Conversation of song

1st June 2001 at 01:00
MUSICAL DEVELOPMENT AND LEARNING: The International Perspective. Edited by David J Hargreaves and Adrian C North. Continuum. pound;60. Available from TES Direct pound;55.50.

Some "interesting and provocative views of the future of music education" are to be found in this fascinating book, in which experts discuss musical learning around the world.

According to Alda Oliveira, lessons in Brazil take place informally in settings such as game-playing, inner-city bands, in bars and on the beaches, rather than in school. This is due to the lack of teachers capable of reflecting the richness of Brazilian music. The popularity among teenagers of the extra-curricular samba schools in the United Kingdom confirms this richness.

At a time when OFSTED, as quoted by Graham Welch, describes the secondary curriculum as "ossified and remote from pupils' interests", secondary students could benefit from less classroom-based music education. Welch lucidly explores issues raised by the editors in their introduction to the book and is right to criticise the UK's "statutory curriculum designers" for their failure to consult researchers, among others.

In Africa, "singing certain songs in a formal classroom situation might be considered incongruous or absurd", says Kathy Primos. She claims that traditional songs are learned most effectively by Africans when transmitted to a group of paricipants in an informal manner by a leader. The participants "sing to each other as if in conversation, sharing their music and reacting to the contributions of the others around them".

Singing plays a vital part in Japanese culture too, although, according to Tadahiro Murao and Bernadette Wilkins, reforms to national curriculum standards in schools have ensured a reduction in the time spent on choral singing.

Outside the classroom, karaoke remains popular and new "culture schools", some funded by business concerns, are helping to ensure the future of Japanese traditional music by providing group lessons for adults.

Gerry Farrell's chapter on India is disappointing in some respects. He sensibly draws attention to the diversity of Indian music, and focuses on the contrasting master-disciple and college systems of classical education on the sub-continent. However, to discount the educational potential of the popular film song genre because "its influence is largely in the informal sphere", and to say nothing about primary school education on the basis that it is "a subject which requires in-depth research" is not good enough here. Perhaps Farrell should have collaborated with an expert actually from India.

This book rehearses several global issues in music education. It should be read by all with an interest in the subject.

Michael Burnett

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