Archive for the ‘ISME’ Tag

Post-colonial tensions in music-making and learning

A second theme that wove its way through both the Community Music Activity commission seminar and the main ISME conference in Greece this year was that of the (musical) tensions that continue to play out in post-colonial contexts between the former colonisers and the colonised, and the value of indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing alongside Western knowledge. It is a big theme and a complex one, but when I reflected on the two weeks’ presentations it was interesting to see how often it emerged, even if the post-colonial tag wasn’t part of the paper’s title or abstract. My reflections here consider specific projects in Brazil, South Africa, Timor-Leste, indigenous Australia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand.

On the first day at the CMA seminar, we heard about a project in Bahia, Brazil, to give wind players of the many community bands throughout the region some expert tuition in playing their instruments. Presenters Joel Luis Barbosa and Jacob Furtado Cantao explained that these ‘band courses’ are provided by the Brazilian government and involve teachers from the city conservatories and schools of music. However, the experts tend to come from a more formal, ‘concert music’ playing tradition – a legacy of the era of Portuguese colonialism, connected in style and approach to European/Western art music.

In contrast, the community band players are self-taught, or have learned the rudiments of their instrument from other players in the group. They haven’t studied music formally. (We watched some video footage of the bands playing and of individuals playing. The clarinet sound had a wonderful freedom to it – big, solid, bold colours with which they ripped up and down arpeggios, or crooned insouciant melodies). Continue reading

The oral (aural) tradition

Another recurrent theme at ISME this year was about reconnecting with, and bringing back into the mainstream, the oral tradition of passing on musical knowledge. Bruno Nettl, one of our keynote speakers, pointed out that this is the established system of teaching and learning in the vast majority of musical cultures around the world. Yet in western art music, and its associated teaching traditions, the emphasis is more commonly on music literacy being one of decoding and encoding music notation, and that this comes before proficiency on the instrument.

For me, what is commonly called the oral tradition is just as aptly named the aural tradition because it focuses so heavily on the ears. I’ve learned some music skills this way – certainly all the skills I have as a percussionist have been learned through playing alongside others more skilled than myself. However, this has been coupled with the specialist music knowledge already embedded in my brain which allows me to link up concepts, map out ideas for myself in order to make sense of them, and memorise patterns by encoding them in my head using my music theory knowledge. This links back to Tony Lewis’ presentation at the CDIME [Cultural Diversity in Music Education] conference in Sydney, January 2010. Tony described three ways of learning, or three systems of knowledge – ontological, where you learn by doing, by being there and present and participating; epistemological, which is where you call upon your pre-existing knowledge and knowing in order to analyse, map, theorise and build concepts in the new discipline you are encounters; and dialogical, where these two approaches combine. (I’ve written more about Tony’s ideas in this earlier post).

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Teaching to suit the needs of learners

A theme that emerged in both the CMA and Main ISME conferences was that of the need to modify the way we teach, or the way teaching and learning processes and systems can be extended/adjusted to respond to the needs of particular student cohorts. It probably emerged as a theme for me because my two presentations fitted within this area – I’ve been researching the particular needs and perceptions of newly-arrived children (refugees and immigrants) in a transitional English Language-focus school, and the way that I’ve adjusted my teaching approach to better meet their needs.

The paper I presented at CMA looked at issues of understanding and meaning that can arise in creative work with young new arrivals when English language skills are minimal, or not present. There are lots of ways students can participate in music lessons, but we are engaging in creative (composition) work, inventing and suggesting ideas, I wanted to explore how much the students could make sense of the processes we were using. At the ISME main conference I focused on the specific ways I have changed my creative music pedagogy to allow for greater transfer of information through non-verbal, environmental scaffolds and means.

