The National Music Plan (NMP) aims to enable children from all backgrounds and every part of England to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; to make music with other people; to learn to sing; and to have the opportunity to progress.
Unfortunately, there are good reasons to worry instead that music education has become the preserve of the elite.
For example, Ofsted reported in 2013 that few Music Hubs – set up to promote and coordinate music regionally – were doing enough to help schools bring the benefits of music education to pupils from all backgrounds. Other reports have highlighted persistent social barriers and described access to music education as ‘unacceptably variable’. Critics have argued that the NMP does not align well with principles of inclusion (for example, downgrading informal learning) and that it has been (more…)
Upbeat about Sistema-inspired music programmes: how they are raising the bar for children in deprived areasBlog Editor, IOE Digital21 November 2014
Picture credit: Kimberly Warner/BRAVO Youth Orchestras
El Sistema, the Venezuelan music education programme that claims to transform lives through intensive participation in orchestra and choir, has again been in the news. In a preview to his forthcoming book based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork in Venezuela, Geoff Baker questions whether the social change claims can really be supported with evidence and critiques the pedagogy that underpins El Sistema. Baker’s book promises to add a critical perspective to a growing body of research, evaluation and theoretical critiques reviewed and summarised in our recent international review of evidence relating to El Sistema and Sistema-inspired programmes. (more…)
Age UK has launched a high profile campaign, challenging us to think aboutA how to love later life. Music-making offers a creative and cost-effective response to this challenge.
This view is articulated in our new book, Active Ageing with MusicA, through the voices of later-life community music-makers and supported by a wealth of evidence making a compelling case for the power of music in the lives of older adults. There are currently 10 million people in the UK aged over 65 and that number is forecast to double by 2050.
This extraordinary demographic transition, where we have seen a remarkable increase in the over-nineties, centenarians and even super-centenarians, is a triumph of public health policy and practice, yet also poses one of the major social challenges of the 21st century. As the Director of Age UK has stated, there is a pressing need for creative thinking about how we can help people make the most of a longer later life.
So, what might be so special about music-making in later life? One explanation relates to its holistic nature. In addition to influencing positive mental and physical health, music-making provides a context that promotes independence, personal development and self-expression alongside fellowship and intergenerational solidarity. As one music-maker (aged 80) is quoted: “Music benefits everybody, because of its beauty … It is an uplifting experience. I can’t imagine a life without music … It fulfils a need.” Yet, there is still much to be done before access to the full potential of musical participation might be a reality for our older citizens.
For example, apart from some very valuable practice and research with older people afflicted with dementia and some other age-related conditions, there has been little research that explores fully how music-making may be exploited within a range of community and institutional settings that reach the most vulnerable and frail of our older people. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that musical activities could act as a pathway to sustained or enhanced wellbeing. But provision must be of a high quality, responding to the diverse needs amongst older cohorts. To this end, there is a need for sustainable professional development and partnership working for musicians and other organisations with a stake in activities for older people. Age UK has laid down the challenge. As we prepare for old age and support our families, friends, and wider community members who have reached the Third and Fourth Ages, we need to find ways to ‘love later life’. Music-making does exactly this, with its potential to reach diverse groups amongst older people, supporting active ageing and touching individual lives in powerful ways.
Something very special has been happening in the depths of the East Sussex countryside. Today, tomorrow and Saturday (March 7-9 2013) music-lovers will be arriving at Glyndebourne to see the world premiere of a brand new opera by Orlando Gough and Stephen Plaice. Right at the heart of this production is an intergenerational community chorus aged 16-80, some of whom have never been involved in music making before, collaborating with international artists.
The opera, Imago, focuses on the theme of ageing in a digital world. This piece is a tour de force, both musically and technically. Community participants have mastered complex musical challenges that would have vexed the most experienced professional musicians. Young and older participants alike have been tweeting, blogging and face booking about their experience, as they prepared for the premiere.
This project is special on so many levels. This is a remarkable example of community learning, of peer support, of experiential learning and of the power of music. Glyndebourne, an international centre of musical excellence is an extraordinary context for this venture. As one chorus member said to me, “this is the real deal”. The production is supported with the full weight of Glyndebourne’s resources. In this content of excellence participants have exceeded personal and collective expectations.
In the run-up to this week’s event, old and young have been working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. In the orchestra pit community musicians were being mentored, playing alongside professional musicians. The sense of community was compelling, as the entire company pulled together, united by a common purpose. Aspirations have been raised. Individuals have experienced deep levels of musical engagement, drawing on previously unknown personal resources.
Imago addresses a very topical issue – ageing in the modern world. In the UK, where our population of centenarians has risen by 84% since 2000, we need compassionate initiatives that enrich the lives of older people and help them to sustain wellbeing. Music is just such an initiative. Glyndebourne has got this one exactly right. The story line is highly topical and fosters some deep thinking about what ageing means.
Most importantly, Imago is a tangible example of how music can be affirming, sustaining and transformative, acting as a vehicle for young and old alike to experience enhanced well being. It is also compelling evidence that when individuals of any age have the benefit of first class opportunities and expert support they really will rise to the challenge, achieving remarkable things.
Andrea Creech is conducting an evaluation of this project for Glyndebourne
The case of former youth choir director Michael Brewer, convicted at Manchester Crown Court of indecently assaulting a former student, and the subsequent tragic death of brave, talented Frances Andrade, has been followed by a series of allegations concerning other music teachers. This has many of us wondering about the wisdom of placing children in specialist music schools.
Within these institutions children form close bonds with their instrumental teachers. These pupil-teacher relationships are central to the child’s musical and emotional development. Often, they span several years, with regular and frequent one-to-one contact. Added to that, the focus of the contact is music – which has the power to evoke strong emotional responses.
A body of research, including my own, has demonstrated the far-reaching consequences of teacher-student one-to-one relationships in music. Instrumental teachers have been found to play powerful roles in the musical, social and emotional development of their students. Musical development, self-esteem, confidence and motivation are affected. The most successful relationships are those where there is mutual respect, common purpose and child-centred rather than teacher-centred goals.
Furthermore, amongst school-aged instrumental pupils, transparent and reciprocal communication with parents is vital. Yet, those who have charge of teaching our children and play this powerful role in their lives often have no specialist teacher training or support for the social, emotional and pastoral aspects of their jobs.
It is time to demand more from prestigious music institutions. All instrumental teachers should have the highest quality teacher training that would equip them with the tools to be truly reflective practitioners, who have the integrity and skills to support their students’ holistic development in effective and positive ways.
Yes, our young musicians need guidance from excellent musicians. But above all else the social and emotional health and wellbeing of our children must be protected. All teachers should be carefully selected, trained and supported – before they are entrusted with our children. Musicians are not an exception to this rule.
A specialist pathway for instrumental teachers has been developed as part of the IOE’s Teaching and Learning in Higher and Professional Education programme