Monthly Archives: June 2016


There’s no I in theory

I had a clear out recently and decided to tackle the four huge boxes of school and university work that have been sitting in various attics for years.

I was amazed at how much I (in theory) know! Hundreds of essays on pretty much everything from early Renaissance composers through to South Indian Carnatic rhythm patterns. History, analysis, theory, harmony, counterpoint, technique: all handwritten in fountain pen on reams of A4 lined paper. Those 6 years of intense work earned me three certificates (which are buried in another box): A level, BMus and MMus, which of course have informed and supported my ongoing career in music and music education.

Out of those four boxes I only kept the pieces of work that showed a glimpse of creativity: a portfolio of compositions from A level music; a folder of newspaper clippings I spent hours collecting at the British Library for my BMus dissertation on Weill and Brecht; personal notes on my experiences working in music communities in South India. Everything else was binned – if I need that knowledge again, I will go online rather than climb up a ladder to retrieve it.

But I was struck by how little of my personality was in those boxes. There was little evidence of my own opinions, values, and creativity. And absolutely no sense of the energy, vigour, inspiration and commitment of those that taught me.MFWeb2015_EmileHolba-164

I don’t contest the importance of theory, history, analysis for one moment. But that knowledge doesn’t necessarily stick (it didn’t with me) unless you learn how to apply it. And it certainly doesn’t equip you with a set of skills needed for a career, particularly in our rapidly-changing, increasingly digitised world.

Teachers are under so much pressure for students to achieve the outputs that will, one day, probably end up in boxes – essays, certificates, numbers on spreadsheets. But it is everything that can’t be measured in an exam that effective teachers are really providing – the nurturing, coaching, modelling, opening up spaces to be creative, and inspiring a deep, meaningful love of a subject.

I truly believe that effective music teaching is one of the keys to unlocking and supporting students’ future aspirations, whatever they may be, and in whatever field.

Musical Futures provides training and resources based on the real-world practices of popular and community musicians, making music learning relevant and engaging for all kids

Blog post edited 5th December 2016