This is my final post for Key Approaches in Music Education. It is based on the first six weeks of discussions we had in half of each lesson, centred around various issues of culture, inclusion, tradition and forward thinking. I will not attempt to represent exactly the work of all the fantastic authors and music education professionals we studied, although I will attempt to summarise my thoughts on the main themes.
In week 1 we spoke with Brent Talbot regarding his experiences in his music education work and his thoughts on who we are and how our personal history may influence our view of music education. From his perspective in the USA, he references Ken Elpus who highlights that American music teachers are overall less culturally diverse than the USA population is in itself, which is proposed to present issues around certain forms of music being prioritised, such as western art and western popular music. Interestingly, Talbot also states that the idea of culturally diverse and accepting music education has been reserved for only primary education, and secondary and tertiary music ed struggles to keep up. A powerful quote to summarise all of this by Talbot is : “Advocacy for our field would not be necessary if the broader population felt the work we did as music teachers represented and reflected their identities and daily lives.”
In week 2, we spoke to Anna bull, who proposes that there are 3 types of young musicians, the “bright futures”, the “masters of the musical universe”, or the “humble and hard working”, at least in terms of those young people who exist within traditional western music spheres and are passionate enough to continue making music throughout their lives. It was discussed to what extent we all felt as though we had opportunities carved out for us to pursue music as young people, with the few of us, myself included, who were able to speak from the relatively new perspective of western popular musicians new to the academic world. Personally, I mentioned to the group that I felt I had great experiences in school music classes, and despite there being no direct path to music as a future profession in any form, this did not de rail my ability to build my skills high enough to attend the Sydney Conservatorium of music.
In week 3, we discussed a poem by Nate Holder, discussing the potential for racism in music education and music in general. To summarise, a few key lines from the poem raise important topics. First, the line “I’d teach African drumming because of course Africa is a country” highlights the need to respect the history and values behind any form of music studied in the classroom, moving away from a surface level understanding. The line “after all, it’s them and us” and the noting of the trans Atlantic slave trade occurring around the height of western art music, highlights the need for a spectrum approach to musical cultures rather than a binary one that only highlights differences rather than celebrates similarities.
In week 4, We looked at some of the work by Alexis Kallio, a music teacher from Finland, who have held the number one ranking worldwide for education systems. Her article in this case dealt with the tricky topic of engaging with “problematic” musics in the classroom environment since this is a necessary part of the profession if we are to be truly inclusive. In particular, many modern forms of popular music were identified for their strong lyrical themes and sometimes anti social ideologies that are put forward, either directly or indirectly. Kallio also notes that it is impossible, and perhaps wrong, to ignore all musics that seem problematic for the classroom since these are still available to students to enjoy in their own time, with friends and in concert. I was not surprised to find many of my classmates highlighted heavy metal as problematic, with rap and hip hop also casually mentioned if I remember correct. I also provided the example of Black Metal as problematic and something I would struggle to ever include in the classroom, considering it’s early history with a handful of Norwegian musicians who engaged in severe crimes, forever tarnishing the reputation of a genre that now has provided legions of fans with a strongly positive emotional and musical outlet, despite it’s surface appearance of anti social themes.
In week 5 we engaged with the writings of Scruton, who maintains the value of western art music over western popular music. His target of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” makes a strong example for his thoughts. Firstly, the chord progression is targeted for it’s use of parallel perfect intervals, with “key changes unprepared” as well. It becomes clear that Scruton’s vocabulary is based in western art music and he does not have an understanding for the emotional, social value of rock or popular music which does not concern itself with sticking to rules of music theory. However, James made it apparent that despite this non inclusive way of thinking, it is in fact still a valid opinion and deserves consideration alongside the other authors we have been discussing.
In week 6, we spoke with Rachel Dwyer whose work focusses on the idea of valuing western art music above other forms in music education. Namely, how this can leave out many great opportunities for other experiences in the classroom, and even neglecting the prior musical experiences of students in the classroom. It was also noted that music education is unique in that it is not simply about “transmission of knowledge”, rather it is about a facilitating musical experiences for students. Some students may also feel “alienated” if they are taught that music is about valuing a narrow set of knowledge and experiences, rather than embracing a range of these.