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Musical Education: Stormzy v Mozart - The Modern v Classic Debate

Musical Education: Stormzy v Mozart - The Modern v Classic Debate

There has been some interesting coverage in the news this week regarding music teaching in schools, under the eye catching headline ‘Stormzy v Mozart’. This relates to a 4 year research project undertaken by Youth Music in association with Birmingham University entitled ‘Exchanging Notes’. The project tested the hypothesis that there was something to be gained by sharing practice and teaching approaches across music classrooms and community projects. It has thrown up some interesting ideas, most of which don’t relate to the catchy title of this article and the many newspaper headlines!

What was most interesting to me was that the most positive outcomes related to the style and approach of the teachers and not the musical genres specifically themselves. Also, very positively, some schools developed a new-found understanding of the role and power of music in their school communities, in developing social and emotional well-being and in bringing a more successful academic profile in pupils across the subject ranges.

These findings replicate what we have written in articles for years and strongly believe in our own school community – music is a wonderful force for good both academically and socially. It reflects society’s fears, history’s wars, religion’s beliefs, language’s words, and maths’ patterns. It directly assists our understanding of numerous other academic subjects. In the words of Plato, 'In the patterns of music are the keys of learning'. This is something we truly believe and try to impart on the pupils in our care.

These are worrying headlines however, and something we must remain balanced about. After all, school is a place for educational discovery, for the creation of lifelong interests, and it must take that responsibility in music too, through a broad and wide-ranging curriculum. If we focus solely on the current and popular then classical music will remain alien to many young people in their youth - when they are arguably most receptive – it then becomes harder for them to access it in adulthood. If teachers stop teaching classical music because it might upset the class, then what hope is there to convince the students that there is worth in it?

By the time they get to the sixth form students will have encountered several plays by Shakespeare, novels by Orwell, Steinbeck and Golding, and poetry by Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. They may recognise the theorems of Pythagoras, the theories of Plato, and the work of Newton and Mendeleev, and rightly so! They must also be exposed to the great classical music works and composers, the context of their writing and the beauty and logic that inspired them. If we couple this with a music curriculum that also looks at the modern, the technological and the popular we create a musical course of learning and discovery that covers a historical and cultural breadth and truly enhances the education of the young people in our care.

That is what we at Taunton School try to do - to give everyone an experience of music, in a wide variety of genres, from classical music to popular styles and everything in-between. We encourage students to be interested and inquisitive learners who actively take part and enjoy learning. Music is full of patterns, of logic and structure, but within this it also has a soul enhancing beauty. This applies to all music, and we will continue to offer a balanced, historical and modern music curriculum in the school, which is for everyone regardless of experience or current favourites. It is something that we all can aspire to and take a real pride in. In the words of the composer Peter Maxwell-Davies - One moment of insight, one moment of real experience of music illuminates a lifetime, and the sheer joy of it justifies music education. Let us celebrate music in all its forms, for the educational, social and emotional benefits and joy it gives us.

Mark Cracknell
Director of Music