Teaching v Learning in the Piano Lesson [Part I]

One of the biggest privileges of being a piano teacher is the opportunity to become a consistent part of a student’s life. Each school week for maybe even a decade or longer the piano teacher and the piano student have time one-on-one (more or less) to explore musical puzzles, pianistic tricks, and challenges both physical and imaginative. This is not a relationship in the knowledge-transmission model (where the teacher pours knowledge into student until student is all full up) but rather a relationship that is built on the teacher tweaking the learning experience to match the interests and accomplishments of the student. This teacher-student relationship is usually nurturing and supportive, in the sense of helping the student achieve their musical/pianistic goals and ambitions and substantially beyond. Piano teachers get to notice things about their students that can be missed in the hurly-burly of classroom activity, and piano teachers participate in building a sense of achievement in students who might otherwise

read more Teaching v Learning in the Piano Lesson [Part I]

Issues emerging from Richard Gill’s TEDxSYDNEY talk

A summary of the issues, as compared to the exploration of the talk itself. 1. The need for a definition of ‘properly taught music’ if this is to be put forward as a “right of every child in every circumstance”. Richard Gill gave anecdotal examples of music education experiences he has facilitated, but his talk did not outline what he believed ‘properly taught music’ would look like in the classrooms of the future. Does it involve individualised instrumental tuition for every student? Does it involve every child in Australia learning to read music notation? Does it involve students developing a social understanding of music, studying it as another ‘text’ that is presented to them in 21st century life? And Richard Gill was keen on singing – how does that fit in? Is group performance important for every child too? And what about composing music and writing songs? 2. An urgent need to recognise that asserting the intrinsic meaningless of music

read more Issues emerging from Richard Gill’s TEDxSYDNEY talk

Richard Gill at TEDxSYDNEY 2011

Warning: this post is a detailed analysis that goes for nearly 5000 words. Alright then. You have been warned! TEDxSYDNEY is had its second outing this last weekend, and I was rather late to the party. The Sydney Morning Herald guide to TEDxSYDNEY the day or two before was my first notice that it was on. Glancing through the lineup of speakers I was thrilled to see that Richard Gill was featured in the second session of the day. Richard Gill is a champion of music education in Australia, and he is a voice of reason in many a public debate about the arts. Richard Gill’s contributions to musical life in Australia range from leading the Victorian Opera as well as conducting and commissioning new works all the way through to working in classrooms with young children. He is much respected and, I think it is no exaggeration to say, beloved! His inclusion as a speaker at TEDxSYDNEY 2011 was both

read more Richard Gill at TEDxSYDNEY 2011

A Teenage Cautionary Tale

In her marvellous memoir Piano Lessons, Anna Goldsworthy recounts a turning point in her relationship with her piano teacher. Anna had won an extraordinary string of awards, academic and musical, in her final year at high school, and she was being interviewed for a story in the paper. Anna describes the whole experience as being quite surreal, finding the questions put to her by the reporter as being weirdly disconnected from anything she might have wanted to say. When the story appeared in the paper then next day Anna was bemused to herself quoted as saying that she owed her success to her kindergarten teacher, and that she planned to move to Sydney to further her career. It’s not that she was misquoted exactly, but that the whole story skewed very far from Anna’s reality. Next thing Anna received a phone call from her piano teacher, very cold, asking her about her plans to relocate to Sydney. Long story short,

read more A Teenage Cautionary Tale

Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: To Conclude

I’ve been analysing the proposed definition of music in the proposed new National Arts Curriculum, one or two sentences at a time, covering with What Music Is, Values, Musical Engagement and ‘Need’, and finally  A Mobile Digital Age. The proposed definition looks to have been constructed from a preferred teaching and assessing format rather than from a genuine effort to define what music is. This is no small thing: defining music by one’s teaching preferences ossifies and endorses current teaching praxis without leaving open the possibility of innovation and improvement let alone the recognition of educational failures in the status quo. Blind spots remain invisible, and the opportunity to remap the teaching landscape goes to waste. As bad as it might be to define a subject by one’s preferred classroom activities and assessment rubrics, in this case I believe the curriculum definition is simply being determined by the way teachers have become accustomed to teaching music. Complacency is no friend

read more Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: To Conclude

Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: A Mobile Digital Age

And now to conclude this four-part series examining the proposed definition of music in the still-under-review National Arts Curriculum: the final two sentences. Here’s the full definition again: 2.3.4 Defining Music 16. Music is the imaginative process of creating, performing, and responding to sound and silence for personal and collective meaning. Through the processes of creating musical works, performing with voice and instrument, and responding to our own and others’ music, individuals and groups communicate meanings, beliefs and values. Music engagement shapes our thought and activity, and is evident from the earliest stages of life. People turn to music at times of emotional, physical, and intellectual need. Music is a pervasive feature of contemporary life. In a mobile digital age, music engagement both underpins and accompanies many of our day-to-day activities, and, marks the significant moments of individual and collective life. So we come to this assertion: ‘Music is a pervasive feature of contemporary life.’ My response is, “So?” Pollution,

read more Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: A Mobile Digital Age

Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: Musical Engagement and ‘Need’

So, down to the next two sentences in the proposed definition of Music in the National Arts Curriculum proposed for Australian education, sentences 3 and 4. Here’s the full definition: 2.3.4 Defining Music 16. Music is the imaginative process of creating, performing, and responding to sound and silence for personal and collective meaning. Through the processes of creating musical works, performing with voice and instrument, and responding to our own and others’ music, individuals and groups communicate meanings, beliefs and values. Music engagement shapes our thought and activity, and is evident from the earliest stages of life. People turn to music at times of emotional, physical, and intellectual need. Music is a pervasive feature of contemporary life. In a mobile digital age, music engagement both underpins and accompanies many of our day-to-day activities, and, marks the significant moments of individual and collective life. Now I have no real quibble with sentence 3 (“Music engagement shapes our thought and activity, and

read more Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: Musical Engagement and ‘Need’

Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: Values

Now let’s take a look at the next sentence in the definition proposed in the new Australian National Arts Curriculum. Again, here’s the full definition: 2.3.4 Defining Music 16. Music is the imaginative process of creating, performing, and responding to sound and silence for personal and collective meaning. Through the processes of creating musical works, performing with voice and instrument, and responding to our own and others’ music, individuals and groups communicate meanings, beliefs and values. Music engagement shapes our thought and activity, and is evident from the earliest stages of life. People turn to music at times of emotional, physical, and intellectual need. Music is a pervasive feature of contemporary life. In a mobile digital age, music engagement both underpins and accompanies many of our day-to-day activities, and, marks the significant moments of individual and collective life. At first glance there’s nothing too much one can take exception to in sentence 2. In fact, once one reworks the opening

read more Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: Values

Defining Music in the new Arts Curriculum

Here in Australia we are going through a process of creating a national curriculum. For all these years the education system of one state has mandated a completely different curriculum to that of the next state, and children in different parts of the country can have enormous difficulty moving from one system to another should their parents decide to make the move to another part of the country. Teachers also face barriers if they should choose to move and, besides this important logistical consideration, there is a sense that a national curriculum would also have the advantage of bringing together the best of each currently operating curriculum. That’s the thinking, in any case. I’m not about to analyse the case for a national curriculum (I happen to think it’s a splendid notion), or to discuss the broad brushstrokes of the process of its development. What I am about to do (over the next few months) is to engage in some

read more Defining Music in the new Arts Curriculum