Thursday, 27 December 2018

Music is not taught

in schools any more. At least, it is not taught the way it was when I was a kitten or when I first went teaching.
I remember having rather dull music lessons in which we were taught "tonic sol fa" - that 19thC invention of one Sarah Jane Glover which most people would associate more with "The Sound of Music" than anything else. (Yes, "do re mi fa sol la ti do".) We were supposed to follow the hand signs of the teacher and sing the appropriate notes. 
The sound was generally horrific. It could not even have been described as "flat singing". It was simply a noise. The only person I ever met who was skilled in the art was the music inspector. Mr G.... must have despaired.
We had to do a unit of music in college and, among other things make a simple musical instrument. Most people made bamboo pipes or drums from tin cans. I made a simple fife or flute like oddity from a length of brass pipe left in my maternal grandfather's workshop.  My uncle showed me how to file the necessary holes.
By complete chance it played an almost perfect pentatonic scale. (And  yes, it was a sheer fluke.) I took it off to college and passed it in as my assignment. Of course I couldn't actually play the thing but the lecturer could. 
    "Cat, it needs a little bit of work."
Ugh. I've failed I thought. No. He came out to the workshop the following weekend and he did the "little bit of work". I believe he used it as an example until he retired.  Perhaps it was better than all those bamboo pipes and tin drums.
I didn't need to teach music at all - well, not that sort. The only primary school I taught in had a deputy headmaster who was very musical and he took each class in the school. 
I went on to special education and music was very important. The children I taught mostly could not speak let alone sing but they generally loved music. We all had cassette recorders of one sort or another. (Supplied by us as well.) Most of the time the staff would put on nursery rhymes or simple children's songs. Occasionally it would be a more modern popular song. I added to that in my classroom by bringing cassettes of classical music from home and playing things like Handel's Water Music and Bach cantatas, Beethoven and Mozart, Telemann and Vivaldi. I would simply slot the tape in and leave it playing softly. 
Did the children listen? Yes, in a way they did. They were much quieter when classical music was playing.  I remember the first occasion I played Mozart's variations on "Twinkle, twinkle little star". I hadn't said anything to the children. I simply put it on one morning and set about doing the usual morning routine. One profoundly physically disabled child was instantly alert to the tune but I had expected that. He was bright and should not have been in the school at all. (He went on to another school  a little later.)
    "I'll tell you about it in a moment P...." I told him.  Then I saw his eyes go to another child. From the expression on his face I could tell he was trying to tell me "Look!". I turned and there was D... doing her best to make the hand signs we had tried to teach the children. She was trying to tell another child what the tune was! I was stunned and so was my teacher aide.  
I thought of all that this morning when there was a very short article in the paper about Prince Charles recording something about his "Private Passions". One of them is music. Yes, I have been well aware he is interested in music, that he somehow found the time to learn cello and trumpet. How well does he play them? I have no idea. That doesn't matter.He plays. He thinks more music should be taught in schools.
And yes, it should. Children should be exposed to all sorts of music and they should be taught by experts. They should be taught by people who know about music, who can bring it to life and who can get children to participate in meaningful ways. 
That morning in the classroom I knew that, if the cassette player ever stopped working I would need to instantly get another one. I knew that I had to keep the supply of tapes up. It cost me something but it taught me even more.
D...'s expression as she showed her friend L... that this was another version of one of the songs they knew taught me something new about the power of music.

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