GCSE or beyond, but it will give your students many free tools.
SoundTrap is free. If you'd like to check it out, click here.