Classical music is out of tune

15th September 2006 at 01:00
Classical music has lost its place as the "unassailable core" of music education, according to one leading practitioner.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Scottish Association for Music Education (SAME) at Stirling University last week, Stephen Broad admitted Western classical music has lost its traditional kudos.

Dr Broad, a lecturer at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, said: "There is a sense in which it has such a bad cultural reputation that people often seem not just willing but hungry to deny any interest in it.

"Probably the most interesting thing Tony Blair has ever said is that he should probably have graduated to classical music but he was still a Jimi Hendrix man at heart.

"The respect which automatically attracted financial aid for classical music is no longer there.

"If you like, the curriculum has moved from being canonised to being more open."

Dr Broad has been conducting research, sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council, into developing music-making opportunities for young people. His report will be published in November.

He said: "I think we need to respect and support what young people want to engage with."

The sentiment was backed by teachers. One delegate said it could be a good starting point. "What a lot of teachers have been doing is starting off with punk band Green Day and then moving them on to other things so they then make their own decision."

Although another argued: "How can you give them what they like if they haven't been exposed to everything?" Keeping pupils interested was a key message at the event.

American musician and educator Nick Page argued that music can connect bodies, minds, emotions and cultures.

Techniques he advocated included so-called "Smiles and Frowns" which stresses the value of emotions in music by encouraging singing using different facial expressions.

He also recommended making respectful changes to folk music so the personal experience of singers could give their performances more feeling.

As a way of engaging difficult youngsters, Mr Page recommended drumming. It is thought it helps release emotion and increases attention spans with rhythm.

He cited a successful initiative in Boston in which seven boys facing expulsion had been given drumming lessons.

"After a month only one had to be dismissed for not paying attention in class," he reported.

Stuart Brown, a former professional musician who became a teacher, led sessions on creative inclusion. His project in North Ayrshire has created a radio station where pupils select their favourite songs and recording links.

Mr Brown argued that music in schools can be pastoral and not purely academic, both for disruptive youngsters and those with learning difficulties.

He added: "Maybe the objective isn't 'I'm going to get them through this music exam', but 'I'm going to get them through the day'.

"Leaving school with no qualifications is not necessarily a failure for some kids. But when you pass on enjoyment in music, once they leave school, they may pick up that ball and run with it."

Around 500 teachers, musicians and experts attended the event which aims to support the music curriculum in Scotland.

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