Philip Pullman speaks up in favour of music education
20 August 2015
Author Philip Pullman has stated that he considers music to be the most important school subject.
A feature in the September/October issue of Intelligent Life magazine
asked a number of high-profile writers (including Alain de Botton, Rose Tremain, and Herman Koch) what they considered to be the most important school subject. Pullman – a former English teacher – nominated music:
‘Too much of what passes for education splits children in two, and throws away half. Children are turned into little exam-takers far too early; to think of infants being sent home with homework to do is to contemplate a sort of wilful maiming.
The half that’s thrown away is the body, and all the ways it can move and feel and be intelligent and cause delight. And of all the things the body can do, the richest, the most interesting, the most emotionally and intellectually fulfilling thing is music. Every child needs to encounter music as early as possible, and I don’t mean just listen and then answer questions: I mean make, with voice, with clapping hands and stamping feet, with instruments of every kind.
First of all I’d make sure that every school had a talented and qualified teacher of singing. Children will sing very willingly if they can see and hear that it’s fun. I vividly remember the first time I sang a round in class; I can’t remember whether it was “Frère Jacques”, or “London’s Burning”, but I do remember the delight of waiting till it was my turn to come in, and finding the right note, and hearing my voice winding in and out of the lines and making a pattern with others.
Then I’d require every school to provide instrumental teaching for every child. The recorder used to be the first instrument children were given, but I’m glad to see the ukulele being used a lot nowadays. You can play it and sing at the same time, and it’s a great gateway to other instruments.
And finally, once I’d got all the schools making music, I’d do something about the wretched conditions many fine professional musicians have to work in: exiguous rehearsal time, poverty-level pay, a culture that regards music as a free good and sees no need to pay composers or performers properly for their skill and their work. Children need to see that the music they begin to learn in school has a real cultural and social purpose, and is properly valued by the nation.’
Pullman has acknowledged the importance of music on his work on previous occasions. On his website
, he writes: ‘Music is so important to me that I don’t listen to it when I’m writing, because I can’t concentrate on my work. I can only listen to it when I’m doing something that doesn’t involve words. And I love all kinds of music – jazz, classical, pop, everything.’
The author has previously spoken out against illegal downloads. In an article for the Index on Censorship
, he writes: ‘In order to steal someone else’s literary or musical work, all the thief has to do is press a few keys, and they can make our work available to anyone in the world, and take all the money for themselves […] The ease and swiftness with which music can be acquired in the form of MP3 downloads is still astonishing even to those of us who have been building up our iTunes list for some time.’
Pullman is perhaps best known for his fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials and the fictionalised biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. His accolades include the 1995 Carnegie Medal, the 1996 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, and the 2005 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.
RSNO launches scheme for emerging composers
20 August 2015
© Mark Coulsen
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) has launched a new initiative to develop the talent of emerging composers.
The RSNO Composers’ Hub will give up to five composers in the early stages of their career the opportunity to write for the orchestra in a range of different contexts during the 2015/16 season.
As well as working with RSNO’s contemporary group, Alchemy, each composer will write a ten-minute work for full symphony orchestra.
The scheme will culminate in a public workshop in the new RSNO Centre auditorium in Glasgow in April 2016, led by composer and viola player Brett Dean (pictured).
One work will then be chosen to be performed by the RSNO as part of its 2016/17 season.
Manus Carey, executive producer at the RSNO, said: ‘We are very excited to be launching the pilot year of our new Composers’ Hub.
‘With the imminent move into our new purpose-built home, we will have the opportunity to extend the support we give to Scottish and UK-wide composers, and to provide the creative space for them to explore and develop.’
Dean added: ‘Opportunities presented to emerging composers make an enormously positive difference to the development of a composer’s voice. I’m very happy to be able to contribute to this valuable new initiative by the RSNO.’
The initiative is supported by the PRS for Music Foundation.
Student starts petition to include women on A-level music syllabus
19 August 2015
Two of Caroline Criado-Perez's tweets
Student Jessy McCabe has started a campaign to ensure that women are represented on Edexcel’s next A-level music syllabus.
After participating in a programme exploring gender inequality, McCabe realised that there were no women amongst the 63 composers featured on the Edexcel A-level music syllabus, and none on the exam board’s proposed syllabus for 2016.
