Archives For Music Education

I read an article in The Guardian about music disappearing from the English school curriculum as research has shown the number of schools offering the subject at A-level (Advanced Level) is in sharp decline, and fewer students are taking Music at thirteen to sixteen years of age which I believe is down to the new English baccalaureate putting more emphasis on STEM subjects (Science, Technology and Maths) and a humanities plus a foreign language.

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How long could it be before Geography or History and other humanities are considered subjects people can ‘study outside of school hours’ and they get dropped, and why not? You can read these books alone outside of school! The majority of 16-year-olds are now expected to stay in compulsory 16-18 education but the options for what you can study is becoming restricted to what ‘The Government’ want to pay for.  I’d love to read your opinion even if it differs from mine.

Violin and piano

With music, you need help to read the musical language and set you off on how to play musical instruments. Music technology has also declined by more than 32% in the last two years.  The problem with only offering music ‘out of school hours’ is the cost for parents and I suspect that if checked the schools that don’t offer a full music provision are those in most deprived areas.  In 2012, when I left school, music was a compulsory subject for 11-13 year-olds (up to Year 8), this survey says it is only compulsory in 47.5% of schools now.  Music department staffing has fallen by 36% which is a concern for music graduates as a whole employment route is being closed down.  Humans don’t just make music for work and career purposes, for many it is their enjoyment, their hobby, a way of socialising and meeting likeminded groups of people.

Classic music Sax tenor saxophone violin and clarinet vintage

At my primary school basic singing took place in groups but if you wanted to play an instrument you had to pay extra for a half-hour lesson during breaks or after school.  At High School musical instrument tuition and solo singing were outside of the music lessons, I have been truly blessed that my parents paid for these classes but they were supplemented with free GCSE’s (General Certificates in Education) in contemporary dance, drama, and music and I doubt you could fund sufficient lessons privately that would be required without any performing arts in the curriculum and you would be missing out as a student in key skills.

I was the only student taking Music A (Advanced) level at my 6th Form college 16-18 so I took the lessons in a BTEC music group (which is mainly performance based without the music literacy) which restricted the academic rigour of the Advanced Level course and once again my parents stepped in to pay for several private lessons to fill the gaps I discovered I had after my first year of study, this is not to take anything away from my music teachers they were both wonderful, however, they didn’t have the time or funds to help any more than they did.  I would not like to have started at a music conservatoire without the full music theory grounding, in fact I’m not sure I would have got in.

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Perhaps we in England may need to stop school 6th forms if they can’t offer a full enriching curriculum. Then channel all 16-year-olds into County colleges to consolidate several schools A level cohort (16-18-year-old) giving more student numbers per course?  What do you think?

We now have the UK Government deciding what English pupils learn, I wonder how many of them have Music degrees? Perhaps this is a new job prospect for music graduates   – enter politics in order to ensure creatives are represented in the seat of power.

I would add that both of my brothers are in professions considered ‘academic’ STEM-related study areas now, yet both were allowed to study the performing arts, Drama and Dance and both took singing lessons and this has enriched their characters, enabled them to enjoy working in teams, and given them the ability to make presentations to big groups of people without too much fear.  Both of them still ballroom dance and most of all it taught them persistence, dedication, and not to give up on hard to learn skills.  The arts can also provide a relief from stress and is good for their mental health and well being that they can find escapes in art and creative pursuits.

Music Teachers, Chalkboard, Apple

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Me with my singing Teacher, Rosa Mannion

During my studies and training, I have found the help of my music teachers and mentors invaluable, they have each guided my development and progression to date and helped me achieve goals that would have been unattainable without them. I am currently studying with Rosa Mannion who is both an inspiration and encouraging taskmaster.  We are currently studying together the importance of the soft palette in vocal technique and I’m excited to hear more about her research and put into practice the recommendations.

I read that Kasper Holten the Danish Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, who left Covent Garden, London last month, claimed that the British are prejudiced against opera, perceiving it as elitist and not for them.  The new Director Oliver Mears agrees that the perception exists.  So how does my generation change and challenge this?

Lots of people I went to school and college with would never think to go to an opera, the State schools that my family attended never arranged trips to see an opera although there were trips to watch drama, dance performances, and musical theatre. It’s as though the State schools are keeping this perception going and not trying to make high art accessible to a wider audience if only to make a once in five year visit to the dress rehearsal of an opera performance so that each child has the opportunity to attend once in Primary school and once in Secondary education.

Although I’ve never been invited back to my High School to discuss training in a conservatoire, perform or undertake a demonstration with the music students I would be happy to,  the classical singing teacher that taught me at the school is no longer available to the students. Jayne led to several people in her short time teaching extra-curricular singing at the school to undertake classical training, and several of her students are now either working in the crossover industry or undertaking training at prestigious Conservatoires.  If she gave just ten of us this transformative experience that opened our minds and expanded our knowledge, then that’s a good thing, isn’t it?  Together we are all introducing new families to classical music, people whom prior to our involvement may have had no knowledge of this beautiful music other than the occasional advertisement on the TV, or when they are used in a film score they like.

Everyone talks about wanting social mobility for all, the chance to progress on merit and talent yet so many doors are kept firmly closed that I feel need to be opened.  Last summer in Scotland, Scottish Opera put on ‘The Little White Town of Never Weary’ for primary school children on a tour of Scotland, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see the children’s excitement and the smiles on their faces as they interacted with the performers. The Scottish Opera Education team also regularly put on Tours throughout Scotland, bringing pop-up operas to even the most remote areas, they are getting this right.  I’m excited to be part of a creative team on a new project with them again this summer.

In England, we read that music lessons are being cut out of the school curriculum in too many State schools thanks to the new requirements and testing to the EBacc formula that the schools are judged against, there was a controversial piece that I read, written by Charlotte C Gill in the Guardian “Music education is now only for the white and the wealthy”

I saw this at my own High School, they had too few students wanting to take A level Music at the start of my sixth form preferring to take the easier BTEC Music which wouldn’t have given me the skills I required for my next step of training and would have ended my progression were it not for the Head of Music and Music teacher agreeing to allow me to undertake it by self-study within the BTEC class with some extra support from Mr. Leigh. However, I found the breadth of the course really challenging to do on my own and I was so lucky to come into contact with a music teacher outside of school, Suzanne Harvey, a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoire, who lived close to me and helped me so much.  With her help, I improved my understanding and appreciation of music plus the theory which gave me the foundation I needed to move on to a conservatoire. So, I don’t agree with the premise that the teaching of music should be dumbed down and made easier in every instance.

I would be interested to hear how the teaching of music is organised in different countries and if it encourages children to explore classical music and have a more open mind towards the beauty of opera and classical music.

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It was great to catch up with one of my friends today, Katie Oswell, from my time at the RCS, Glasgow. We had a lovely afternoon together and I enjoyed finding out about what she has been up to since I finished at the RCS last summer.

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Katie Oswell and Me