How should music educators and parents make use of musicality as a concept?

Should is a provocative word in this context. On the one hand, it carries a sense of obligation and duty, on the other it advocates for informed suggestions in order to progress.

Music reaffirms its status as an integral part of our lives on an evolutionary scale on a daily basis. Even when there is a lack of money, resource and education, people all over the world still make music communicate their feelings, intentions and moods.  People already are making use of musicality, to soothe and excite, to motivate, to laugh and to cry….as parents, at work, having fun, caring, helping, relaxing and generally, just being human.

But the reality is that funding now needs to be ‘justified’ and socially accountable threatening to turn state musical education into a cost/benefit analysis. Does that mean that musicality as a concept now needs to be defined in terms of grey matter volume? Or prescribed, like a treatment, in order to increase the cerebral connectivity of future generations?

Perhaps it is now more important than ever before that science offers the world positive reasons for continued funding and supports musicality with integrity and purpose? How can we ensure that what we research is relevant and reflects human use of music, and how learning to play music & listening to music can help children develop and that that information is portrayed with ethical and practical value?

Our role is important because decisions are informed by evidence. And that evidence generates the ‘facts’ that are embraced enthusiastically parents and educators. Sometimes this can be relatively harmless, such as the Mozart effect, but we should be aware of the power and responsibility which comes with the factual deity that science is imbued with. The 2 recent studies, by Professors Welch and Williamon illustrate just how potentially positive or negative the quest to inform parents and educators can be.

For example, is the ‘10,000 hours’ rule inspiring to children, or indeed teachers? Is it elitist? Or just a fact? How much responsibility do we hold in presenting the evidence and how much does that conflict with exploratory scientific freedom? We also need to respect the fact that music remains a sanctuary for many people, their individual form of self-expression. There are thousands of self-help books telling us how to lead, how to live and how to love. Do we need a prescription for music too?

Maybe we can manage these philosophical and practical issues by trying harder to bridge the gap between the academic world and the people ‘on the ground’ who already are, often brilliantly, using musicality as a concept? It’s time to reach out and integrate, learn from each other, rather than building protective barriers based on intellectual and financial fear.

Here’s an extreme example for your amusement…what is it a description of?

“The acquisition of expert temporal and spatial skills is hypothesised to be enhanced by releasing participants from articulatory suppression of the phonological loop in order to aid working memory accompanied by exciting the membranes of assorted organic cylindrical objects in order to produce multifarious atonal frequencies which are in turn organised to produce variable isochronous semantic sequences.”

Or in other words, as my drum students all hear often, saying what you’re playing will help you remember it!

The point is, how are we going to help inform parents, education authorities, political leaders, or funding bodies decide how to, or even if to, invest in musicality with such a massive gulf of communication between people who ultimately have the same, well intended agenda? Surely it’s a joint responsibility between us all, musicologists, historians, scientists and psychologists and teachers in education and music.

When discussing this question, it became obvious that as a group we have all enjoyed teaching, helping people to engage with music, learning to focus their attention and gain new skills. Precious human bonds are formed as we sympathise with our students’ frustrations when the co-ordination, or technique won’t come and share their joy and sense of pride when it does. And it was the process, of spending time with that person, or people, learning through the journey of music, stimulating and engaging so many facets of being human, that left its mark on both teacher and student.

Maybe, given all the scientific evidence we have, we could advise parents and educators, politicians even, that implementing a national voluntary music mentor programme would be something worthwhile? A platform for the big society, which could offer valid certification for music teachers within a framework that supports individual creative freedom to teach and inspire.

Of course, there is still so much to learn, but the work that we all could do from here on, directly or otherwise, might help in some way to support funding for future musical learning and to inform the people who have to decide on shoulds and shouldn’ts. Musicality isn’t just a ‘concept’ – it’s a world-wide phenomenon. It’s important that we respect that and understand that evidence is not the only kind of truth, that its part of a wider picture, and that’s a picture we can all help to paint.

Dawn, Alex, HiJee and Georgina

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