Thursday, December 31, 2015

Music is something more than an individual possession

The Cambridgeshire Report on the Teaching of Music: Music and the CommunityThe Cambridgeshire Report on the Teaching of Music: Music and the Community by Cambridgeshire Council of Music Education
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I noticed Music and the Community on a bookshelf six minutes before the public library was about to close and couldn't resist grabbing it.

Originally published by the Cambridgeshire Council of Music Education in 1933, the whole book is a primer for the way music education should be conducted in schools. In the introduction, the importance of this teaching is first made clear: music is a language. Later on in the book, the authors strengthen its connection to literature by saying that "old English music should be as familiar as old English poetry." Yet just as not every English-speaker has to be well-versed in all the nuances and subtleties of poetry, not every person who receives a music education needs to be a virtuoso. The important thing is that the music is learned.

According to the book, however, there are problems that prevent music from becoming "a guiding principle to regulate and illumine all the activities of our existence." Firstly, music deserves to be listened to intensely, but music nowadays is so ubiquitous that
most people who hear music do not really listen to it at all; they let it fall upon their ears as a pleasant succession of sounds, making no effort to understand it and taking their chance of being soothed or stirred by it.
So, the bulk of the book is dedicated to instructing teachers on how to teach music. Music education should begin early with singing (starting from the age of four), be non-restrictive, and quite often be communal because making music together offers "mutual accommodation, a mutual sense of giving rather than of taking, such as no other communal occupation demands in the same degree." At an early age, kids should be taught nursery rhymes, which are important parts of "musical heritage" and have simple melodic structures that help with rhythm retention. Another thing that helps with the "development of the rhythmic sense," the authors note, is dancing - as somebody who has recently caught the jitterbug, I could not agree more. Music learning should also encompass historical and instrumental education as the students progress, and curriculums will differ depending on whether the schools in question are preparatory, public or universities. Yet regardless of the type of institution, "a vigorous musical life is undoubtedly an important factor in improving the tone of a school."

And there are many things that the government sector can do to facilitate the accessibility of music: they should not tax tickets sold at concerts given by local choral or orchestral societies, for example, and public libraries should expand their music sections.

Despite the eagerness with which the book vouches for inclusive music education, however, it also offers words of warning about the extent to which music is perpetuated:
Music should contribute to the life of the community an attitude of social harmony and tolerance; if we do not recognize that there are times when music is out of place we fail in one of the virtues that music is supposed to foster.
And this line made me crack up:
Lovers of music should be most careful not to cause annoyance to others; they may always hope that those who lack fervour will one day see the light, but the change will not come through the antagonizing effect of over-enthusiasm.

So, there is a "danger of making music available at all times" - heard under the "wrong conditions," it will only become an "irritant to nerves."

The whole book is a quick, engaging read. It definitely has a predominantly classical, traditional and British focus concerning music education (it was, after all, published in 1933 by Cambridge), which is perhaps a drawback in modern times, but also presents an interesting point of comparison to today's music scene. Instead of ensuring that every school has a piano, for instance, would a modern-day rendition of Music and the Community insist that every student have an iPod? Or Garageband installed on their computers? Should vocal training take rap into account?

It is fitting that this is the last full-length book I'll read this year (although I'm trying to read a collection of Chinese short stories before I fly out) because it's made me think about all that has changed not only since 1933 regarding music, but everything that has transpired globally and personally in just 2015.

It's been a year of great change and music has continued to be in my life for all of it - experiencing my first snow in Chicago during my orchestra rehearsal, dancing until 1 a.m. in the city to swing music, listening to songs on 15 hour plane rides to and from home.

I started this post as a book review, but as I write this last paragraph I realize that it has also been a way for me to bid goodbye to 2015 and look forward to the new year. I'm excited for the new books I'll read, words I'll write and music I'll hear in 2016!

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