Amended blog, first posted on Music Mark’s Peer to Peer network

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I’ve often questioned my choices around the content and delivery of music in my classroom. There are days where I doubt myself and days where I leave buzzing with a head full of music the students have created. Last night there was a long Twitter debate about the needs of our music learners, how we find out what these are, how we decide how best to build on these and so much more! There are questions around research and how best that can be carried out in sufficient depth by teachers as they practice, how research can be embedded and acted upon and what real innovation even is in the music classroom. I also enjoyed the 10 reasons to sing blog by Musical Futures that reminded me why I’ve been trying to get more singing into lessons

But the reality is that tomorrow I will teach 5 periods and run orchestra rehearsals for 1.5 hours after school. I will get through the day by looking for those moments in my lessons where you see a child come to life as result of something they have achieved. Or I might get an email from a parent like this one:

Its nice to see a school dedicate so much energy into children playing instruments or singing like Monks Walk and bringing out talents that children have and to see them enjoying it too and feeling proud of themselves too. So thank you for bringing that out in my child

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I wrote in my last blog about the Little Kids Rock annual fundraising benefit where $1.5 million dollars was raised to go back into the Little Kids Rock school music programmes. This funds training for teachers and instruments and resources for the schools. What blew me away was when massive rock artists like Billie Joe Armstrong and Alice Cooper, who had given their time for free, got up on stage and played a song each, then did a big finale with some of the LKR students. What is it about ‘bringing music to our schools’ that inspired them to do this? Is it something that could ever be replicated here? Should it be?

Well on one hand, powerful advocacy for school music IS needed, mainly to inspire students but also to raise the value of school music and the benefits it has. After all if there’s not a case for that, then why are we in schools anyway? Believe me there are days where someone getting behind what I’m trying to do in my classroom would be an amazing boost!

But on the other, I’m not sure some of the music that is happening in our school is really worthy of that kind of inspirational advocacy. I can’t quite see Alice Cooper talking about the awesomeness of the 7 week written history of blues music homework project, the colouring in the instruments of the orchestra worksheet, the end of lesson diaries to evidence progress or the exciting new set of written starter activities to get your lessons off to a controlled start. For me, starting the lesson by looking at a picture of a blues band and trying to work out what it is can never beat that practical start that gets everyone singing, jamming, moving and playing together (and believe me I’ve had to work at embedding this!).

What I saw at the benefit was a direct line from what the LKR kids do in the classroom which is unashamedly about rock music, straight through to the careers these artists have given their lives to. So for the kids, they have something to aim for and for the artists, they can feel proud that their contribution is giving children aspirations around music. Of course in America, music education is split by genre anyway. So if you study ‘jazz band’ you’ll likely have a jazz artist or two in mind in the same way that the LKR ‘modern band’ programme is rock based. That makes it easier in a way.

On my previous blog post, Ian Harvey from Musical Futures Australia makes some good points. Artists are unlikely to want to get behind school music if their own experiences weren’t particularly great. And until school music is perceived as ‘cool’ then there’s not much hope of this happening anyway (and would we want that?). Or perhaps there’s no place for any of that here, it was, after all, a particularly American experience!

My questions for now:

1. From what they experience in your classroom, what do you think your students aspire to be?

2. If we were to get a top UK recording artist to get behind school music who would it be? Classical? Blues? Pop? Rock? X Factor finalist? Why?

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