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Schools - Again!


AJJ
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RANT WARNING!!!

 

Back in the land of the living having marked all my GCSE coursework and been rather inpressed by what an average 16 year old music student can actually produce in the way of compostion and performance I came across the following recently via my local Organists Association news sheet. The DOM at an important church establisment was bemoaning the falling standards of school music, lamenting the fact that his choristers no longer join his choir knowing all the well known hymns and seemingly blaming the erosion of musical culture in the UK on teachers and schools. I am used to things like this but having seen how very hard my lot have worked I feel that the above DOM and others who take a similar line (ie those who are not directly linked with the state school system at least) are doing, in the first instance some hard working and musical students an injustice. Likewise those of us who teach them. There will always be places where things are not good but those in charge of music in churches etc. could perhaps look to the fact that church music is but a small (but important) part of the whole gamut of music in general and that they also have a 'tutorial' responisibility for whatever they are wishing to achieve (which, admittedly many carry out superbly). We can support this but in my experience there is a huge range of high level musiciansip that I see in schools that I do not necessarily see in the church system. It is neither fair nor correct to blame as much as is sometimes blamed on school music or the apparent (!) lack of it.

To put all the above in perspective - I am writing as a church musician myself who learned most of what I know from that 'base' but who now works in a much wider musical perspective. ;)

 

AJJ

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I actually left a career as a high school teacher because I became utterly demoralised. While I fully understand music has its place as a component of a much broader curriculum, I tried and failed to apply the quantifiable tick-box assessment system to the teaching of the subject. The bits that I enjoyed - the performing and directing of student ensembles, and the occasional moment where you could allow student's creativity to unleash itself - I figured I could do just as well from outside the system.

 

My other posts on this site have established that I am blessed with a church that can afford to mount serious arts events. I am discovering that there is much I can do to put in place educational work based around our programmes. Having a seperate childrens choir has also been a major investment in our educational strategy.

 

So your whinging local DOM missed the point entirely. Schools are full of committed teachers being gradually shafted by ill thought out educational whims and the erosion of funding. I also have no time for a huge whinge that isn't followed by a constructive suggestion.

 

I was told that state schools won't work with churches. I've actually found that if you offer sensible, well planned creative opportunities to schools, some of them will jump at the chance.

 

Anyone else found ways of connecting with the education sector? Or are there any teachers out there who can tell us what we as a church could provide?

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We run a very successful local 'Young Musician of the Year' with the co-operation of the local music teachers and schools attracting some 100 entrants each time.

 

One of the schools, in a `parent governor' controlled situation, declined to co-operate this year as it did not want to foster any individual competative spirit in the school. The football team is O.K. as it promotes team spirit.

 

FF

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Guest Lee Blick
The DOM at an important church establisment was bemoaning the falling standards of school music, lamenting the fact that his choristers no longer join his choir knowing all the well known hymns and seemingly blaming the erosion of musical culture in the UK on teachers and schools. I am used to things like this but having seen how very hard my lot have worked I feel that the above DOM and others who take a similar line (ie those who are not directly linked with the state school system at least) are doing, in the first instance some hard working and musical students an injustice. Likewise those of us who teach them. There will always be places where things are not good but those in charge of music in churches etc. could perhaps look to the fact that church music is but a small (but important) part of the whole gamut of music in general

 

I have little sympathy for the DOM. It is a bit cuckoo to expect schools to provide him with ready taught singing and music reading children these days. I don't think I have directed the music in any church over the last 20 years without having to initiate and nurture the skills of the choristers myself.

 

The world has changed. In the UK, a relatively small proportion regularly attend traditional church services and if assemblies in schools no longer sing hymns or Christian songs then you cannot be too surprised if the children joining the choir have no previous experience.

 

But I don't think it is such a bad thing really. Taking part in an activity which is not taught on the curriculum or in a school environment I think is quite positive to encourage indiviualism, development of skills and preserve the child's sanity outside an ever increasingly mad pressurised schedule of school examinations and assesments.

 

AND it does get some children away from endless computer/console games, even if only a short while.

