Music for pleasure by order
Tom Deveson on teaching primary music with confidence and enjoyment Both of these short readable books have admirably clear titles; and they mainly achieve what they promise. They form part of the growing collection of advice on what is perhaps the most practical and yet most feared of national curriculum subjects.
d'Reen Struthers sees her ideal reader as a willing learner, someone engaged on a journey to be shared with children as they move together from experience to experience. Her concern is to transform the easy (if welcome) slogan "Music for All" into the harder reality of "Music for Each". She is therefore as much concerned with the problematic facts of planning as with the sensuous joys of singing and playing.
She shows how teachers' knowledge of children's learning styles can be applied to music. She expects them to be able to think about how they intervene in children's sound-worlds and quotes most appositely from Keith Swanwick's writing about "Selection, Relation and Intention" as the key conditions which allow music to happen.
Her focus moves through the book from the learner to the teacher and then to the school in which they all meet and operate. The sections on the individual learner are not as directly practical as Leonora Davies' admirable Take Note (BBC); that is, they don't give as much rich illuminating detail to the description of classroom activities. But there is a generous emphasis on the need for exploration among sounds, on how play leads appropriately to improvisation and, most welcome, on the necessary but neglected importance of feelings both remembered and imagined. After all, the arts are the only part of the national curriculum which pupils are statutorily obliged to enjoy.
Her advice on organising the people and things available in school so as to make music more balanced and feasible is well-considered. Ideas on the constraints of time and accommodation and on teachers' ways of planning to overcome them will make spirited sense in a classroom on a wet Thursday afternoon with 30 children and some elderly xylophones. Only the evaluation checklists, with their fearsome multimatrices (nearly 200 boxes per child per year) are likely to be off-putting. The rest of the book, especially where it explicitly links understanding with pleasure, is decidedly useful and full of encouragement.
Sarah Hennessy's book is quite slim - a mere 80 pages - but also helpful and clear. Her starting point is refreshingly direct. "Music arises from ordinary activity that we all share: vocalising, moving, hearing, feeling, imagining, thinking." This is an observation that always goes down well on in-service courses, provided its rationale is as carefully considered as it is here. Indeed, the book specifically invites its readers to do the activities outlined in its six units, to use them for training themselves as well as for teaching their classes.
This quality of thinking emerges in areas as varied as composition ("Confidence develops through personal engagement with the medium") and pulse ("Teachers need to find ways of establishing a feeling for rhythm before teaching the visual symbols that represent it"). An example of the latter would be children's ability to weave complex football-claps and Cantona-chants long before they can write down the appropriate semiquaver rests - though they can often work them out in grid-patterns.
The six units cover curriculum issues, rhythm, pitch and melody, listening, form and texture. Each contains a number of activities as well as points for discussion or investigation. Many of these are not new, but that is no disadvantage; the best are constantly being handed on like folksongs through musicians' casual camaraderie. Two very attractive composing ideas, using bursting bubbles and spinning hoops as starting points, are unselfishly ascribed by the author to just such a workshop as her own generous ideas will inspire. The problem with all volumes of this kind is that music is much more exciting to do than to describe, especially when much has to be crammed into a narrow compass. But both these books will help teachers and their children to listen, perform and compose confidently and happily.
Tom Deveson is Music Adviser for the London Borough of Southwark.