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Friday, February 26, 2016

The Contemporary Octogenarion

Not so long ago, a cherished colleague tweeted that he found it nice to see how new music education projects tried to connect to today's music practices.

Of course, I would find that nice, too.

The funny thing was that he was talking about an initiative where pupils from primary schools were given the opportunity to learn to play the electrical guitar in groups. And then my thoughts started to wander.

Because why would teaching primary school kids the electric guitar in groups qualify as 'connected to today's music practices'? As we know, the electric guitar was invented in 1931 and therefore is by now an octogenarion. The group lesson was invented whenever but is not specifically contemporary, and neither is the idea of teaching primary school kids an instrument.

Of course I know where the idea comes from: when the dominant model of music education in primary schools still is learning to play the recorder or, these days, the violin, then the electric guitar seems to be innovative and fresh. But actually, the electric guitar is just one of the contemporary instruments, alongside the recorder and the violin. And the computer and the DJ Set; but as they are at  present hardly acknowledged as music instruments, teaching primary school kids musicking at that stuff would in my opinion be a lot more innovative than teaching them the instruments which my grandparents had to learn to cope with aurally when they were young adults .

Or, when it comes to playing guitar: if the initiative would have been like DRP (I wrote about them before), where pupils form a band from minute 1 and lean to play as they go, and the idea of the 'instrumental lesson' is kept out of sight as long as possible because the risk of losing motivation by getting a teacher simply is too big (so they just wait untill pupils start to ask for lessons, which they then provide - and if they don't ask that's okay too).

What I hope is that at some point more people will realize that the value of music, and the contemporaneity of music, does not reside in 'the music' - the piece, the instrument, the genre, the words, whatever. It resides in the connecton between the pupil and the music - so for one pupil, learning to play the electric guitar will be an enormous opportunity, while for another learning to play the recorder will be precisely that; and for the one pupil, being allowed to specialize in rap or DJ-ing is enormously 'contemporary', while for the other pupil being allowed to listen to all Mozart's symphonies will be precisely that.

So there I found myself, on Twitter, at some point defending Mozart against the electric guitars. I guess that's what makes me such an unpredictable debating partner: it is always hard for other people to judge 'whose side I am on'.

The answer is: if on any, then the individual pupil's side.

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