The MWC Playlists – Listening Resources for You

Listening to music is beneficial for many reasons. It can be a relaxing pastime in itself, inspiring, soothing and uplifting, or it can be a focused learning activity that has many positive influences on social and academic development. The benefits of music have been widely reported for years, marketed by companies selling the concept that a baby who listens to Mozart will grow up to be more intelligent. There’s some truth in behind this belief: Research indicates that music lessons change the course of brain development and are likely to influence children’s success in other, non-musical tasks (read our guest blog from Dawn Rose to find out more).

Last term MWC launched our new Spotify playlists. We will be adding more throughout the year but wanted to introduce you to some of the new listening resources that we have recently shared and offer you the chance to contribute ideas and requests.

As discussed in our blog, A Focus on Listening, there is still debate as to whether young people should be exposed to full symphonies, suites or operas.

But for our playlists we have put together a series of short pieces or movements of larger works to create selections of music on specific themes, or to showcase the work of particular composers and artists.

The idea behind all of our MWC resources is to make teachers’ lives easier. While some music teachers’ knowledge is encyclopaedic, covering a range of genres and styles, others come to take on responsibility for music in a school based purely on enthusiasm or having learnt an instrument when they were younger.

All of MWC’s free resources aim to support novices and experts alike. Check out our free online resources on our website to see the full range.

Our playlists have been developed to help in a range of ways. Perhaps some of these suggestions might inspire you:

  1. Play music as students enter and leave assembly or another school gatherings. This gives them something to focus on, discourages talking and can be used as a starting point for assembly topics or classroom activities
  2. Use music listening as a starting point for a number of subjects, particularly for Early Years and Primary children, for example:
  • Maths – counting beats in a bar
  • Literacy – using music as the inspiration for writing a story,
  • Nature – exploring how composers have characterised animals, birds and weather through music
  • Geography – listen to music from around the world
  • History – make a timeline of music influenced by historic events, or compare how music styles fit with historic culture, fashion and politics
  • Science – looking at the phenomena of sound and acoustics
  • Social skills – discovering how making a simple piece of music together requires teamwork and empathy
  1. Playlists can also be useful when the children arrive or leave for the school day. The MWC team are great believers in “send them out singing!”

The Playlists

Our most recent listening selection is based on the seasons of the year, a topic that has inspired composers for centuries. One of the most famous depictions of the changing weathers is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons written in the 1720s. Vivaldi’s work is a series of four violin concerti, representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each of which is preceded by a sonnet describing the piece. This is thought to be one of the first examples of “programme music” – music that has a narrative.

The playlist takes us through the year, beginning with the popular Largo from Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The sonnet preceding the movement is:

Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento.

Our favourite translation of this is:

To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.

We move on to Spring as portrayed by Leroy Anderson, Delius, Coates, Vivaldi and Piazzolla.

Summer is represented by works by Gershwin, Coates and Autumn by Delius and Grieg.

The Seasons Playlist – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6FStRJ6u06zfSCbI3dsiAG

In anticipation of our forthcoming February blog about Welsh music, we have put together a playlist of traditional Welsh songs to help you celebrate St David’s Day on 1st March. Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!

Welsh Traditional Songs – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6kH5uBKNh84AsmLGqHPdLI

Our March blog will celebrate Debussy, commemorating 100 years since his death. We’ve put together two Debussy playlists, one showcasing his orchestral music, and the other featuring his piano music. Debussy is one of the composers most associated with Impressionist music and his work has been extremely influential.

Debussy Orchestral Music – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6nLvshf8FJpAXYvlKXRlHz

Debussy Piano Music – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6URpyG6ZqZLmI8fMQwFR8P

Check out these and other playlists on our website

If you would like a playlist on a particular theme or genre, email your request to Maria at music-workshop.co.uk…

 

 

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Otis Redding – A Career Cut Short

December 10th 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of soul singer Otis Redding’s death in a plane crash at the age of just 26.

Just three days earlier, Redding had recorded what was to become his biggest hit. He knew the song would be huge – he remarked to his manager,

I got it. This is my first million seller.

He was right. The song (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, was released in January 1968, shortly after Redding’s death. It shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968 and, from March of that year, topped the pop charts for four weeks. Dock of the Bay became Redding’s most popular record, selling more than four million copies worldwide. It went on to win two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Otis Redding wrote the first verse of the song while he was on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967. At the time, he was staying on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California. Just weeks earlier, he had played the Monterey Pop Festival – a performance that was to go down in history. As the tour continued, he would scribble lyrics and ideas on napkins and hotel paper. In November 1967, Redding joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee, to record the song.

Cropper described the origins of Dock of the Bay in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air in September 1990:

Otis was the kind of guy who had 100 ideas. […] He had been in San Francisco doing The Fillmore. And the story that I got he was renting boathouse or stayed at a boathouse or something and that’s where he got the idea of the ships coming in the bay there. And that’s about all he had: “I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again.” I just took that… and I finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I collaborated with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. […] Otis didn’t really write about himself but I did. Songs like Mr. Pitiful, Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song); they were about Otis and Otis’ life. Dock of the Bay was exactly that: “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay” was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform. [Source: Wikipedia]

Sitting in the morning sun. I’ll be sitting when the evening comes. Watching the ships roll in. And then I watch ’em roll away again, yeah.

It was one of those rare moments when an artist knows immediately that he’s just created a masterpiece.

Together, Redding and Cropper finished the music and lyrics of (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, and the song was recorded on November 22nd 1967 with additional overdubs on December 7th. The emotive yet restrained vocals are backed by Cropper’s clean guitar playing – but the song was never finished. There’s a whistled tune heard before the song’s final fade. According to Cropper, Redding had “this little fadeout rap he was gonna do, an ad-lib. He forgot what it was so he started whistling.”

