School of Education, University of Leeds
In The Guardian in January 1992 the eminent Scottish composer James MacMillan wrote:
A year earlier, The National Curriculum Music Working Group, a respectable bunch of academics and music educators (as well a few people from commerce and the "Wombles Song" and "Bright Eyes" composer Mike Batt), had produced a report which reflected the best practice of music teachers as it had developed since the 1970s. They made one desperate blunder: they mentioned only one "classical" composer, Mozart, but they made a number of references to different musical styles including Bhangra beat, pop-flamenco, penillion singing, Gamelan, and Scottish Gaelic psalm singing (DES, Welsh Office, 1991a, pp.26, 51, 40, 41). In mentioning these musical styles they were reflecting an increased diversity in practice in schools, with steel bands and samba bands being equipped and organised and some LEAs even providing lessons on such instruments as the tabla, the Indian harmonium and the Northumbrian bagpipes. A significant list of publications dealing with the teaching of "ethnic" music in school emerged since the 1970s (see discussions in Vulliamy and Lee, 1982; Swanwick, 1988; Blacking, 1987).
The Working Group report gave rise to howls of outrage, particularly from neo-conservative philosophers Roger Scruton and Anthony O'Hear (Scruton, 1991; O'Hear, 1991). It was the second report of the Working Group published in August 1991 which included the suggestion that students might be able to "recognise and talk about Scottish fiddle music" (DES, 1991b, p.43).
This report in turn was countered by a "consultation report" put out by the National Curriculum Council, a quango (now defunct or rather transfigured into SCAA, The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and subsequently into the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) under the then chairmanship of David Pascall, seconded BP (British Petroleum) manager and former adviser to Mrs. Thatcher. This report of January 1992 emphasised "knowledge and understanding" about music and contained long lists of "Western" composers - out went salsa, Indian tala and African drumming, and classes of 7 to 11 year olds were to "comment on the distinctive musical elements in a Bach fugue or a Beethoven Symphony" (NCC, 1992, p.27).
the whole thing ended in what many would see as a rather botched compromise
that led to an over-heavy and overly prescriptive curriculum (DES, April
1992). This is necessary background - I have discussed the nature of this
controversy in another paper (Gammon, 1999). In this paper I want to concentrate
on those aspects of the controversy and the curriculum documentation that
deal with what is generally considered to be "the ethnic in music", provided
we bear in mind that, as John Blacking so eloquently pointed out, "in most
conservatoires they teach only one particular kind of ethnic music and
that musicology is really an ethnic musicology" (Blacking, 1973, p.3).
I also want to look at some of the ways we classify and describe music,
in relation to the theme of "the ethnic in music", looking particularly
at the prescribed repertoire statements in the curriculum documents for
Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.
The New Right critics who opposed the multiculturalist and pluralist Working Group reports, did so in defence of the teaching of the Western "classical" tradition. Many of the criticisms made of the Working Group were unjustified – a great deal of the content of the different versions of the curriculum they proposed could only be taught through examples drawn from the Western tradition, but not to make this explicit was a tactical error of profound significance. The Working Group chairman, Sir John Manduell, stated "We were quite clear that we wanted a strong emphasis on the Western classical tradition, but never felt it was helped by identifying a list of composers" (The Guardian, 14-1-1992). This strong emphasis was no doubt there, but they failed to make it apparent in the documentation other than by putting "the European 'classical' tradition" at the top of the list, of the types of music to be studied.
In his statement published on 28th January 1992, meant to settle the dispute, Kenneth Clarke stated that he felt it was patronising to those from other backgrounds to assume that they could not appreciate Western works: "I hope we are not going to be a country which does not have the confidence to introduce children to our own culture", he remarked (The Times, 28-01-1992). No one, to my knowledge, had said that people from other backgrounds could not appreciate the Western tradition. One interesting aspect of the whole business is how little emphasis the Music National Curriculum for England places on English music - what is Clarke's "our own culture"? English composers are named in the curriculum document, but out-numbered by myriad continentals and a few Americans.
