Music education and social inclusion

A second theme that resonated strongly for me during the ISME conference in Bologna was that of music education and social inclusion, with tangents leading off from this central point in a number of different directions.

On Tuesday, Dan Baron from IDEA (International Drama/Theatre in Education Association) described the current world approach to education as having a dangerously strong (and limiting) commitment to a culture of competition and authority. He went on to invite all arts educators to lead the way to a new world of pedagogies of transformation and sustainability, diversity and inclusivity.

He was an eloquent speaker who in fact began by singing to us an ancient unaccompanied song as a way of reaching out to us and inviting us to join him. He reminded us, “the singing voice touches the skin and penetrates it”.

His platform was bold and unreserved. As he spoke of the World Alliance of Arts Educators submission to UNESCO in March 2006, which called for “paradigms of education which both transmit and transform culture through the humanising languages of the arts, and which are founded of principles of cooperation, not competition”, he called for pedagogies that go beyond social inclusion, to social transformation.

This was a call for a world-scale cultural change in how we educate. A world-project, building a new paradigm of how we educate.

I wanted to ask, how? It felt too negative, or non-believing, to ask this, and I was not brave enough, but I will raise my questions here. What kind of time-line, and milestones along the way, does Dan and indeed the WAAE envisage? And, doesn’t the current pedagogy of authority and competition reflect the way that humanity is already driven by competition and power? Also, we cannot escape today the political agenda in pedagogy and the different ways it impacts on educational culture overall (for example, the Literacy Hour in the UK, and ‘educational audit culture’, vs. the vision and embracing of risk, change and creative possibility in the Creative Partnerships program).

There is always a part of me that feels dismay and alarm when I hear of year after year of high-level summits, talkfests for a select few to discuss ideas and agree new and ambitious approaches, and makes these to government – but how does this get changed at the coal face? It seems there is rarely a shortage of ideas – the real changes come when there is a plan for action.

Perhaps we got an example of of this the next day, when Marc Jaffrey (UK) spoke.

Marc was the ‘champion’ and Director of the UK’s Music Manifesto, an initiative that sought to change the way music education and music participation opportunities were delivered in the UK. You can read more about it here. However, what made a particularly strong impression on me was the tangible changes that the Manifesto seemed to deliver. (I cross-checked with people from the UK I met throughout the conference – it is easy to be persuaded by a keynote speaker, so I wanted to get the point of view from other people, working on the ground. They all reported good things, without hesitation or qualification).

This is what I took from what Marc said in particular:

  • This was not a funding program, nor an initiative to pump more funds into music education. Rather, it said, ‘What we are currently doing is not working. The opportunities are limited to a fortunate few; those without financial means are usually left without any opportunities to participate; young people are engaged by music outside of school, in a culture that is both online and in the real world, yet this engagement is lost in the school system, where they are often bored or disinterested; therefore we need to change what we are doing. It is not about more money, it is about changing the way we use the resources we have. Realigining priorities. Engaging on a large scale. Music for all.’ They believed the solutions already existed.
  • They explicitly began to connect the wider issues of child development, creativity, and social cohesion.
  • There was a strong guiding principal to support the child, not the music.
  • The focus was on all music, not just music in school.
  • Everyone was involved, not just music specialists.

A question that was raised in Tuesday’s keynote presentation was on whether music education (in its current format) is inherently socially unjust, and the suggestion that it continues to perpetuate and/or uphold larger-scale injustices was discussed by Ruth Wright, in her paper “Thinking Globally, acting locally: Music Education in schools, and social justice”. She talked about the ‘elitist’ tag, referring specifically to western music education, and the fact that financial costs alone can limit access and opportunity to many but a select few. She called for changes in pedagogies to make things more equitable.

Wright highlighted four key categorieswithin which exclusion and injustice can occur, oten implicity, and unnoticed by educators:

  • Images (that the images presented to students can make music participation seem ‘not for them’, or inaccessible);
  • Knowledges (inherent knowledge and awareness that offers with it inclusion and therefore without it, exclusion);
  • Possibilities (those which arise due to social networks, and wider cultural and social access); and
  • Resources (in that music education is often resource-heavy, and without access to these, or the financial means to ensure access, opportunity is once again limited.

From her abstract: “The paper proposes that western music education could be argued to have been one of the bastions of oppression (in Freire’s terms) in education whilst holding within its grasp the potential to be a powerful liberatory force.” Wright went on to give examples of ways forward for music educators and students in schools “to think globally and act locally… to effect societal change”.

The final keynote speaker for the conference was Aaron Dworkin, violinist and Founder/President of The Sphinx Organisation, a US foundation that aims to build diversity in classical music, supporting young African-American and Latino musicians to access specialist training and instruments, from beginner level up to top-class soloists.

“Sphinx envisages a world in which classical music reflects cultural diversity and plays a role in the everyday lives of youth.” Here is a program that is a practical and highly-successful response to a visible imbalance in the world of classical music in America, in that it is largely the domain of middle-class people of European or Asian backgrounds. Aaron Dworkin describes in his biographical notes (included in the conference program booklet) experiencing first-hand racism as a young black violinist, but despite this, achieved highest honours as a performer. It was this experience that led him to found the Sphinx Organisation.

The programs offered by The Sphinx Organisation range from provision of music tuition for young people in underserved communities in the Detroit area throughout the year (including free tuition and instruments); intensive summer academies for talented young people from across the country aged 12-17; professional opportunities for young artists, including a major competition, scholarship programs, and a Symphony Orchestra; support for teachers across the country; and a program of performance and exposure opportunities for Sphinx solo artists.

In short, it offers the participants a supported pathway and encouragement in many different forms, from their earliest days as a beginning player, to opportunities throughout their professional lives. It is a true educational progression, that acknowledges the limitations of the status quo, and seeks to change this by demonstration.

Very inspiring.

We were expecting to hear also from Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, the architect of Venezuela’s much-acclaimed ‘El Sistema’, the comprehensive, amazingly detailed youth orchestra and music tuition program (or network of programs) that is spawning imitators in the UK and beyond. However, Abreu cancelled on us, as he had a meeting with President Chavez. A shame, as I would like to have finished this post with some comments on that. However, it is a very well-documented program – even more so since the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, conducted by charismatic Gustavo Dudamel stormed the Proms in 2007 and got everyone tremendously excited indeed. It is an amazing program – for its vision (focusing on the most underpriveleged and disadvantaged communities), and its longevity (33 years) under successive government changes, and its substance. Google it and check it out in more detail.

2 comments so far

  1. […] Music education and social inclusionWe were expecting to hear also from Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, the architect of Venezuela’s much-acclaimed ‘El Sistema’, the comprehensive, amazingly detailed youth orchestra and music tuition program (or network of programs) that is … […]

  2. timothyjonesiswriting on

    Spain’s second national conference on Social Inclusion in Music Education was organised by Nicolas Jackson, Arts officer at the British Council’s Madrid office, with the Ministry of Culture and the Dutch Embassy. Speakers included Richard Hallam and Peter Garden (RLPO) from the United Kingdom, and specialists from Spain and Holland, and approximately 200 sector professionals attended from around the country.

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