23rd February 2001 at 00:00
CHILDREN COMPOSING 4-14. By Joanna Glover Routledge Falmer pound;14.99. Companion website:

Jo Glover offers several well-considered reasons why children's own music-making is not as clearly understood or valued as it might be.

There is the daunting work of adult composers, whose prestige overshadows the achievements of younger musicians. There is the institutional habit of giving marks and grades to the compositions of 16-year-old examinees, which exonerates us from thinking clearly about the paths they took towards their proficiency. Above all, there is the simple fact that we do not spend enough time listening to what children actually do when they are being musical.

With great delicacy and intelligence, Children Composing 4-14 shows how we can become more attentive and so more useful in the support we offer to children who are employing instruments or voices for their own expressive purposes.

Four-year-olds have often already had rich musical experiences of various kinds, which will be reflected in what they do; their starting points may not be the same as our well-intentioned stimuli. "I'm just playing" may be a verbal pretext behind which asymmetric rhythms or free tonalities - felt, even if not named as such - are being explored.

This observation leads Jo Glover to her ardent but discriminating avice to teachers to let go of the tight connection so often maintained between input and output. She clearly demonstrates the benefits which can result from this relative freedom, not least among which are teachers' own abilities to hear and value sounds which are right but unexpected.

This is no counsel of laissez-faire indifference; rather it is an opportunity for teachers to model for children a whole range of listening skills, covering both analyticdescriptive and subjective reactions. The effect is to make music more not less important in the composing forum of the classroom.

It is good to hear the author citing the pioneering books by David Holbrook that deal with children's imaginative writing. Like him, she has the ability to see how so-called deficits may become strengths.Teachers at GCSE sometimes wish that their students could wield the complex mixed meters and the improvisatory confidence of a six-year-old singing about her day.

The book is rooted in the realities of classroom life; its sense of potential is based on hearing how musicianship develops as young people grow in body and experience. It draws on much research and is tempered by philosophical clarity; but, above all, it bears witness to an informed and idealistic passion that hard-pressed teachers and test-challenged children need and deserve.

Tom Deveson

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