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All has not always been totally rosy in the non-state school sector either. I have no experience of state schools, either during or since my schooldays - however, my alma mater had very little provision for music in my day, and little emphasis on that which it did provide. The major emphasis was on sport - a pastime with which I have no sympathy whatsoever.

 

The local cathedrals provided the bulk of my musical education by a process of osmosis, which stood me in good stead both academically and practically from that time onwards.

 

I'm happy, though, to say that that particular educational establishment has now a thriving music department.

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All has not always been totally rosy in the non-state school sector either. I have no experience of state schools, either during or since my schooldays - however, my alma mater had very little provision for music in my day, and little emphasis on that which it did provide. The major emphasis was on sport - a pastime with which I have no sympathy whatsoever.

 

The local cathedrals provided the bulk of my musical education by a process of osmosis, which stood me in good stead both academically and practically from that time onwards.

 

I'm happy, though, to say that that particular educational establishment has now a thriving music department.

 

It was like this too when I was at school - most of my initial musical education was via the local PC where there was a superb structure in place providing an invaluable grounding. My junior school did however have a very good singing tradition and latterly at secondary school whe had a performer/composer as a DOM who, although composing some quite way out stuff was quite willing to discuss things and make suggestions. I was lucky in this and in that I had a music degree programme that suited me - following this.

The initial posting on this thread was partly prompted by the feeling that there are still practitioners in the church music field who are still firmly wedged in an era of hymns in assembly, lessons in so called musical apprecialtion and nothing on the curriculum remotely resembling popular music, world music, any sort of computer assisted composing or anything that can not be written down on 5 lines and 4 spaces. Happily perhaps, the musical perspective in many schools is more representative of the real world than that in many of the more blinkered church establishments. Few if any of my students are in church choirs etc. - one or two are in worship groups, some are in county instrumental ensembles and choirs, some are in rock groups of some kind or other, many will stand up and sing with very little persuasion either solo or in my choirs and all can compose in some way or other because we do that in lessons. And all this in an ordinary 900 plus (if well resourced) local comp. with the usual positives and negatives.

On occasions the DOMs in the church field who complain seem to have a very blinkered view of what schools 'should' be doing without seeing the fact that church music is a small area in the whole spectrum. We have recently had communications from the Assistant DOM at our local cathedral for girls who might be interested in joining her girls choir - a few of mine would probably enjoy it but priorities in their lives plus distances from home to cathedral seem at present to have precluded any from joining.

 

AJJ

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A friend and I spent a happy couple of hours yesterday going through a current EdExcel GSCE workbook, and some sample papers from about five years ago.

 

What struck me was, while it's fine to be studying dance music and all the rest of it (if that's what people really want to do), it was not so good to produce student workbooks containing phrases like the following -

 

"This is REALLY boring, but you've got to do it anyway!!!!!"

 

"When I was studying Grade 2 violin, learning about musical forms seemed a bit pointless. Now I'm older.... it still seems a bit pointless. Oh well."

 

At this point my brain started to melt, so I haven't quoted any more, though there are thousands. This is an authorised teaching text issued by an exam board.

 

We didn't even get to page 2 of the old exam papers before finding things that the students just wouldn't have known about or been taught about - for instance, "what is a traditional device used on the last chord of a piece in a minor key?"

 

I admit I had a privileged upbringing, but even so I remember spending a total of 3 weeks on pop music, for which we each provided a composition. But we also did stuff that wasn't on the syllabus - Bach chorales, for a start - which the DoM considered an important grounding. (I remember at mock GCSE getting some really really stupid question, and providing the answer "What sort of question is this?" - instead of being given a damn good thrashing, I got full marks - so perhaps all was not as it should have been.)

 

One thing I always did was look scornfully upon those fuddy-duddies saying "things were better in MY day", and vow never to become like that. When you see an exam board telling its students "this is REALLY boring!!!" is quite a good time to change your mind.

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Guest Cynic

EDEXCEL is one of the prime reasons for my deciding to go for early retirement from teaching. In my last year, we were still waiting for the syllabus for A level Music Technology in October, with the first module exam due to be held in December. At the time, Edexcel were the only officially approved board for such an exam.

