From Maureen Stalworthy, Humberside
For a long time I have had trouble with the word "classical" when it is applied to music. I don't much care for pedants, but do we really need to use this word unless we are trying to refer to a specific style of aesthetic process. After all, the word "classical" really means nothing at all out of its proper context. If you want to recall the ideals of an age of rationalism, political stability and artistic normalisation, then perhaps the word "classical" means something to musicologists and comparative art scholars. Not much use to anyone else though and even less use in the wrong place.
What is this "classical" music that we are so happy to classify? Definitely Mozart, we would all say (for the best of reasons), Bach too, not Beatles, not Jazz but what about Gershwin and Bernstein? If you can be bothered to answer this question then you have missed the point. The right answer in my estimation is that there is only one music.
If you like Mozart, fine, but you do not belong to a special and exclusive club anymore than a devotee of Jungle or Bangra. I am sick and tired of our divisive habit of putting things and people into groups which do not exist.
The UK, at least, suffers from a terrible sickness of not being able to enjoy more than one thing. You either like with-it club music or you like not-quite-so-with-it "classical" music. Shame, really. They are both important parts of contemporary culture, but the more we compartmentalise the more we encourage, no, indoctrinate people to stick with one and avoid the other.
So, please do one thing of real value to the musical life of the nation, if that is really what MusicTeachers.co.uk stands for: - tell your members to ban the use of the word "classical" as some strange and inappropriate label for anything that you don't hear on Radio 1. It doesn't mean anything and it certainly inculcates the misapprehension that certain music is only for certain people, that class, money and God knows what other restrictive social issues have something to do the appreciation of a great and all-encompassing art-form.
There is only one music and it is all-inclusive and without boundaries.
Obviously you pre-empted my editorial this month, Maureen, since I have written about this very issue - but I got there first…honest. JW
From Christine Hessal, Merseyside
I do agree with last month's editorial, that singing should be ideally at the heart of children's musical education, although unfortunately I'm not sure that such a proposal would be eagerly implemented into classroom activities these days. However, I have been thinking of introducing my private pupils to solfège methods. Can your readers suggest any books or web resources that might be useful to someone approaching the subject from scratch.
Many thanks for your support - I had a couple of telephone calls from colleagues who seem to think that classroom singing is dead, and will stay so. I'm not going to commit to print what I think of these so-called teachers! Your best bet, in the first instance, is to visit GNU Solfege which is an excellent website that will tell you just about everything you need to know. It also has an interesting-looking ear-training program that will help you in your work.
From Karen Newman, Leicester
Is there any point in having composition as a major aspect of the GCSE syllabus? I am not a schoolteacher, but surely if people are to follow a composition course, they need composers, and not just any old musician advising them. I might be considered old-fashioned in this respect (I'm only 38), but surely, the most important thing that pupils need teaching is the art of harmony and counterpoint, as I had to learn when doing O-levels back in the dark ages. Has the loony freedom-of-expression movement gone too far? Are we not bringing the art of making music down to its lowest common denominator?
In my view, yes to everything. Composition is best left to those who know what they are doing, although there is no problem having some experimentation going on in the classroom - perhaps a teacher will see a child with some potential and advise it accordingly. But there is a need to learn the techniques, no matter how outdated they might appear; this applies to composition and performance - one conservatory I know of has dispensed with the need for carefully-regulated studies and exercises from its undergraduate pianists, the sense of which escapes me. Whilst I was interviewing Richard Crozier at the ABRSM about teachers' professional development, he made a bit of a gaffe and stated that he saw no need for the old system of music education - it's too uninteresting and doesn't really teach much. I don't think he would like this revealed, but I don't care: I got the distinct impression that plans are afoot to radically shake up the theory syllabus and chop the harmony right out of the Grades 5 - 8 papers. I do hope this is not the case, but then again, why shouldn't the ABRSM join the trendy bandwagon? It will ensure more revenue! JW
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