Challenging convention

13th February 1998 at 00:00
FANFARE. By Tim Cain. Teacher's Book Pounds 15.95. Student's Books 1 and 2 Pounds 4.95 each. CDs 1 and 2 Pounds 12.95 each. Cambridge University Press

From standard classics to Seventies pop groups, enthusiasm shines through in this music package. Tom Deveson lends an ear

Tim Cain has compiled this key stage 2 music course with obvious enthusiasm. His notes for teachers are scattered with references to his experiences of listening and playing - he commends a favourite song as "superb", recalls playing in an orchestra and not realising an accompaniment figure was about to become the melody, and says of one Mozart piano part "the tune chonks about in the right hand".

This is a more modest programme than many, but its progression is clear. Starting with recognition of rhythms and timbres, it moves on to exploration of music's forms and social purposes. Cain makes the recordings central, but he recommends children spend time in undirected listening. This is right and refreshing, although teachers may well wonder where the classroom hours will come from.

Each book has 20 suggested units - one covers Years 3 to 4, the next Years 5 and 6. Each unit lasts about an hour. This may not seem much - although it may be all that's permissible under the newly-revised national curriculum - but the subject is not skimped.

The children's books have explicit instructions or open-ended questions, with cartoons, poems and simple notation in three varieties. There are graphics for everyone, rhyme indicators for all to learn through actions and listening, and staff notation in the treble clef. CD track references are also provided. Once again, the suggestion that pupils take some control over their own access to the music is welcome.

The repertoire has a pleasing variety. Extracts from standard classics go from Monteverdi via Beethoven to Elgar. And there are selections from 20th-century composers, from early Stravinsky and Bartok to an evocative extract of George Benjamin's At First Light, a sparkling orchestration of timbres.

The pop selections (Fairport Convention, Cat Stevens, Marianne Faithfull) betray more middle-aged tastes, but the world music choices include the bold experiment of lengthy pieces of biphonic singing from Mongolia. The eerie and powerful combination of whistling and humming is, as Cain suggests, best practised at home.

Each piece leads to a sensible set of investigations. For example, Aaron Copland's Fanfare suggests recognition of melodic shapes, predictions as to how the music will develop, and composition on two xylophones or recorders, using the spacious gestures of the original as a model and stimulus. Mahler's minor-key adaptation of the Fr re Jacques tune is introduced, but only after the children have worked out their own accompanying ostinati and made choices about tempo and dynamics in performance.

Altogether this is a likeable and intelligent course. It will provide real and challenging engagement with descriptive and analytical language as well as regular occasions for reading and acquiring new vocabulary. It will also require children to look closely at number patterns, aspects of symmetry and the effects of additive or cumulative systems of counting. But it deserves to be more than a tiny footnote to the brave new world of literacy and numeracy hours.

Tom Deveson is music advisory teacher for the London Borough of Southwark

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