I attended the European Association of Music in Schools conference in Vilnius, Lithuania in March 2016 which had a host of academic presentations from across Europe on the themes of innovation and creativity in music education.
As always for me though it was the young people that provoked my thoughts. I attended a pre-conference visit to a school in the Old Town of Vilnius. It was a beautiful building, a converted monastery, where we were given a formal presentation by the music teacher about the importance of singing in their school. We watched a video of students performing to the most incredible standard in the finals of a national singing competition. We heard how students are drilled in theory, history, notation before moving onto sol-fa and then classical repertoire from Balkan and Western choral traditions. We gathered that there is no classroom music, and that a decreasing number of students elect to be in the extra-curricular choirs that the teacher is so keen to maintain. The teacher lamented the fact that the majority of students aren’t interested in their rich choral tradition anymore. Some of the choir filed in, went through a gruelling warm-up, and then started rehearsing their piece.
Afterwards we could ask questions. I asked them what music they were interested in outside of school. ‘Hard rock’ was the unanimous answer. Their teacher looked horrified. They all laughed, started miming playing guitars and jumping around. They momentarily came alive. However these students can have both – access rock music outside of school, and then sing beautifully in the choir within it. But there were less than 15 students here, and 730 in the school. If I had dared to ask another question (the glare of the music teacher prevented my hand from going up a second time) I would have asked what about them? If singing is so critical to the school, how about finding ways that engage every student with it, as they then might actually take more of an interest in the current extra-curricular offer.
In contrast, as part of the conference programme, a group of students from another local high school performed. This wasn’t a ‘performance group’, it was a sharing of what happens as a result of their weekly classroom music lessons. The enthusiastic, lively, relaxed, confident students told us: ‘We all love music. We’re not afraid to make mistakes, because we always want to improve. We are brave enough to try’.
They performed a medley of their own creations that involved clapping, singing, moving, boomwhackers, ukuleles, drum kits, bass guitars and beatboxing.
To finish they vocalised a composition that one of the girls had written. They gathered around the piano and performed her unique composition with commitment, dedication, musicality and utter respect and dignity. The composer told us: ‘who better to sing your composition than your classmates. I trust them’.
This was classroom music at its finest. Providing students with a space for them to create, be themselves, work together, develop deep trust, and the outcome was musical, inspiring and imaginative. Every teacher should be brave enough to try. If I too find some courage, I will tell this to the teacher from the first school.
Musical Futures Find Your Voice is a classroom approach that enables all students to vocalise using their own musical content
Blog post edited 5th December 201