In Ireland, the Traveller community is a minority group with a strong musical culture of their own, and their music traditions played an important role in the oral music tradition of Ireland, sharing and preserving songs from all around the country over the centuries. The formal education system does not sufficiently support Traveller students (if their under-representation in middle and higher learning institutions is taken as evidence). Travellers could be described ‘non-traditional learners’. Julie Tiernan, a CMA delegate from Ireland, presented detailed description of an access course designed for Traveller students, using what she called a “blended learning” process at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. It utilised online learning and contact, phone and face to face contact, skype tutorials, immersion weekends, reflective journals and CD-Rom lectures. The delivery of the course content was flexible so that students could work at their own pace, however – equally importantly – there was ongoing support and encouragement for students from staff  who pushed them to stay on track and expect great results from themselves. It’s an inspired example of the level of detail universities and other formal learning institutions can go to if they are serious about addressing issues of access for minority groups or ‘non-traditional learners’.

At the ISME main conference, Sophia Aggelidou from Greece described the perceptions that Roma students in a remote encampment/town outside Thessaloniki have of music learning in school. She stated at the outset that Roma children are missing out in the Greek education system. At this particular school, 75% of the children are Roma, with the remaining 25% being a mixture of immigrants and local people. The town is not easy to access, and is known colloquially (and perhaps disparagingly as “the gypsy town”). The school is dilapidated and uncared-for. Different music teachers have taught there, but only ever for a year at a time before being moved on (at least on two occasions, the transfer to another school was against the teacher’s wishes). There was no music teacher there at the time of the research.

The research investigated the musical lives of the Roma children, and what their musical realities are. It revealed that they feel a strong connection to music in their lives, but that music in school leaves them cold. They enjoy pop, rock and hip-hop, but it is the artists from their own culture (heard in the home environment) that they identify with most strongly. They want to learn music, to learn to play an instrument. They are highly engaged by creative, alternative ways of learning, including hands-on tasks and collaborative processes. However, the more formal teaching and learning processes that are more common in this school do not engage them, and there is a high drop-out rate. In the family community there is little schooling or literacy among adults. However, Roma students consistently enrol in primary school – indicating that schooling and education is something that they do see as important and valuable. The speaker felt that their perceptions of music learning would correlate to their perceptions of school in general – they are ready to learn, but need processes and pedagogies that are tailored to their strengths and abilities.

I attended a workshop presented by a Norwegian delegate who has been working for many years in a Palestinian refugee camp in Southern Lebanon. Professor Vegar Storsve presented a project that delivers music education among refugees, with the involvement of pre-service teachers and musicians. It’s a fantastic program (read more about it in this article) that offers cultural exchange between young adults, older adults, children, teenagers. Skills are taught and shared in all directions, with the Norwegians teaching music and instruments from their culture, and the Palestinian musicians returning the gesture in kind. I liked Professor Storsve’s description of the kind of musical score they have developed over the years for these projects. In Norwegian it is called a FLERBRUKSARRANGEMENT – meaning multi-function score, and it is the same kind of score that I develop for the Jams I lead for families at Federation Square throughout the year. It’s music that has many possible lines, adapted to suit the abilities of the project participants. One- or two-note parts, ostinato parts, chord progression parts, more complex lines, and opportunities for improvised solos. Everything is learned by ear, and everyone learns more than one part. All the learning takes place in one room – a wonderful (if challenging) cacophony of intensity and concentration.

As creative teachers, we know the importance of adjusting and adapting content within the flow of the lesson, in response to the way our students are engaging with the material. However, the many pressures that exist within the school system – to produce measurable results, the emphasis on standardised testing, the ever-crowded curriculum, the trends that see things like music and arts being squeezed out of the curriculum or forced to compromise their ideals in order to give everyone a turn – mean that there is not always the capacity to respond to the different needs in a single class, especially when there is a huge difference of need and learning style preference among the cohort.

Perhaps community musicians are better placed to respond to these needs and preferences, as they frequently work outside the mainstream, and frequently with people who are themselves somewhat on the fringes of mainstream society. The particular needs that were described in my papers about new arrivals, Julie’s work in Ireland with Travellers, and the Roma students in Greece would all perhaps be met by the “creative practitioners” described in Galton’s 2006 study into the pedagogies of creative practitioners in schools (a must-read). Are schools always the best place for engaged, committed learning by students?