Wales is another country, and they do things differently there. At an early stage, the report of the Working Group was accepted by the Welsh Curriculum Council. Thus the curricula of the two countries are based on two quite different models, the Welsh organised under three headings, the English with just two, conflating the very different activities of performing and composing (compare acting and play writing).
of English Music Curriculum:
of the Welsh Music Curriculum:
The Welsh adhered to the Working Party's model, the commonly accepted way of thinking about music education. This could be seen as repaying a debt, for in their second report, the Working Group had acknowledged "the distinctive nature of the Welsh musical heritage" (DES, 1991b, p.9). Nevertheless, the acceptance of the Working Group document by the Welsh put the problems of the Music Curriculum for England into sharp relief. Whilst the second Working Group Report warned against "exclusive parochialism", they allowed that "special attention" be given to "the Welsh musical heritage" (DES, 1991b, p.9). Why did they not say the same about England?
The Welsh took their opportunity. In the space where the English document states that examples should be drawn from the "music of the countries and regions of the British Isles", the Welsh document simply stated "the music of Wales". The contrast between the two documents is highly significant.
In England, the influence of the New Right meant that curricular prescription was the order of the day. Even the emphases given to the repertory list is different: the Welsh document simply states it in a paragraph, while the English gives a letter to each of the categories in a spread list (Welsh Office, 1995, p.7; Department for Education, 1995, p.6).
What of Scotland and Northern Ireland? They do things differently there, too. In Scotland there is no national curriculum, but simply "Guidelines on Expressive Arts 5-14" which the Secretary of State "invites" education authorities and schools to use (Scottish Office, 1992, p.iii). The Scottish document is very non-prescriptive, merely talking about such things as appraising music from "a variety of musical periods and styles" (Scottish Office, 1992, p.51). The Scottish material shows, perhaps, what things can be like when teachers have a relatively high professional status and are organised into a single representative professional association (Scotland has a general teaching council which governs the profession, and one professional association, The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), which represents about eighty per cent of teachers in Scotland, whereas in England there are no less than six significant teachers' unions).
Ireland Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment sorts things
out in the Six Counties. Their document appears like a simplified and streamlined
version of the Working Group report. Again the document is non-prescriptive:
"pupils are required to listen to and appraise music from different cultures,
traditions and styles" (CCEA, 1996, p.3). There is a requirement for the
music programme of study to support the objectives of EMU (Education for
Mutual Understanding) and Cultural Heritage, which are two of the six educational
themes "woven through" the main curriculum subjects.
At this point, it is worth taking a detailed look at the development of statements concerning repertoire within the English curriculum as they emerged between the initial Working Group report of 1991 and the National Curriculum document of April 1992.
Repertoire Statements (Key Stage 3 [11-14] or General):
One of the most interesting aspects of the development of the National Curriculum for Music in England is the contrast between the stability of most of the repertoire categories and the instability of the category to do with the musics of other cultures. I am not sure what this betokens other than that the English have a real problem in thinking about and dealing with the unfamiliar. In Figure 3, we see the development of curricular statements specifically on musical Otherness from 1991 to 1995.
Figure 3 gives the contrasting statements in a bit more focus. 1991 seems to be the year of Otherness which gives way to "a variety of cultures Western and non-Western" (an interesting aside - my spell checker balks at the capitalisation of "Western"). This "Western" business is dropped in 1994 and we are left with simply "a variety of cultures". This inexplicably changes to "cultures across the world" in 1995.
The 1995 Welsh document retains the phraseology of the second 1991 Working Group document: "other musical traditions and cultures". Welsh stability contrasts with English restlessness over this category; we are dealing here with a nation not at ease with the way it thinks about others.
document still has a surprise in store. In 1994 and 1995 it grows another
category, two versions, relating to "well known composers and performers".
