Category Archives: music

Focus on national tests robs children of true learning

Richard Gill says it well and with the passion of a man for whom educational change is not just a pedagogical exercise. My younger son, a VCASS music student, has had the absolute pleasure and privilege of working with Richard on a performance of Dido and Aeneas, as well as during recent MYM Summer School.  Richard’s love of music and dedication to excellence in music education was obvious – my son would come home glowing, impassioned and totally connected to the the process of learning within the musical work. He was reflective, evaluative and lucid in ways I hadn’t observed before.

Before the MYM concert – presented as a transparent workshop – Richard Gill spoke passionately about the importance of music education, and the need for people to speak up collectively so that excellence in Arts teaching would not be compromised in Australia. In the following article, his message is loud and clear – the obsession and complete focus on our current testing in schools is robbing our young people of true learning – learning which develops and nurtures creativity, originality and imaginative thinking. I absolutely agree.

Read the article and judge for yourselves.

Wake up, Australia, or we’ll have a nation of unimaginative robots.

School is back and it is a matter of regrettable fact that large numbers of children in state and independent schools will be subjected to a style of teaching directed exclusively to producing satisfactory results in national literacy and numeracy tests and consequently scoring high ratings with My School.

I want to make my stance very clear from the outset: NAPLAN tests and My School have nothing to do with the education of a child. This abhorrent and insidious method of assessing children, teachers and their schools needs to stop now. Principals, teachers and parents need to stand up and be counted and resist this unnatural activity, which only succeeds in turning education into some sort of cheap competition in which the last consideration seems to be the mind of the child.

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Screaming the words literacy and numeracy from Canberra does not constitute having an educational policy. In fact, the race to become the most literate and numerate schools with the best rankings nationally is exacting a terrible price.

Evidence is now available that schools all over the country are cutting back on arts education to devote more time to subjects that will make children literate. It can be demonstrably proven that activities used in teaching for the national tests destroy individuality, stifle creativity, stultify thought and make all children respond in the same way – a sort of educational circus in which the children are the trained animals and the teachers the poorly paid ringmasters.

The very things that promote literacy and numeracy are the arts, beginning with serious arts education in the early years. If we want a creative nation, an imaginative nation, a thinking nation and a nation of individuals, then we must increase the time for arts education, especially music education. If we want a nation of non-imaginative robots who can do tests, then we are well on the way to achieving that condition.

Parents need to know that it is through participation in arts subjects that the mind, imagination, spirit and soul of a child are stimulated. Through this stimulation comes a bonus in all other areas of learning.

Music, for example, when it is properly taught, requires an extraordinarily high level of listening and concentration from the student. It requires the student to have a capacity to work in the abstract, an ability to work across several skill areas simultaneously and the ability to rationalise this verbally.

Children’s involvement in musical activity has a profound effect on the development of the child’s general learning. It is now proven beyond doubt that children who are engaged in arts activities, especially music, have advantages in all areas of learning. The research is in, proven and beyond doubt. Why, then, with the evidence so overwhelmingly supporting children’s involvement in arts education, would schools decide to reduce teaching time in these important fields?

In supporting statements of this nature, let’s examine one school in Victoria, the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, where senior students spend half a week on the academic curriculum and half a week on their chosen arts discipline. Each year the students from this school seem to do extraordinarily well at the year 12 examinations in spite of only spending half the time on academic work.

How can this be? My view is that they are highly motivated children who have, early in their lives, encountered enlightened parenting and teaching and are motivated to work hard in all disciplines in an environment that promotes creativity, imaginative thinking and individuality. In short, most of them have had early, prior opportunities.

All children in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark seem to have such opportunities; why can’t all Australian children? By ignoring arts education we say to our children: ”You are too stupid to have good education in the arts – your brains will never cope with intense learning in music, for example, so we will only do the bare minimum with you in any arts education and really concentrate on getting you through your NAPLAN tests.”

Wake up, Australia, before it’s too late. Teachers, parents and children need to let governments know that we are heading into a cultural and educational crisis unless we address these issues now.

Richard Gill is the music director of Victorian Opera.

Article in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 9 February 2011.

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Filed under creativity, Education, learning, music, teaching

Flashmob Moscow style

You’ve all seen the flashmob events made famous by Improv Everywhere, for example, Grand Central Station in New York. Here is a group doing the same thing  in a Moscow shopping mall singing a popular Christmas carol. The singers are from an Orthodox boarding school and include clergy (obviously the bearded ones).