Community Music – on masters and other matters

Readers, you would be forgiven for thinking that my recent time in China was just one big bout of tourist dallying. But no, the ISME conferences I attended (the Community Music Activity Commission Seminar in Hangzhou and the Main Conference in Beijing) were full days, filled with ideas and discussions, papers and note-taking, and the excitement of being in China took up what little spare time was left.

But I’ve been processing and digesting all those ideas.The next few posts will look at some of the things that particularly caught my imagination, in relation to my current work and the work I am about to undertake in Timor-Leste.

The ‘master’ in Community Music

I started off in Hangzhou at the Community Music Activity Commission’s seminar. On the first day, several presentations looked at the way the music knowledge is transferred in community music settings, including wind bands in Bahia, Brazil, and the learning models of Capoeira Angola. Both presentations referred to the word ‘master’ (as in ‘master teacher’ or ‘band master’ or to be synonymous with ‘expert’). This opened up some interesting discussion on words like ‘master’, in particular when they are used in a community music context that may otherwise be intending to reduce or sidestep traditional hierarchical walls. “How can we ‘reload’ this term?” Lee Higgins (Boston University) asked. When does a word or notion like ‘master’ support the intentions of the work, and when could it (knowingly or unknowingly) undermine them? It bestows power upon an individual and power can be misused, so it is important to frame the word or establish its meaning in context.

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Inviting and listening to pupil voice

My Masters research project (on which I am about to embark) involves drawing from three students their perceptions of the music program I run at the Language School, so I had a particular interest at this conference in hearing from people whose research involved encouraging forth, and creating forums for, pupil voice.

I heard one person speak about her project which focused on getting children in a ‘gifted’ program to write and talk about their responses to music. There were some lovely, heartfelt comments that she shared, and it seemed like an interesting site for research. However…. I couldn’t quite see the point of the research, or what her research question was. Maybe it was simply, “What do the children think about music?” But I found the research, as she presented it, to be a bit limited in the way she described. Most of the audience, when it came time for questions, seemed far more interested in the research context of the gifted children’s class, than they were in the content of her research.

Later comment – I’d revise this assessment now. Just to know what students are thinking is valuable. Her students offered such reflective, personal, honest responses to her questions. They articulated their feelings about something as complex, ephemeral and personal as music. The research is valuable, I realise now, simply because it asks questions that we adults often forget to ask. We assume we know what children are thinking. Or we assume they are thinking the same as us. Or we are not concerned with what they are thinking! But the truth is that, unless we ask them, the inner worlds of children will be unknown to us, and we will be much the poorer for this. [Added 9 December 08]

I went to a very inspiring presentation by a Dr Finney, from the University of Cambridge. He presented a very compelling argument for the importance of including student voice in school decision-making, including the fact that the qualities we want to develop in young people, and see them equipped with for the future, can be developed through consultation and discussion with them. He described one particular project where this had been done.

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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).

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Purity and authenticity in music of other cultures

This conference has been pretty stimulating so far, and I have been to some presentations that have felt very relevant to my work. I am finding that certain themes seem to resonate each day, so I will focus on these in each of my posts.

On Monday I went to a paper given by Carolyn Burns who has completed a study on children’s responses to learning African-American slave children’s songs. The project was particularly interesting in that she taught the songs to Xhosa children in a small school in South Africa. She did a pilot study first, teaching the same songs to American (non African-American) children in her own school in Montana.

Burns talked about how she sourced the songs that she taught – they were from the Georgia Sea Islands (off the coast of Georgia, USA) and she was able to access sources (people, as well as early research) that ensured she learned the songs in a ‘pure’ form. They were ‘authentic’.

I was interested in this emphasis. Firstly, I wondered what difference this ‘purity’ made to the children to whom she taught the songs. Possibly none, as she spoke of how they went on to make small changes and variations on the song anyway – including into their own language.

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I am in Bologna…

…for the International Society of Music Educators (ISME) conference. It is sunny, beautiful, and filled with charm, and now that my responsibilities towards the running of last week’s Policy Commission meeting have been somewhat discharged, I am looking forward to sitting back and letting all the interesting conference events wash over me.

