On Wednesday night, like many others, I sat down to watch the new C4 offering ‘Don’t Stop The Music’. I have already read some very good responses online so thought I would offer mine.
Throughout the programme I went through many emotions: horror upon watching the primary lesson taught by the non specialist in the least musical way possible. Then joy on watching the students faces light up on receiving an instrument. Confusion was next as to why on earth the children stood in a shopping mall miming playing paper instruments. Finally I was moved by one of the children proudly showing their parents their new instrument who in turn have possibly have never had an instrument themselves. The whole episode felt very noble and Rhodes is obviously very passionate about what he is doing. However I cannot get away from the fact that the premise is more than a little unnatural.
I am finding out increasingly how variable music education is at primary level, but is the solution really to give our children an orchestral instrument? How is this sustainable in this context? If given an instrument then surely these students also need skilled expert teachers who can teach them good technique and ensure this is a skill they learn for life? Where are these teachers going to come from?
The programme also implies that playing an orchestral instrument is key in music education. Yes it is an area of musicianship we must invest in properly with skilled teachers and good instruments, we have a scheme at our school where we do just that. But surely if Rhodes had consulted with any specialist primary music teachers on planning this programme he would have seen the benefit of singing and composition among many other things, including playing instruments such as guitars. For me it feels like the gimmickry is just too strong and that does not sit easily with me. The success I suppose will be judged in the longevity.
As a secondary teacher I have been reflecting on my role in supporting our primary schools. It does seem that many primary teachers are nervous about teaching the subject and if we can empower them to teach music musically and work alongside more confident practictioners then surely this is the strongest start? Or is it a teacher training issue? I have done a fair amount of work in primary schools during my career and my mission is always to support the visited school in building up resources to be used again. I have been into a school in the past where the teacher was timetabled elsewhere to cover when I visited so I was left to do the music provision for them. This was a minority case, but was not a rewarding exercise for either side. Our hubs must realise their role in linking schools together and offering support both in terms of time and in training.
At the risk of sitting on the fence a little too much I will tune in next week to see where it goes. In the meantime I am grateful to James Rhodes for putting the topic of music education out there into the wider arena. The viewing public are talking about how important the subject is for our children so that is a success. We need to value, promote and invest in this vital art for all children of all ages and keep this debate out there.