A bit late for Christmas, I know, but just came across it.

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Filed under Collaboration, creativity, Interesting, music

What if you do it differently…

Photo courtesy of neloqua on Flickr.

Personally, I have much to be grateful for this year. One of the best things to happen is my younger son being accepted into Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School to specialise in music during his final 3 years of school. It gives me enormous pleasure to know that he will be following his passion for playing and composing music, and doing this in the company of equally passionate students and teachers.

The first newsletter arrived in the mail today, and I so loved reading the end-of-year reports by the principal, the heads of the music and dance departments. Even second-hand, I’m going to enjoy my involvement in this school as a parent. For example, in the principal’s commitment to the students is very inspiring:

If I have been a good role model, offered you good advice and created a good environment for you, that is a pleasing year’s work and one I am proud of. To my students, please have a well earned break, enjoy some family and social time. Read the letter I have written to each of you carefully when it arrives in your mailbox, think about it, but beyond some new year’s reflection, forget VCASS for a little. Well done everyone, I am, as always, proud of you!

I think you can guess where this kind of approach will lead. How will the students react when they feel appreciated, understood, supported and spoken to as individuals? I’m guessing they will want to do their best.

As I said in my last post, I’m reflecting and rethinking now that our long break has arrived. This can appear to be a lazy time, as we understandably try to relax and spend time with family and friends, but this is also potentially the most fertile time, when output diminishes and input increases. By input I mean reflecting and evaluating what we’re doing and what we want to do next year. You need space for that. And patience.

I hope to return to school with a renewed vigour and commitment to the students, and with a refined focus which has come from the distance from the everyday school routine which we all need more than we realise.

I’d like to finish this post with a quote from the same VCASS newsletter. This has been written by Steven McTaggart, Head of Contemporary Dance. Although it speaks to dancers, I think it has metaphorical significance for all of us.

It’s all about the movement not just the shapes you make.

Could you be more flexible, fluid, smooth, sustained, controlled, dynamic, exultant, extended, continuous or explosive?

How can we improve our actions?

What can we do from here?

Where does our body want to fall or move to next?

Could you do it slower, faster, backwards, upside down or in reverse?

What if you do it differently…

What if…

What if…

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Should teachers be more like conductors? TED tells

Orchestra conductor Itay Talgam has discovered that the secrets of good conducting shed light on leadership in general. I found the messages in this TED talk to be very relevant to teaching.

Itay Talgam’s TED biography observes that Talgam

finds metaphors for organizational behavior  — and models for inspired leadership — within the workings of the symphony orchestra. Imagining music as a model for all spheres of human creativity, from the classroom to the boardroom, Talgam created the Maestro Program of seminars and workshops.

Talgam’s workshops aim to help everyday people develop a musician’s sense of collaboration, and a conductor’s sense of leadership: that inner sense of being intuitively, even subconsciously connected to your fellow players, giving what they need and getting what you need. It’s this art of listening and reacting in the moment that makes for a swinging jazz combo, a sublime string quartet, a brilliant orchestra — and great teams at work.

Talgam talks about the conductor’s ability to use a small gesture to suddenly create order out of the chaos. When he asks who we should thank for the success of the performance, he is asking what the role of the conductor really is. In the same way as the teacher, the conductor is the single leader responsible for the success of his people. The question is – how does he create music out of the chaos?

According to Talgam, it’s not all about complete control of the orchestra. It’s about the joy of enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time – the story of the orchestra, that of the audience, unseen stories of people who made the concert hall and even those who made the instruments.

Talgam shows examples of different styles of conducting. There is the example of the conductor who is so clear about what he wants that he becomes overclear. Talgam describes this type of conductor as having a strong sense of responsibility. This type of conductor insists that there’s only one story to be told, only one interpretation of the music, and that’s his interpretation. In this case, the musicians feel they are not allowed to develop, but are only used as instruments. 

Talgam insists that leadership of the orchestra can be achieved with less control, or with a different kind of control.

One of the conductors is shown conducting with his eyes shut, confusing the onlooker with his apparent withdrawal from control. Talgam explains that, in this case, the musicians get their cues by looking  at the conductor’s face and gestures, and then looking at each other, with the first players of each section leading. This conductor claims that the worst damage he could do to  his orchestra would be to give them an overly clear instruction which would prevent them from listening to each other.

