Thursday, 14 May 2009

A reasoned disorientation as the basis of music education?

Dame Liz Forgan, Arts Council England’s chair, has been making headlines this week by urging educationalists to raise children on ‘difficult’ classical music like Harrison Birtwhistle. "Throwing children alive into a boiling vat of great music does them no harm at all" she told the audience at the Royal Philharmonic Society awards. This seems to have been generally welcomed, and whilst classical music is not my own natural home territory, I would commend the strategy for raising children on great music of any kind. (So I'd go for the 'Public Enemy, not Will Smith' version of hiphop education - this not just a 'classical thing'.)

We’ve certainly followed it with our kids – and indeed started it by naming them Louis and Billie. (I once had a conversation with the new Poet Laureate about jazz-related names for children when her daughter Ella was very small, if I can be allowed a small name-drop.) I’m pleased to relate my son’s band cite lots of unsuitable music he’s heard for 18 years as an influence - his main use of Spotify seems to be the Sonic youth back catalogue - and certain that his great uncle Smokey and the soul side will come out in due course. The dinner table guessing game of ‘which country/epoch does this weird music come from?’ will also stand them in good stead I think.

Mind you, when they were very small we did once play them the Fires of London recording of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for A Mad King, which my wife’s father plays on. (He’s the one playing the violin on the album cover above.) As I remember it, they pretty much ran from the room screaming, covering their ears, though memory may be exaggerating a little. Looking for an image I came across this description of coming across the same recording which shows that’s not the universal effect on young people, proving Liz Forgan’s point. Exposure to the wild, wonderful, wierd and disorientating - that's what I call education.

1 comment:

Paul Harman said...

CTC - now Theatre Hullabaloo's -partnership with Durham Music Department has done just what LF suggests. Martin Harry's contemporary clasical music for shows and the operas we made with students were much enjoyed by kids who would never get taken to the Sage. Thankfully the experiments over the last 9 years have the prospect of blossoming into a real touring operetta MY MOTHER TOLD ME NOT TO STARE in Spring 2010.