 

It turned out that Edexcel at that time did not have any of their own staff able to deal with music syllabus questions at all. Someone from outside was retained who effectively dealt with problems on a once a month basis! Any question you asked had to wait until the month came around and the man/woman with the functioning braincell called by.

 

The best that the Board could tell us by way of compensation was that our candidates would not be penalised - i.e. allowances would be made for the fact that they were (bascially) the guinea pigs for a new course. No teacher course was offered.

 

The big question ought to be why private companies should ever be trusted as the only providers of anything on behalf of the state - Capita is another government favourite. It is not as if they have saved either civil servant staffing or actual cost in selling these franchises, let alone that we end up with a more reliable service.

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EDEXCEL is one of the prime reasons for my deciding to go for early retirement from teaching.

 

As I am currently wading, and I think wading is the right verb, through the EdExcel paperwork generated for GCSE, AS and A2 Music courses, you have struck a chord here. They could save us a huge amount of effort by putting the forms online, but have they done it? This year, they didn't sent any blank coursework proforma as it is clearly cheaper for them if we download the forms from their website and reproduce it at our expense.

 

But here's the best one. Their jiffy bags in which they send their CD exam material are now apparently tagged. This, they say, is so that they can trace the whereabouts of these CDs just in case we take one home with us.

 

Ian Crabbe

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EDEXCEL is one of the prime reasons for my deciding to go for early retirement from teaching. In my last year, we were still waiting for the syllabus for A level Music Technology in October, with the first module exam due to be held in December. At the time, Edexcel were the only officially approved board for such an exam.

 

It turned out that Edexcel at that time did not have any of their own staff able to deal with music syllabus questions at all. Someone from outside was retained who effectively dealt with problems on a once a month basis! Any question you asked had to wait until the month came around and the man/woman with the functioning braincell called by.

 

The best that the Board could tell us by way of compensation was that our candidates would not be penalised - i.e. allowances would be made for the fact that they were (bascially) the guinea pigs for a new course. No teacher course was offered.

 

The big question ought to be why private companies should ever be trusted as the only providers of anything on behalf of the state - Capita is another government favourite. It is not as if they have saved either civil servant staffing or actual cost in selling these franchises, let alone that we end up with a more reliable service.

 

We use AQA and I've so far not had problems - 'forms sent to us and all on line - mercifully the Chief Examiner is also superb at her job so if there are queries we can ring - and get HER. (She is as well an extremely competent church musician.)

 

AJJ

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Hmm, I cannot now remember which examination board I took examinations with.

 

I do recall that, when I developed an interest in music which, along with some other interests, could not be accommodated within my old school's timetable (or perhaps more likely could not be accommodated by the staff, one just doesn't know), it seemed more straightforward simply to enter myself in the subjects I wanted at A level in addition to the four 'decided' by the school.

 

Partly as a consequence of this, of course, I have emerged with a strangely lasting enjoyment of written examinations (if not always of practical ones!), and a deep distrust of 'mocks' - since I didn't indulge in those for my extra subjects, there didn't seem any point in going along with them in the 'school' subjects.

 

I had no idea (as I said in an earlier post, I have had no contact with schools of any type since leaving one myself) that examinations were now entrusted to private companies. It seems a privatisation too far to me. The tales of the language used in set(?) texts are toe-curling. No wonder it is hard to find a literate applicant for a job nowadays! It always seemed to me that one of the joys of the texts one read whilst undertaking A levels was to be found in the precision and elegance of language used in the best of them (and I am talking of such subjects as physics, chemistry, maths. here, as well as music).

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It always seemed to me that one of the joys of the texts one read whilst undertaking A levels was to be found in the precision and elegance of language used in the best of them (and I am talking of such subjects as physics, chemistry, maths. here, as well as music).

 

==========================

 

 

What a refreshing statement!

 

Nothing at all to do with organs, but I vividly recall being moved emotionally by the original drawings of the Alfa Romeo P3 racing-car form the 1930's. It was both engineering precision and the highest art, all at the same time: little wonder that they are famous to the extent of being loaned-out to museums and art galleries from time to time.

 

MM

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