In another example, the conductor explains that by not telling the musicians exactly what to do, he’s opening a space for them to put in another layer of interpretation, another story. Talgam explains that this method without clear instructions works because it’s as if the musicians are on a rollercoaster, whereby the forces of that process put the action into place. You know what to do and you become a partner. This experience is exciting for the players. 

And what happens when there’s a mistake? The conductor’s body language is enough. When it’s needed, the authority is there  but authority is not enough to make people partners. This kind of conductor is there 100 percent but not commanding, not telling them what to do, instead enjoying the whole experience with them. In this case the conductor creates process but he also creates the conditions in the world in which this process takes place. The soloist is allowed to be autonomous and is consequently proud of his work. Developing a partnership brings about the best music.

I think we can take a fair bit out of this talk and apply it to teaching. Teaching is like conducting or leading. What resounds with me is the fact that overly explicit instructions and tight control can be at best limiting, and quite possibly suffocating. Setting up the process and allowing room to move seems like a good way to teach. Realising that your interpretation is not necessarily that of everyone else opens up rich possibilities for learners. Understanding that members of the orchestra or class learn from each other. Getting to the point where you know the students so well that they can read your every nuance, and standing back and smiling, just enjoying the process unfolding before you, is possibly every teacher’s dream.

When, as a teacher or leader, you create the environment, give support, and then step back – you get to the wonderful point of ‘doing without doing’. As Itay Talgam says,

if you love something give it away.

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Michael Jackson 1958-2009

michaeljackson

Today the world was saddened by the news of the two celebrity deaths – Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Celebrity popularity is a fact of life, and in this instance Michael Jackson stole the limelight, if you can call it that.  Sometimes the best way to remember a life and career is through pictures. LIFE Magazine is a good place to revisit Michael Jackson’s life.

Stars remember Michael Jackson is an interesting visual record.

Equally as interesting is the album of Michael Jackson covers.

mj

Equally as interesting is the album of Michael Jackson covers.

MJcovers

Then there’s Neverland in all its glory

Neverland

Michael Jackson live – best pics

moreMJ

And, to be fair, have why don’t you stroll down Memory Lane with Farrah Fawcett?

farrah

Since I was on a roll, I decided to check out Michael Jackson’s website.

mjwebsite

 The New York Times has a long post of updates on Michael Jackson and the world’s reaction to his death.

 YouTube has its own tribute to Michael Jackson’s talent.

Given the recent interest in all things Vampire at a time when books like Twilight are more popular than sliced bread, I think it’s time to revisit Thriller.

 

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And remember, it’s about the kids

A little while ago I included a post with a video of a heart-warming song sung by 5th graders in New York.

Here’s another one you’ll enjoy

This choir is testament to one man’s relationship with a regular class of 5th graders in New York, it’s not a music school or selective school:

The PS22 Chorus was formed in the year 2000. We are an ever-changing group of 5th graders from a public elementary school in New York City, NOT a school for the arts or a magnet program.

Read about this teacher/musician and view more videos on his YouTube page.

The PS22 Chorus has a blog documenting their activities with lots more videos to watch.

Watching this video reminded me that it’s really all about the kids. At a time when teachers have been swamped with corrections and report writing, labouring over sentence structure and punctuation, categorising students into cleanly definable spaces, it’s good to remember that it’s really just about the kids themselves. When I look at what this teacher has brought out in these kids, I do a double-take and step back to reflect. How can I keep that important focus without getting side-tracked by the structures. I’d like to remember that the structures are there to support the kids, and not the kids to support the structures.

PS22choir

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YouTube Symphony Orchestra forms

A little while ago I wrote a post about the wonderful collaborative project, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. Musicians from all over the world were invited to audition online, and were selected to play together in New York in April this year.

Here’s the line-up of YouTube Symphony Orchestra musicians

The video makes me smile; so many different nationalities represented, all collaborating in this project, transcending language barriers with their music.

Equally as interesting is the unique way each musician has chosen to introduce themselves in their video, giving a brief glimpse into their world, adding their own graphics and sound.

Over 3,000 people from over 40 countries auditioned for just 90 prize slots in the orchestra.  I know some people think this is gimmicky, but I like it.

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