Magazine clear-out

I’ve been on a clearing-out mission of late, and went through a pile of old copies of Music In Action. Better give them a last read-through before I chuck ’em, I decided, so I did, and selected a number of articles that were worthy of closer attention. They provided good material in the orchestra pit that I have been in for the last few weeks (playing Reed 3 in a season of Anything Goes), but the time has come to file them or put them in the paper recycling. Here are some of the things that caught my eye in particular:

Music technology – free stuff and lesson ideas

This article describes Finale Notepad 2008, a fairly basic but free piece of notation software. The author suggests a lesson plan that gets students to create and notate a 12-bar blues. Very user-friendly.

Ar Pelican Primary School lately I’ve been working with Myna, which my students are really enjoying. This software has its limitations – its library of music being one of them (there’s a lot to choose from, but you can’t always find exactly what you want), and the fact that it is web-based (and therefore dependent on a fast and consistent internet connection, which isn’t one of Pelican’s strengths) – but as an introduction to loop-based music software, it is great. Very clear interface and lots of sounds that my students love to play with. Myna is definitely worth a look. It is new software, only recently launched, so additional support for educators is in its infancy. But the forums are pretty helpful.

Another article (by Antony Hubmayer in South Australia) describes a group composition process that he uses in Year 8 classrooms, working with ACID Music. I plan to give it a shot with the year 5/6s at Pelican. He calls it Compositional Chairs, and it involves students starting a composition, then after a set period of time, they must shift one place to the next chair (and next computer, with a different composition) and work on that one. This change of seats can happen as many times as you like. At the start of the lesson it is good to give the students some musical parameters for the composition work.

It’s a bit like an Exquisite Corpse game, but with the ability to see/hear all that has been added to the piece before you. I might try it this week, and see how my students like it. I am thinking it could work well if the students were in pairs. I have some quite reticent students in my class, and they would benefit from getting ideas from other people. Thanks Antony for this excellent idea.

Keith Swanwick

I enjoyed reading an article about the legendary Keith Swanwick. Nothing revolutionary for our times now, but plenty of good reminders and principles. (I say “nothing revolutionary” but of course, that doesn’t mean his recommendations are now standard practice. They’re not – especially in environments that are focused on classical music alone).

Classes should be actively engaged in music making wih all the children participating as discriminating listeners, performers, creators, composers or improvisors. Activities must utilise the broadest range of music. Skills and contextual literature studies should not be a means in themselves, but support the central dimensions of composing, performing and active listening.

Christopher Small

Dr Ros McMillan described an era in music education in Australia (the 1970s) when a copy of Small’s Music, Society, Education was “brought in from overseas, only one copy around, it was read and quietly passed on like any X-rated literature”.

Music in Australian schools in the 1960s and early 1970s lay in a coma of conservatism. In those schools where music was taught, the curriculum was largely music appreciation. Often the only practical music making was singing although instrumental lessons were available in affluent schools. With examination systems controlled by university music departments, the style of music in schools was overwhelmingly ‘classical’.

Small questioned the assumption that the music of post-Renaissance Western culture was the supreme achievement of mankind in the realm of sound, and that “the musics of other cultures were no more than stages in an evolution towards that achievement”. He points out that the notion of the composer being separate from both the performer and the audience is unique to post-Renaissance music, the effect being to separate both performer and audience from the very act of creativity. The process of creation has been completed “before any performer even approaches the work”.

When I was a student at the Guildhall in the 1990s in the Performance and Communication Skills postgraduate stream, we felt like the explorations we were making into how musicians can/should/must make and perform and communicate music, were new and radical. It was later that I learned that it had all been said and written about earlier, by people like Small, Swanwick, Paynter, Schafer… I love that there is so much out there to read!

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