I spent eight years teaching undergraduates at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP) in London, England, hopefully setting students on paths to careers in the music industry. My work there largely involved lecturing and supervising students on a mandatory final-year project – a 10,000-word critical essay. I enjoyed the process, but wondered about the value of this work in the lives of the aspiring professional musicians whom I was teaching. Many resented undertaking the project and saw it as a distraction from what they felt they should be doing – making music. I became increasingly uncertain of the role played by the school and by higher music education in general; did students really benefit from spending several years at college, honing skills for an uncertain foray into an ever more saturated music market in a dense and intensely isolating city such as London?
As a research student, I regularly attend research training sessions and other such events. A running theme in many of these sessions has been ‘impact’ – more specifically, how can we create impact with our research? Who might benefit from our research? How can we engage with them?
What is impact?
Earlier this year I attended a training session on “Evaluating your Digital Impact”, run by the Scottish Graduate School for Social Science. The aim of this training was to make us aware of how we can evaluate our research impact, and identify ways of disseminating our research. J. Britt Holbrook’s list of 56 Indicators of Impact (featured on the LSE blog) shows that impact is measurable in more ways than counting how many times your work is cited. Furthermore, Holbrook identifies that impact – which is so often talked about as a positive outcome – can also be controversial or negative.
Last week I was in Keele, at the first PG conference held by the AHRC North West Consortium. In his keynote, Professor Charles Forsdick suggested a shift is needed, away from talking about ‘impact’ – which in the REF is encountered as a short-term result rather than the long-term impact more applicable to the arts and humanities – towards a focus on public engagement and knowledge exchange. I find this helpful, particularly as a musician and music PhD student, as it suggests more of a dialogue between research and society.
What does ‘teaching music’ mean, anyway?
Admittedly, this is (in part) a bit of a flippant question – in some ways we all know what is meant when someone says that they are ‘teaching music’ or that they work as a ‘music teacher’. However, this question has recently become more of a serious concern of mine and I have to confess to being increasingly unsure of how to answer it. Given that I spend the vast majority of my working life teaching music in some form, it might be expected that me asking the question ‘what does teaching music mean?’ is alarming. Actually, I can’t help but feel that this is a natural (and important) question to ask and I worry that any singular definition offered in answer to such a question may be problematic.
There is a great video from bassist Victor Wooten where he talks about music as a language (you can watch the video here). There is certainly nothing new about likening music to a language. Poets, writers and authors have been doing so for some time now…
“Music is the universal language of mankind.”
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”
“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.”
“Music is well said to be the speech of angels.”
The idea of music as a language has taken on an increased focus in my life ever since I came to work with Little Kids Rock through my job at Amp Up NYC about a year ago. At Little Kids Rock (LKR), their pedagogy is based upon the idea of treating music as asecond language. The basis of LKR’s pedagogy was developed by founder Dave Wish, a former first-grade, ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.
As anyone who reads this blog regularly will know, one of the things that is of great interest to me is improvisation. I am interested in this subject practically and theoretically but I have a particular desire to understand more about the ways in which it is taught, learned and assessed in educational contexts. Over the last week I have been involved in a project in primary schools in which we have been introducing children between the ages of 8 and 11 years old to improvisation. It has been incredible fun and very rewarding so I would like to share some information about the sessions in this week’s post.
The workshops were part of a wonderful project, entitled ‘Music, Sound and Electronics’ which was developed and run by Lauren Sarah Hayes for West Lothian Council and supported by Creative Scotland’s Youth Music Initiative. This project consists of Lauren and guest musicians/composers/improvisers delivering sessions (each 1 hour long) in which the young people learn about music and sound whilst exploring electronics, designing and developing their own instruments and modifying/extending ‘traditional’ instruments , for example. The project runs over 10 weeks and, each week, classes will work on a different topic and explore music and sound in new and interesting ways. 16 classes across West Lothian participated in the project which meant that, over the course of a week, approximately 500 students are involved. I was asked by Lauren to write and deliver a workshop on improvisation (using electronic, home made and ‘traditional’ instruments) that would introduce the young people to improvisation. In some ways, I expected this to be challenging as I believed that it might be difficult to encourage some children to get involved with the exercises – as it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong and it seemed like everyone really enjoyed the sessions – including me!
I’m planning a study into the performed experience of playing drum kit. The study will be conducted from an autoethnographic perspective, and will explore the intensity, banality, madness and surreal-ity of twice-daily musical performances of a Pantomime musical theatre production. The study will be contextualised from ethnographic and philosophical perspectives, and is perhaps helpfully explained in a haiku that I wrote when trying to Tweet about my nascent research in this area ahead of giving a talk in Cleveland, Ohio, earlier this year:
I am a drummer
Drumming is when I am me
Then is who I am
Adages concerning writing-about-music, and dancing-about-architecture notwithstanding, and the irony of the heightened relevance of these in a piece on an intended study about embodiment – the planned principal output of which will hopefully be a book – not lost of any of us, I shall proceed.
I almost arrived late for the first class of this MOOC! I hadn’t realised it was running until I saw mention of it on “Cafe Saxophone” (a brilliant online forum about anything saxophone). So I signed up for the Fundamentals of Music Theory MOOC (from the Reid School of Music, University of Edinburgh) during its first week.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting. I had done 2 other music related MOOCs, with very disparate experiences, so I was prepared for almost anything. I have played the saxophone for 5 years, having taken it up ‘later in life’, following redundancy from a job as a Research Scientist in Radio Communication systems! So my background is definitely not in music.
Continue reading Fundamentals of Music Theory MOOC: how was it for me?