My thoughts on Music Learning Revolution

Arriving at Music Learning Revolution last Friday – a new music education conference organised by Musical Futures in London - I was impressed by the warm welcome, the buzz of expectation, the skinny flat whites and the cake...

Moving into the vast Porter Tun main space, I was struck by the massive screen, big stage and the snazzy vibe! I had a quick chat with Youth Music Ambassador David Puttnam and I wished him luck with his keynote (although of course he didn't need it). What a lovely man.

We welcomed Abigail D’Amore to the stage who introduced us to Musical Futures, Music Learning Revolution and what they mean to her as the CEO and indeed as a musician. She talked a lot about being 'outside her comfort zone' (of which more later). A warm and personable introduction from Abi.

Then we settled back for Lord Puttnam to kick off the day with his inspiring, heartwarming, and astute keynote. How lovely to be reminded of all his great films and their marvellous scores and to hear about how it all started for him. And so modest too - huge achievements but without a hint of showing off - a great way to start the day. What struck me was his 'creativity is a muscle' analogy with one of the key attributes being resilience (again, of which more later).

Within the first hour, three things really stuck in my head: 1) being outside our comfort zones (Abi), 2) the attribute of resilience (David) and 3) focusing on the word ‘revolution’ in Music Learning Revolution. Stick with me folks…

We can either sit at the sidelines, whinge and offer our usual commentary about everything that's going wrong (sticking well within our comfort zones and requiring no resilience)… or we can boldly step forward, take individual responsibility, spot the opportunities and do something about it (requiring lots of courage, definitely resilience and certainly stepping well outside our comfort zones). To achieve a people-powered revolution, everyone involved needs to take personal and individual responsibility to achieve change in the things that they can do something about.

So, overall, how did the day shape up to start achieving a revolution in music learning?

The event discussed, promoted and celebrated a wide range of music learning and indeed a wide range of music. I spent much of the morning in Porter Tun listening to the debates. The first one was titled 'Is there such a thing as an effective balance between student directed informal learning and teacher directed formal learning?' The majority opinion seemed to be that indeed there is and that learning is on a continuum, which you move along depending on the context you're working in.

I was particularly impressed with Fiona Sexton's clear contribution. Fiona is Subject Leader for Music at Flegg High School and reminded us all that teachers in school constantly move along this continuum - laying to rest the continuing outdated perception that it's all directed from the front of the class by rote. On the other hand, as Fiona said, when appropriate sometimes we do just tell our students what to do, imparting our knowledge and expertise in what John Finney described as 'bold' teaching.

I was also struck by the contribution from Sean Gregory, Director of Creative Learning at Barbican Guildhall (and indeed a Youth Music Trustee). Sean felt that a new and refreshed vision for music learning in this country needs to be articulated and jointly owned by us all, with a fit-for-purpose infrastructure. This vision needs to once-and-for-all embrace the wonderful diversity of music, the range of music learning, a suitably skilled and modern workforce and, significantly, enable children and young people to progress and inform their music-making. In short, we need what we've termed at Youth Music (and set out as our goal) a 'musically inclusive England'. I don't think anyone would disagree with that… or would we?

The debate I chaired took place at 1pm and was titled 'Can you only teach music if you are a trained music educator?' Firstly, big thanks to my panel - Loretta, Bryan, Ian, Jackie and Rob - for rising to the task and keeping their contributions crisp, concise and to the point. And - unsurprisingly - there was broad agreement from the panel with everyone answering “no” to the question with one additional “but it helps” from Ian. So my task was to get the debate going amongst the audience to challenge the panel and offer some alternative perspectives.

Almost immediately, the questions from the floor yet again revealed two, polarised views - the 'teacher' on one side and the 'musician' on the other. This was perhaps inevitable and gave us a good place to start the debate. There were strong views from the floor that qualified teaching status was vital for teaching in schools. Jonathan Savage expressed his view that as a parent, he needs to be reassured that teachers teaching his children are qualified to do so. On the other hand Rob said that that he would rather be reassured that teachers can teach music without necessarily having qualified teacher status. As he neatly said: “You don't have to be trained chef to cook a meal for your friends. Why different in music?” To which Jonathan equally neatly responded “Yes, but if I go to a restaurant, I want to know that the chef is qualified to serve me food!” And it turned out that, when we chatted at the end, Rob is indeed looking to achieve QTS, building on his existing experience as a music educator.

My challenge to both panel and audience for the last 10 minutes was to invite them to offer insight about what the opportunities and solutions for the sector could be. Bearing in mind we have an array of music education activity in this country yet - despite good progress over the last few years -  there are still misunderstandings and disagreements between various 'camps'. Sadly, the opportunities and solutions suggested were few and far between… what was that I was saying about being outside our comfort zones?! Perhaps 'opportunities and solutions' could be a concerted focus for Music Learning Revolution next year and amongst the sector as a whole in the meantime. Don’t get me wrong, the thinking is important, but the solutions are even more important for the children and young people that we ultimately all serve.

As the day drew to a close, I was reminded of something Lord Puttnam said at the start of the day:

"Confidence breeds confidence and success breeds success: we need to generate a sense of fearlessness among our children.”

And I'd say that same sense of fearlessness needs to be generated amongst us, the grown-ups. That way, change really can have the best chance of happening…

 

(Image from @musicalfutures)

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Comments

anita holford's picture

Great blog Matt, thank you. Perhaps we could start sharing some ideas and solutions on here. For me, there's a simple (but difficult) one - for music education hub lead organisations to commit to bringing together the music educators from different camps together regularly over time - that may be for joint training or facilitated debates or informal get togethers or more powerfully seeing each other's practice. Relationships and conversations are everything. Great things start with a 'hello' ...

Zoe Greenhalgh's picture

Thank you Matt for an excellent blog. I was unfortunately unable to attend #MLRev but I am enjoying the debate it has sparked. I thought I would offer a few thoughts.

I agree whole heartedly with Sean Gregory that a "vision for music learning in this country needs to be articulated and jointly owned by us all, with a fit-for-purpose infrastructure". I would add however that this vision needs to aim high with expectations that children will not only participate in music but be informed participants whose grounding in musical concepts and building blocks is developed throughout childhood from the earliest years of life; the learning element is crucial. So I would like something along the lines of a 'musically informed and inclusive England'

The "Can you only teach music if you are a trained music educator?" debate is of great interest to me; my 2014 research (unpublished) explored the aims, background and experience of the leaders of Early Childhood music groups. In this large and unregulated sector where anyone can set up a "music group", musical qualifications, knowledge and skills (as well as Early Childhood knowledge) often appear to be lacking. Quality of provision is therefore a current subject of discussion among Early Childhood Specialists and MERYC UK (Music Educators and Researchers of Young Children http://www.meryc.co.uk/ ).

For me, the qualities of the teacher are of vital importance. I personally believe it is very important that a music educator has a thoroughly comprehensive understanding of music and educational approaches, coupled wiith the ability to be a highly reflective practitioner. This enables the educator to select the most appropriate and effective way to work with each particular group of individuals they teach. Maybe then, the question needs to be revised. Perhaps the qulaifcations presently on offer are no longer useful and what is needed is a new approach to training music educators? What an interesting debate. Onwards and upwards!

Finally, I wholeheartedly agree that we need to work together and work to find solutions rather than bemoan the challenges. I do believe however, that the end result, whatever that may be, must be both fit for purpose and the best that it can be.