More strings to all our bows

1st March 1996 at 00:00
PERFORMING AND RESPONDING. By John Howard. Cambridge University Press. Assignments in Music Series. Book Pounds 6.95, cassettes Pounds 12.50 each. MUSIC MATTERS 14 -16. By Marian Metcalfe and Chris Hiscock. Ringbinder with two CDs. Heinemann Pounds 85 plus VAT. Age range 14 -16.

Aelwyn Pugh tunes in to two courses aimed at helping teachers deliver stimulating music lessons. Much of the media attention given to music education tends to focus on what happens outside the classroom. Shock-horror stories about the dismantling of local authority provision of instruments and the slump in applications to the National Youth Orchestra have too often blinded us to the more positive changes that are taking place.

For the first time since 1870, every child has a legal entitlement to music tuition. This has to be delivered to a clear plan which ensures appropriate development and challenges for each individual. Secondary music teachers can no longer rely on ego, enthusiasm and excitability for their success. Now they must also demonstrate skills in planning and assessment and in being able to deliver their subject to all pupils, not just the self-selecting few. To do so, they need appropriate resources. John Howard's Performing and Responding meets that need.

A follow-up to his earlier Learning to Compose in the same series, this book contains 12 projects. Each focuses on a piece for listening, together with complementary performance activities which are intended to provide a route towards meaningful listening and analysis, as well as being musical experiences in their own right.

All the projects share the same framework. Pupils learn, rehearse and perform a newly-composed piece. They then analyse it and identify its similarities with the listening piece. This work is supported by information about the musical extracts and by suggestions for follow-up activities, including composition and improvisation.

The listening pieces have an emphasis on 20th-century music, but they also include Balinese music and the work of Machaut, Monteverdi, Bach and Beethoven. It is particularly good to find Judith Weir's work among them.

The performance pieces are scored for the kind of resources available in school and allow for differing group sizes and instrumentation. The parts vary in difficulty, providing for involvement by advanced players as well as those with limited skills. The sample performances on the cassettes or CD help to clarify the scores and provide a useful spur to further analysis. The result is a cleverly constructed, stimulating and challenging book which takes teachers and pupils to the heart of music-making.

Another useful resource for the hard-pressed teacher is Music Matters 14-16. A follow up to the highly successful Music Matters 11-14, this consists of 10 projects, each containing teachers' notes and photocopiable performing and composing sheets and information sheets for reference. Relevant listening excerpts are included on the accompanying CDs.

Each project involves interrelated performing, composing and listening activities; has clearly defined objectives for assessment; and is a progressive development from earlier projects, either within this book or its predecessor. Areas covered range from making arrangements, exploring scales and building a song to ceremonial and occasional music, and work on homophonic and counterpoint textures.

The music examples draw on a wide range of historical and cultural origins, but there appears to be little reference to women composers. The composing activities are differentiated: sometimes separate sheets are provided for each of three levels of ability, or they are specified separately on the same sheet.

There is advice about when to deliver each project and the importance of supplementary study is recognised. However, given the fact that devising homework tasks which support and extend classroom activities presents such a problem for many music teachers, it would have been helpful if the authors had included specific suggestions. Similarly, it would have been helpful to include supplementary sheets dealing with the basics of staff notation to support the "rapid remedial action" and reinforcement which the authors feel might be necessary. Despite this, Music Matters 14-16 is a useful resource and, like its predecessor, should enjoy healthy sales among its target audience.

Aelwyn Pugh is music inspector for Liverpool and author, with Lesley Pugh, of Blueprints Music for Key Stages 1 and 2 (Stanley Thornes)

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