Despite the exam board’s assertion that the course aims to enable students to ‘engage in, and extend the appreciation of the diverse and dynamic heritage of music, promoting spiritual and cultural development’, its head of music seemed reluctant to implement change. In response to an email from McCabe, they wrote: ‘[since] female composers were not prominent in the Western Classical tradition (or others for that matter), there would be very few female composers that could be included [in the A Level specification]’.
On the Change.org petition page, McCabe writes: ‘This has got to change. How can we expect girls to aspire to be composers and musicians if they don’t have the opportunity to learn of any role models? How can we accept that the UK’s largest awarding body doesn’t adequately acknowledge the work of female musicians? Why are we limiting diversity in a subject which thrives on its astounding breadth?’
The petition quickly gathered speed on social media. Feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez drew a great deal of attention by asking followers to tweet whether or not they covered female composers at school, with the responses proving largely negative. Rebecca Sword (@rebeccasword) replied: 'I did music GCSE and A Level, we never really touched women composers or singers really. All men from Beethoven to Oasis'. Grace Rogers wrote: 'Vicious cycle: women are considered unworthy of study BECAUSE they are systematically excluded from syllabuses'.
Signatories include the composer and academic Lauren Redhead, who wrote: ‘As a music lecturer in HE I frequently observe that students know little of large bodies of music and make assumptions such as the one in the Edexcel response that women have not been involved in Western Art Music as composers. More representative syllabi are needed to give students a rounded education.’
ISM released a statement in support of the petition: ‘We completely agree with Jessy McCabe. Female composers are invisible in Edexcel’s A-level music syllabus. There is no way that an art form can be utterly devoid of female artists; it is just not possible. It is as if Hildegard Von Bingen, Clara Schumann, Roxanna Panufnik and even the new Master of the Queen’s Music, Judith Weir and countless more female composers had never existed. We urge Pearson to take a leaf out of their A-level English Literature syllabus and make sure that their music syllabus is properly representative.’
Ensure the representation of women on the A-Level Music syllabus
RNCM launches short conducting course for music educators
18 August 2015
The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) is launching a short course for conductors working in music education.
The course, which will be delivered through three workshops linked by an e-learning element, will be led by RNCM conducting tutor Mark Heron and Jamie Phillips, assistant conductor at the Hallé.
Aimed at music educators working with youth orchestras, bands and ensembles, the course will enable delegates to develop their technical and artistic skills.
Heron, who is also music director of the Nottingham Philharmonic and Liverpool Mozart Orchestra, said: ‘At the RNCM we are very proud of our conducting courses, both for full-time students and the various short courses that we run.
‘I’m very conscious of the outstanding work done by music educators throughout the UK, and we’re delighted to be able to launch this new course which focuses specifically on the skills needed to work with young musicians.’
The first workshop will take place on 25-26 October at the Whitemoor Lakes Conference Centre in Staffordshire. It will be followed by a second workshop at the RNCM in January and a third at Hallé St Peter’s in March.
The booking deadline is Friday 4 September 2015. Full course details and application packs are available online at www.rncm.ac.uk/short-conducting-courses.
Schools ‘could face shortage of music teachers’
17 August 2015
Music could be particularly vulnerable to a looming shortage of secondary school teachers, according to a leading music education practitioner.
Earlier this month, research by Randstad Education showed that the education sector is facing increasing competition with other careers as graduates set their sights on higher salaries.
The research showed that a fifth (20 per cent) of all UK workers now say pay is the top factor attracting them to a position – up from 12 per cent three years ago.
Jenny Rollinson, managing director of Randstad Education, said: ‘The education sector can’t afford to ignore the sea-change going on in the jobs market at the moment.
‘Schools will need to up their game to make sure they attract the best talent, to make sure that jobs in education win out over other competing career paths, and to ensure a steady stream of teachers into our classrooms.’
Commenting on the findings, Jonathan Savage, reader in education at the Institute of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University (pictured), said music in particular could fall victim to a shortage of teachers.
‘In music, there are other issues at play,’ he said. ‘The role of music as a fully fledged subject within the curriculum is under threat.
‘Recent policies have resulted in a tiering of subjects, with music and other non-EBacc subjects at the bottom of the pile.
‘Similarly unhelpful focuses on literacy, numeracy and science in the primary curriculum have resulted in the marginalisation of many other subjects.
‘These curriculum developments have meant that music is not held in the same regard by many within education today.
‘Within the music education hubs, there has been a race to the bottom in terms of price and this has had an effect on pay, terms and conditions for instrumental teachers.
‘It is my impression that these negative changes have begun to filter through to students and others wanting to come into teaching.’
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