The #mufuchat topic for this week really interests me, particularly whether the way I teach music has been affected by own musical experience and if so, which of these and why?
In England there has been some discussion-as part of planning for a change to our National Curriculum-about the kinds of musical experience we might want/expect children to having at ages 5, 7, 11 and 14. I have hinged this blog around these ages as I have 3 children of my own aged nearly 5, 7 and 11 and I have been taking an interest in the musical activties they do at school and in them being ‘musical’ at home.
You see I think I was incredibly lucky and the reason I studied music to a high level was because of the strong foundations I had from the very start of primary school aged 4. We had hymns in assembly every day, books with swirly blue and pink covers with the words in, the music teacher on the piano and everyone singing together including any parents that might be sitting at the back for whatever reasons. I loved ‘When a Knight won his Spurs’, ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’ and when I joined the church choir at age 7, I knew all the tunes. I even got to follow the notes when I graduated to the ‘older’ child version of the hymn books in church and practiced Bach Chorales by scribbling chords under the hymns during the sermons when I got to my A Level. I joined the choir because my entire family were in it, it was something we all did.
My earliest memory of school music (probably around the age of 5) was in the hall at school. The music teacher would play a tune with ta, ta-te, ta-a-a-a rhythms and we would recognise the tune and run/walk/stand accordingly. We loved it. Everyone in the school learned the recorder and I think we must have started then, just the basics and some do-re-me.
At age 6 or 7, I started going to a music appreciation group one evening a week which included more recorder and what I now recognise as Kodaly. I remember singing and doing the hand movements in one group and recorder in the other. In fact I stuck with that recorder group until well into my teens where we played early music on all the different types of recorder, sometimes with a viol consort where everyone in it seemed to have very long hair, beards or both. At school music was played on a record player at the start of assembly and we were told the ‘story’ behind it. I really remember Danse Macabre and the story of the dancing skeletons and Pictures at an exhibition-we had to compose our own ‘Promenade’ music in class music lessons for a while. Interestingly, the same records were played more then once, possibly for a whole week or longer so we really got to know it.
The only musical experience in my family, other than singing in the church choir (my mum and nan both had/have beautiful voices, my mum and her childhood friends still carry the descants in the carols as christmas) had been my dad who used to tell us how he gave up his piano lessons and regretted it for the rest of his life. He used to sit at the piano and pick out tunes by ear. He also played guitar in a band in the 60s and played and sang to us all the time. My great uncle Charlie, a proper cockney, had a piano and could play any tune you asked for by ear using the black notes on his piano. When he died, the piano came to us so so at age 6 I started private piano lessons with a family friend and at age 8, after showing some ability on the recorder, I started clarinet lessons at the local music centre.
Back at school music continued to be central to our day. We performed The Rooster Rag, Joseph and his Technicolour Dream Coat, we sang special songs in harmony at harvest. There was no choir-EVERYBODY sang everything. Children who could play an instrument brought them along, I remember the first ever house music competition, I must have been about 10, I won solo performance for my house with stiff competition from my best friend who actually accompanied the Rooster Rag performance at age 10 (just wow).
By the time I was 11, they devised a Morris Dancing Troupe. All of Y5 and 6 were dancers, except the best musicians who tied string round our recorders and played the music. We performed at local fetes and rehearsals were numerous and pretty demanding! Everything had to be perfect.
But the best bit came when I was 11. No SATs for us. We entered a competition called ‘Let’s Make a Masque’. As a class we wrote lyrics and music for the masque based on local folklore. I remember sitting on the floor, the music teacher had a chalk and somehow, together as a group we wrote song after song. The prize was to perform it on the stage at the Covent Garden Opera House. We almost got to go on morning TV too!! We were going to leave at 4am and perform an extract live which we rehearsed and rehearsed until the day before they rang up to say that they had got Tony Curtis and we were being bumped off the show. Still, being on stage in the opera house and playing a recorder solo was pretty cool.
Looking back, I recognise all kinds of 1970s pedagogy (again, I’m honestly not that old but our teacher had been around a bit!), the part that music played in our culture and ethos in those days with the sung worship in the mornings, I recognise Kodaly and interestingly I can still taste the clarinet reed and my old plastic clarinet, the musty recorder with my name sticker on that my Gran had made for me, I can smell the hymn books and the dust on the records that when we were older we were allowed to select ourselves. My parents were clearly really impressed with the quality of the music there because after having 3 children go through the school, they befriended the music teacher, wrote to thank her for getting me off to such a great start and still communicate with her today.
Obviously when I started at secondary school, I was really excited about music. My teacher (still at age 11) looked much older than perhaps she was. In the first lesson, she gave us a piece of paper and a folder and we were told to write a heading: musical dictionary. We never touched that paper again. The only recollection of my KS3 music lessons was being in a practice room with my mates at break where we played various pieces on the piano, taking it in turns. I vaguely remember being in a practice room wit some instruments. That’s it. I honestly can’t remember anything else. I don’t remember loving it or hating it it’s a total blank. Of course, I was busy with extra curricular music playing my clarinet in school orchestras and bands and singing in choirs but that’s not what this blog is about.
To round off this first post, what aspects of my own school experience has impacted on my own teaching. I can sum this up (bearing in mind that I have had a MASSIVE change of direction in my practice in the last 8 years):
1. I associated my primary experience with primary school Therefore I didn’t bring any of that rich musical experience into my teaching.
2. I assumed curricular and extra curricular music were 2 separate things
3. I modelled my teaching on what I had seen in placement schools and a bit on my A level music lessons.
But the main impact it’s had is that I would like my students to remember my lessons, perhaps with slightly less small-child nostalgia than I do with my primary lessons but a whole lot more than I do with my secondary ones!
My next post will be based on my own children and their experience at school/at home growing up with parents who are musicians. They sing in the church choir at christmas, I hope to make this more of a regular thing as a result of this blog, it’s reminded me how much I would like them to have what I had. Of course, they also have my husband’s musical experiences and influence as well which was very different to mine.