Why did this come in? Were all the English music teachers scrabbling away
in dusty archives to find obscure pieces by unknown performers to play
to their pupils? I shall not consider the key question (well known to whom?)
but simply observe that this must be the nadir of useless prescriptiveness,
the logical outcome of the work of curriculum authorities who believe that
teachers cannot be trusted.
Let us now make a comparison of certain concepts within the English documents and their counterparts in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
Statements, Key Stage 3 or equivalent (11-14)
What are we to make of the inter-relationships of the repertoire statements in the English and Welsh documents? Venn diagrams, used in an exploratory way, give some purchase on the ways in which categories might relate and intersect. Quite clearly, the repertoire statements are not about discrete categories. Figure 5 tries to give a representation of the way the first four categories of the English document might relate and overlap.
Are all the overlaps and permutations viable - do they exist? I think they do. How discrete is any musical style? Perhaps quite indiscreet. Vladimir Propp warned in the 1920s of incoherent classification systems. In this set, genre and geography collide and intersect. Anthropologists such as Mary Douglas and Victor Turner have investigated the significance of the marginal, liminal and unclassifiable, often the site of danger/pollution/excitement and loss of control (for good or ill) and I think this sort of approach has great bearing on curriculum prescription. It gives us the tools to begin to understand the latent racism that underpinned a lot of the debate (Douglas, 1966; Turner, 1969).
As Saussure pointed out, all meanings are parts of systems of meaning, systems of difference. The semantic field covered by one term is not the same as that covered by another. We know what a thing is because we know what it is not. A triangle is not a square although both are shapes; a dog is not a cat although both can be domestic animals. The differences in external reality have their complement in the different words with which we describe that reality, but language is not simply reflective, it is constitutive: we can often perceive things because we have names to describe them and differentiate them from other things. Expertise in a subject is related to the ability to make finer distinctions within the subject matter, to manipulate its categories more skilfully.
Voloshinov and Bakhtin modified Saussure's "abstract objectivist" views in vital ways, seeing that the verbal interactions (spoken and written) constitute the sites where language is made and remade. Grudgingly, I have to accept that even the document Music in the National Curriculum (England) is part of this process. Like any other, the document also attests to the ultimate uncontrollability of language, yet at the same time to the attempt to control language, to invest it with preferred meanings and have those meanings accepted.. Let us investigate some of the usages and categories of Music in the National Curriculum in order to illustrate the range of possible meanings and interpretations of the document (Saussure, 1983, p.117; Voloshinov, 1973, pp.45, 94, passim).
What are we to make of the category "music of the countries and regions of the British Isles"? Clearly Tallis, Purcell, Arne, Parry, Vaughan Williams, Britten, and Turnage come in here, but so must Carver, Carolan, MacKenzie, Stamford, Weir and MacMillan. A whole mass of popular and traditional music must be included, from catches to carols, songs and dance music, from the middle ages to the present day. The countries of the British Isles are given (I take it they include the Irish Republic) but what are the "regions"? The regionality of some music making must be considered, from miners and fishermen's choirs, to Yorkshire brass bands, Northumbrian and Scottish bagpipes, and Ulster marching bands. But what of music of recent origin? What of Bhangra (surely its centre of production is Birmingham)? What of Reggae and Techno? I have certainly challenged people with such a view - the fact that some of this music might have originated abroad is no argument - the music of these islands has been more or less influenced from abroad since plainsong was first imported. What was intended by the category? (Remember the category is the English "alternative" to the honestly nationalistic "Music of Wales").
When we add to the requirements the notion that the repertoire should include music in a variety of styles "by well known composers and performers past and present" things get even more confused. This appears to be a category of a different order. Surely any type or style of music can have well known performers, and often well known composers, although this is not universally true (for example, in cultures where a strong oral tradition is still current or where notions of individual property rights are not especially developed and composers might not be well-known). If we start adding the notion of well-known-ness to our schema we can see the problems created. This can become a sort of party game. Where would you put Astor Piazzola, Nusrat Fatah Ali Kahn, George Gershwin, Vaughan Williams, Don Cherry or Ry Cooder? And the recent popularity of so called "world music" (an invented catch-all, also-ran category) has made "music from cultures across the world" "popular music" in the UK.
