The three Es of great school music
I’ve been thinking a lot about the way in which a musical culture is created in schools. The values displayed by music teachers can have a huge impact on the way our pupils behave and I’ve come to the conclusion there are three values that have a particular impact: engagement, excellence and equality.
Where these values can go wrong
Over-emphasis on engagement
Focusing on engagement at the expense of excellence can lead to a school where pupils happily turn up to the music department but they achieve little. They may enjoy making a few loud noises but their musical accomplishments are limited. Perhaps they enjoy lessons but they don’t identify themselves as being musicians.
Over-emphasis on excellence
Pushing for excellence without building in engagement and equality can lead to a culture with a ‘snobbish’ feeling, with an impenetrable clique of core pupils who see themselves as ‘the musicians’. You may have a very successful orchestra or an amazing rock band but there’s a sense that music is ‘for some’ rather than ‘for all’. Worst of all, this core of pupils may actively try to exclude the ‘non-musicians’ from ensembles and even choosing the subject at KS4/5.
Over-emphasis on equality
Emphasising equality over excellence and engagement can be problematic too. While you will certainly want to encourage different styles of music and musicianship, a turntablist probably has limited function in your orchestra’s rendition of a Mozart symphony. Such endeavours can work really well and can help an ensemble to create a unique identity but this may prevent pupils from experiencing a broad range of music. It’s even possible that an overemphasis on equality can lead to less actual equality (does including a piccolo player in a dubstep group grant equality to the piccolo player or take equality away from the rest of the ensemble?).