In a recent curriculum conversation with a colleague I was asked about the role of our curriculum and our roles as music teachers in being the gatekeepers of the knowledge of music history. Principally two questions were asked of me: what music did I choose to introduce to our students to through our curriculum and secondly how did I ensure that our students were exposed to the best of what has been written in the course of music history.
As musicians we are all very opinionated about what we perceive to be the best or most important pieces of music. In addition judging the composers to whom we feel we owe our students an introduction. Just look at the launch of the Model Music Curriculum (my thoughts on this can be found on my blog HERE) On its launch Twitter was alight with people who were incredulous that a particular composer was missed or that a particular work was included. So is there a set canon we ‘should’ expose our students to? In English is it the teacher’s responsibility to introduce Shakespeare as a central figure of literature? So with that is Beethoven therefore a centerpiece of an effective music curriculum? I cannot get this question out of my head.
A curriculum is so much more than a list of pieces to study, but that being said the music we choose does tell our students a lot about what we value and choose to lift up. We do hold a responsibility to educate and expose our students to high quality musicianship and compositions/performances and we commit to that in our curriculum statement of intent. At BCCS we are very aware that all our curriculum staff are white, classically trained musicians. To effectively serve the community of our school we have to work hard to explore and show the immense value of music from a range of contexts, not just those in the European classical canon. Despite what our exam boards would have us believe, music goes way beyond the eurocentric collection of pieces presented in the set works. But saying that the exam classes explore some significant and ground breaking works: The Rite of Spring, Pierrot Lunaire, Brandenburg Concertos to Jerry Goldsmith, Miles Davis, Kate Bush and Courtney Pine. So who gets to choose what is deemed ‘the best’ and how to we tread the path of our great responsibility here? And in a subject where we hear of relentless cuts to curriculum time and subject carousels, where and how do we possibly fit it all in?
Last year I had the great pleasure of meeting with inclusion advisor Manu Maunganidze* who challenged me to be bolder in allowing students to drive the curriculum more through bringing their musical experiences into the centre of the curriculum. This has contributed to the curriculum planning I blogged about last week and our department’s mission that we have to be humble in admitting that we cannot know it all and that students bring so many musical experiences and interests into our classrooms beyond our own. We do have a unique position to harness this as our super power as music educators. This is more than about engagement, but goes deeper into creating a rich and truly diverse curriculum that challenges and inspires the students in our care, while learning and improving ourselves as musicians and educators. And I am sure our students can only benefit from that.
Manu Maunganidze works with the Global Goals Centre, NYCE (NYCE.org.uk) and advises cultural and environmental institutions on inclusion and equality issues.