The categories for ever break down. Where does jazz fit in the National Curriculum scheme? Is it a popular music? Judged by the earnings of some jazz musicians I have met, it is not! Let us consider the lumping together of "folk and popular music". Is there a distinction to be made between popular and pop? The word "popular" is itself complex in meaning. It is separately or simultaneously:
1. That which originates from the people (who are the people?);
2. That which is widely liked (Williams, 1976, pp.236-8; also cf. pp.136-7 & 119).
It is tempting to make a third definition: that which is not particularly widely liked but could not be called "classical" - perhaps this is where jazz fits in. What are the relationships and overlaps between "popular and folk"?
As someone who is a member of the editorial board of a publication called the Folk Music Journal, I find myself in some difficulty here. For many years now, specialists have tended to reject the concept "folk music" as being misleading, ambiguous, and too imbued with ideological baggage (romantic, nationalistic and Sharpian). We prefer to speak about "traditional music" (an old term used by nineteenth-century collectors, but now giving rise to confusion because of its use by some writers to mean pre-Schoenbergian tonal art music) or "musical traditions" (which highlights process, not genre, and can be applied to almost any form of musical activity). Perhaps another diagram will help illuminate the difficulties:
Again, this only begins to indicate the terminological problems and the categorical confusions that arise when we start to interrogate these terms. Where would you locate performances or compositions of Marta Sebestyen, Robert Burns, Bob Dylan, Ewan MacColl, or Bela Bartok on this diagram?
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) (under its previous guise as the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority) have an interesting definition of folk music. They have produced some study materials with that title that are actually about the use of folk-derived material by such composers as Vaughan Williams, Kodaly and Greig. Not itself an uninteresting subject but not really what the title promises (CCEA/SCAA, Classic FM Masterclass, Folk Music, 1996). In the press release heralding this particular series of pamphlets, the SCAA Chief Executive, Nick Tate, indulged in a spectacular display of fractured multiculturalism:
I do not want to be misinterpreted. We need categories to think and describe the world - without categories and definitions, thought and discussion are not possible. But there is a decency and humility in realising that the world is illusive and hard to pin down. Categories and definitions are themselves relative, they have currency but they are not universal. In the shifting world of language, understanding and perception, nothing is fixed - particularly in relation to that strange and hard to hold material called music. I am trying to think of an apt metaphor for the problem of meaning and definition; somehow the butterfly seems less apt than the greasy pig. Prescription through ill-assorted categories, that are themselves uncertain and ambiguous, seems an odd and oppressive way to proceed. Further, the part represents the whole: the section on repertoire is representative of the quality of thinking throughout the over-full and poorly considered English Music Curriculum document.
Surely there has to be some merit in the repertoire prescriptions? They do suggest some diversity, some widening of horizons beyond that which teachers might do left to their own devices. This is one point to be made in their support.
Defenders of the document would no doubt appeal to that last resort of the intellectually bankrupt, the application of "common sense" to the interpretation of the documents. I have been accused of "nit picking" and irrelevance. But if one is going to be prescriptive one needs to get the prescription right, otherwise the best advice is to refrain. There was absolutely no need to be prescriptive in the curriculum documents (as the Northern Irish and Scottish documents show). Prescription came out of a certain political climate and controversy in which agents of the political right and their allies saw teachers as not worthy of being trusted, as unable to do the proper job without being instructed.