Last week’s Policy Commission was interesting. It isn’t the kind of Commission I would automatically expect to be part of, as so much of my work is more concerned with hands-on, practical making of music and projects, rather than big-picture policy. However, there was much to chew on. The Commission theme was on local and indigenous musics in music education policy, and it was fascinating to start to build a comparison of what takes place in different parts of the world.

I also celebrated my birthday last week, walking over an hour to get to a recommended osteria that turned out to be closed for the summer. Never mind, you can’t have a bad meal in Bologna and we chose somewhere else instead.

Then, the next day, I flew to London for a job interview. This was something that ended up coinciding with my time in Italy, quite by luck and chance. How did it go? Well, it was certainly a valuable learning experience. I’m not sure it was particularly enjoyable. It was interesting to do the second interview in person, as the first one had been on the phone. I didn’t get offered the job. So I am still looking for new directions, and hopefully this conference will offer some opportunities to pick the brains of others older and wiser than me, and maybe also build up my networks in different countries. Maybe I should be looking to the States, rather than the UK?

Lots of think about, and what an inspiring environment to do that in! Here are some photos:

A streetscape in the centre of Bologna. I keep photographing this street – its width and gradient, and the buildings that line it, give it a tremendous sense of grand scale.

This is the cafe where Pip and I had a drink to celebrate my birthday.

This is from the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna (about an hour and half by trin from Bologna). Ravenna is such a delight – its churches filled with breathtaking mosaics of the most awe-inspiring detail and artistry.

Prisons, ethics, and conferences

It has been quite an up-and-down week. Started in the prison. I have written about those last two sessions. The prison project has been one of the most interesting of all my projects. Here are some of the aspects of it that make it so interesting:

  • It is the first project that other musicians in the orchestra have really engaged with. In fact, other musicians and other management staff members. I would have thought lots of our projects in the past could have warranted similar interest, but no. It is the prison project that they all ask about. There have been lots of questions. The three musicians presented a report on the project (after the first two sessions) at a Full Company Meeting a few weeks ago, and got great feedback and buzz.
  • The creative team. This has been a truly delightful team of creative minds, from the singing roadie, to the sound designer, to the three musicians from the Orchestra, to the music teacher who works in the prison. Also including the researcher, who has been present in every session and building her own relationship with the prisoners, and with the project material. I have felt more supported as a project director in this particular project, than I have in many other, less challenging projects.
  • Restrictions. We are constantly negotiating all sorts of restrictions, and have been, right from the start. It was the restrictions of the prison, and its transient population, that led to the complex structure of the project. Lately, it is one of censorship and what the final recorded product should sound like. We get very mixed messages from the prison authorities about what they want the final recorded product to sound like. On the one hand, they came close to pulling the project completely last year, due to concerns about being ‘soft’ on prisoners. This year, they are refusing to let us record any sounds of the prison world (keys, doors closing). the prisoners want us to include this stuff, but the prison management are adamant that the recording should not include any sounds, in any context that might allude to the “harshness of prison life”. Hmmm. Ultimately, we need to work with all of their restrictions, and still come up with a product that meets our own artistic expectations and demands. That’s our challenge.

Now that all the workshops are completed my attention as the Project Director turns to all that recorded material. D, sound designer, is going to put all the Pro-Tools sessions onto an external hard drive for me to listen through, at my leisure. We are talking hours of footage here! I will identify all the sections, and moments, that I think we will use, and log these in detail, including the characteristics about each that I think will link thematically. After this, we give a CD (or set of CDs) of all this raw material to the Prison staff, and they need to approve, or veto, each track.

Once that has happened, D and I can start working through whatever we are left with, processing sounds, layering, building up compositions and movements, and identifying where the gaps are that will be filled by the musicians in the studio. We go into the studio at the end of March. I plan to choose raw footage as judiciously as possible, in the hope that little, if any, will get vetoed. However, given the apparent changeability of concerns for the prison management, the preferred emphasis feels somewhat less than predictable.

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