The Interview - 'We could have a big hit here'

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
Cos Chapman teaches music technology at BSix Sixth Form College in Hackney, east London, and is a guitarist and singer with Rude Mechanicals

How did you get into teaching?

It was partly by accident. I was an oceanographer but had always wanted to go back to university. I started doing computing and philosophy but I was interested in music so I went to the music department and played them some of the stuff I had been doing. They asked if I wanted to study composition. At the end of the course I was offered a postgraduate place, started teaching undergraduates and when I finished my postgraduate course I got a post at the local sixth form college.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

I've always liked working with other people. A lot of what you're doing in teaching is a collaborative project - it is a two-way process rather than telling people what to do. I'm 50 now, so how else is someone of my age ever going to get to meet young people, find out what they're interested in and listen to their music?

How does performing music influence your teaching?

It makes it feasible for me to be authoritative. If I didn't perform, my students would have every right to ask what I knew about the profession, but I can say I have got gigs, I know what it is like to try to put on events, from regular events to hiring out the back room of a pub. I can't see how you can teach a subject vocationally without being actively involved in doing it.

All of us in the music department are active musicians, DJing, writing film soundtracks, running a record label, so if anybody wants to know about working in the music industry we pretty much cover all the bases.

How does your teaching affect your music?

I get a lot of bits and pieces of ideas, and it forces me to learn how to use the latest equipment. You have got to stay abreast of where they are. Occasionally they come up with something and you think: "How the devil did they do that?" You have to work it out very quickly.

There are always one or two students who are very skilled and they will find things you wouldn't come across otherwise. If I wasn't teaching I'd soon be hopelessly out of date, and it keeps me mentally active and alert. The summer holidays also give me time to compose and record music.

What music are you involved in outside college?

I play two or three times a month with Rude Mechanicals, which is sort of jazz cabaret, and we're recording a new album over the summer. Then there is live improvisation stuff, where I usually collaborate with classical musicians and we perform four or five times a year, and then there is the theatre stuff, which is all done on the computer where I'll be working very closely with the director and a bunch of actors, trying to get the sound right for whatever they're doing. None of them pay massively well but it is enough to put some petrol in the car to get to the rehearsal.

What do you think of the music your students listen to?

By the time you get to my age you become a bit more selective, but there is no style of music I don't like. No matter how far away it is from your own comfort zone, if you are a musician you can say something about it. You don't have to like something to pass constructive comment on it.

Grime is the local music genre in Hackney, based on hip-hop and rap, and when you listen to dubstep, a collision of drum 'n' bass and two-step garage, you can hear the shadow of electronic music from the Fifties and Sixties. I talk to students about it and they do go and listen to that music, although it's probably mainly to see if they can sample it.

What advice would you give to a prospective music technology teacher?

You have to have an active interest in music and you have to be using the technology, because otherwise you'll find your knowledge will be quickly exceeded by your students and someone will ask you a question that you don't even understand.

You'll have to listen to a lot of stuff where you're gritting your teeth and trying to find something positive to say, but every so often there is something really good and you think that could be a big hit in the right hands.

What would you do if you were Schools Secretary for the day?

I would scrap all the testing. Students are totally orientated towards it. You ask them to do something and their first question is whether it is part of their qualification, and if they're not going to be assessed on it they don't want to do it. They don't show any interest in education as a means of learning how to do things, it is simply about that piece of paper, and that is because they've had it drilled into them that the only important thing is to get through the test.


2005-date: Music technology teacher, BSix Sixth Form College, London

2004-2005: Music technology teacher, Cambridge Regional College

2000-2004: Music technology teacher, CATS (Cambridge Arts and Sciences) College

1995-2000: Associate lecturer in music technology, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge

1993-1995: Research assistant in music technology, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge

1990-1993: BA in music and theatre studies, Lancaster University

1980-1990: Oceanographer for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

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