I am not defending the quality of all music teaching in schools - it ranges from the wonderful to the appalling (cf. Gammon, 1996, passim). I am saying that for a teacher to be fully effective, he or she must develop the ability to work out what constitutes a balanced programme of study for pupils. In this context I find statements like that contained in the Northern Irish and Scottish documents that speak of "music from different cultures, traditions and styles" (CCEA, 1996, p.3) and "music in a variety of idioms" (SO, 1992, p.45) of greater use than prescription. James MacMillan's concept of "worthwhile music" is not without its definitional problems, but if a teacher thinks that the music she or he teaches is worthwhile, or perhaps thinks there is something worthwhile for the pupils to learn from the music, the chances are that he or she will be teaching something worthwhile.
In the teaching of English, prescription went even further with a list of approved authors and works from which material should be selected. Some recent research on English PGCE students shows that the literary canon is alive and well in undergraduate study (work of Stephen Clarke and Michael Rayner at Leeds University, personal communication). My impression of trainee Music teachers, gathered both informally and from self-assessment questionnaires, is broadly similar. The perceived need for prescription seems more to do with particular cultural conservatives' tenuous hold on a changing world than with any real need. Most music teachers have learnt about the canon and therefore will teach aspects of it. The defenders of an active and pluralistic approach to music education were not subversive populists but bastions of the "classical" establishment with names like Rattle, Boulez, Goehr and MacMillan. Generally speaking, it is not the "music establishment" that is the root of the problem, but the influence of a group of right-wing ideologues who no doubt believed they were serving the best interest of what they perceive as "the cultural heritage".
In a "Common
Requirement" to all the English National Curriculum documents it instructs
that "Pupils should be taught to express themselves clearly in both speech
and writing" (DES, 1995, p.1). It is a shame that the compilers of the
Music National Curriculum document for England did not heed the implications
of this advice. Their prescriptions are incoherent and would prove a serious
detriment to music teaching if more people bothered to take much notice
of them. The document articulates a tension between multiculturalism and
cultural conservatism, a tension between those (many of them professional
"serious" musicians) who might consider Scottish fiddle music worthwhile
music (the mind jumps to thoughts of Scott Skinner, Neil Gow, Aly Bain
and Brian McNeil) and those cultural conservatives who in MacMillan's words,
suffer from "myopia and bigotry". We must seriously question the value
of over-prescriptive documents so flawed by inner tensions and incoherences.
Examples from other parts of Britain show that it is easily possible to
do better. Surely in the case of the Music Curriculum for England, it is
time to admit the failure and start again.
As I do the final corrections of this paper the latest version of the music curriculum (part of what is called "a less prescriptive and more flexible national curriculum") is out for consultation. Although demonstrating some permissive aspects that should be welcomed, this document also shows that there is no fundamental change in the prescriptive style of thinking inherent in earlier versions. The momentum of the previous forms of the national curriculum now seems unstoppable. The emphasis has shifted from prescription within the programmes of study to prescription through assessment and Music, it seems, is to have eight (or nine) "levels" against which pupils are to be assessed, with all the inherent problems of interpretation and understanding that such assessment entails. Perhaps most fascinating of all in terms of this essay, is the indication of the range of music that should be used in teaching. This includes (for 11-14 year olds) developing skills, knowledge and understanding through:
engaging with a range of familiar and unfamiliar music from different times and cultures, including music from the British Isles, the "Western classical" tradition, folk, jazz and popular genres, and by well-known composers and performers. (QCA, The Review of the National Curriculum in England, 1999, p.166)We note the British Isles remain, but not their countries and regions. Inverted commas now surround "Western" as well as "classical". Jazz now gets a mention but music from "cultures across the world" is transmuted into music from "different times and cultures", the best the document can muster in terms of a nod in the direction of multiculturalism. Music from non-western (or is it non-Western?) cultures is neither mentioned nor explicitly excluded. The difficulty the English have with Otherness seems now to be dealt with by quiet abolition of the category in any but the vaguest sense. On a sunny day you could interpret this as progress although the sceptical might say that prescription is maintained but with a narrowing and more parochial range of specified musics.
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to newspaper articles are contained within the text.