Sound ideas for musical youth

11th October 1996 at 01:00
THE SOUNDING SYMBOL: MUSIC EDUCATION IN ACTION By George Odam Stanley Thornes Pounds 12.99. MAKING MUSIC SPECIAL: PRACTICAL WAYS TO CREATE MUSIC By John Childs David Fulton Pounds 11.99.

It is easy to believe everything is well now that music is part of the national curriculum. But the disturbing message in The Sounding Symbol is that the new curriculum strategy is in jeopardy because it is not being applied correctly. Too often teachers focus on language, symbols and technique at the expense of providing direct experiences of musical sound and helping pupils respond through an amalgam of feeling and thought.

Odam develops his thesis over eight chapters and, with well-chosen practical examples, shows how it can be implemented at each stage, from primary to higher education. His first list of basic principles of good practice, particularly those for instrumental teachers and teachers in higher education, is particularly interesting and much needed.

The author draws on a wealth of research, particularly on music and brain function, which he welds into a coherent argument. The inclusion in the margins of extensive quotations from his sources ensures that the reader is able to take an active questioning role in the discussion, rather than the more passive role too often imposed by authors.

The result is a readable and thought-provoking book which will prove valuable to anyone who is serious about ensuring that the theories of music education developed over the past 20 years are put into practice.

John Childs advocates many of the same principles as George Odam but, unlike Odam, does not challenge or develop them to any great extent. Perhaps this was not his intention. Unfortunately, the purpose of Making Music Special is never very clear. It claims to address "the generalist and the specialist alike", but does not really serve the needs of either. The amount of technical detail and the way it is presented will deter the generalist, while saying little that is new to the specialist.

By far the most interesting chapter in the book is that on "special learners". Here Childs articulates several important principles central to his "open access" approach to music and brings them to life through accounts of a series of "true events". Here and elsewhere the author displays an undeniable sincerity too often lacking in writing on music education.

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