After the recording session, Redding’s tour continued. There was a television appearance to make in Cleveland, followed by a concert in Madison, Wisconsin.

But on its final approach to Madison on December 10th, 1967, the private plane carrying soul-music legend Otis Redding crashed into the frigid waters of a small lake three miles short of the runway, killing seven of the eight men on board, including Redding.

According to Ben Cauley, founding member of the Bar-Kays and the sole survivor of the crash, the band usually travelled “by station wagon and U-Haul”. If the distance to a gig and the dollars from it added up, they would load up the plane with Redding’s friend, pilot Dick Fraser.

In a 2007 interview in Memphis, Cauley says,

Something I’ll never forget about that plane… The first of the last three nights we were together, we got to the airport about 5:30 or 6, and we asked Dick if we could crank it up so we could get warm, but he said the battery was low.

Cauley said the band didn’t think too much of the comment, and the plane made the trip to Cleveland without incident. Next morning, they took off from Cleveland to get to their gig in Madison, Wisconsin. Redding sat beside Fraser in the cockpit. Cauley and Redding were back-to-back. Four other members of the Bar-Kays – guitarist Jimmy King, organist Ronnie Caldwell, drummer Carl Cunningham, all 18, and saxophonist Phalon Jones, 19 – squeezed into the plane with their 17-year-old valet Matthew Kelly. Bassist James Alexander and vocalist Carl Sims couldn’t fit in, and took alternate transportation.

“We just talked as we always did on the plane,” Cauley says, ” Otis was talking about how he’d just cut a record and said, ‘You’ll hear it when you get back. We need to put the horns on it, so you’ll do that. That was the first time we heard about Dock of the Bay. That’s the last thing he talked about — how much he loved that record and that it’s something he’d wanted to do for a long time.”

Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay was released in its unfinished form several weeks later. The sounds of seagulls and waves crashing in the background were added by Cropper, who mixed the song after Redding’s death. Redding had requested these sounds to mimic those he heard while he was staying on the houseboat. Redding’s whistled verse became an indelible part of the now-classic record. The song became the first posthumous number 1 hit in pop music history, and the biggest pop hit of Redding’s career.

In the six months before his death, Redding had gone from one success to another. Aretha Franklin took her cover version of his song Respect to number 1 in the pop charts. His performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival had transformed him into an icon of the late 60’s counterculture. He was already a giant in the world of soul music, and during an era when the Beatles and Motown ruled the charts, he was beginning to gain recognition on a huge scale within the largely white mainstream.

Redding’s death was announced in the New York Times with only four column inches at the bottom of page 19, in which the names of the other musicians were listed. He was not yet considered a superstar, although his reputation among black audiences was enormous.

According to an article of 1968, hardly any of even Redding’s greatest fans realised he was only 26. The tragedy of his death was compounded by the shock of the discovery of his youth, a fact that makes his talent so much more extraordinary.


 

65 Years of Pop Music Charts

This month marks the 65th Anniversary of the UK music charts. As teenagers, many of us would anxiously await the chart radio shows, hovering over the cassette recorder to capture our favourite songs. Today, the charts give a fascinating insight into the changes in the Music Industry since 1952, both in terms of musical styles and tastes, and in the way music is ‘consumed’.

The move from records -45s and albums- to cassette tapes and CDs through to downloads and streaming have impacted the way the charts are calculated. Over its history the UK Official Charts have developed and adapted to changing music demands. In fact, interest in the history of music production has brought many music fans full circle, with LPs and cassettes seeing a resurgence in popularity – a backlash against the culture of obsolescence and ‘mainstream’.

The ‘top of the pops’ charts all began with Percy Dickins, the publisher of the New Music Express (NME). Dickins wanted to find a way to persuade people to advertise in his magazine. He telephoned his contacts in music retail to find out what was the best selling record. The result of his basic survey was that Here In My Heart by Al Martino was the first No.1. Dickins’ first chart was published as a Top 12, even though it comprises 15 singles, because there were ties at Number 7, Number 8 and Number 11.

In 1954 the standard singles chart was extended to the Top Twenty with NME introducing a Top Thirty in April 1956. In response, Record Mirror launched the UK’s first Albums Chart with a Top 5 from on July 28 that year. The first Number 1 Album was Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers.

1955 – Billy Haley & His Comets’ Rock Around the Clock becomes a hit for the first time, it enters the Top Twenty on five separate occasions – twice in 1955, plus in 1956, 1968 and 1974.

In 1957, the charts moved from print to broadcast as the BBC’s Light Programme host Alan Freeman started commenting on the Top Ten Charts published by the various music papers, Melody Maker, NME, Disc and Record Mirror. The following year an averaged Top Ten was introduced.

1957 – Elvis Presley scores his first Number 1 single with All Shook Up. He later sets the record for the most Number 1 singles – 22.

In 1960 the battle for pre-eminence for charts across the music print media was concluded with the UK trade magazine Record Retailer’s singles and album charts being recognised as the “official” charts. The Top Fifty singles and Top Twenty Albums were compiled by Record Retailer from a panel of 30 shops. In 1963, an independent auditor was brought in to compile the charts.

1963 – She Loves You becomes The Beatles’ first million-seller. To date, The Beatles have six titles in the all-time UK Million Sellers list- (She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, I Feel Fine, We Can Work It Out/Daytripper and Hey Jude.

In 1969 the BBC and Record Retailer commissioned the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) to compile the UK charts on their behalf. These were the first industry-wide recognised charts, and were called the UK’s “official” charts for the first time. The charts were initially created from a panel of 250 record shops. The shops logged their sales by hand and submitted their totals by post. Over the years, the panel grew to 750 stores, with 250 used every week for the Tuesday singles chart and 450 for the Wednesday albums chart.

While the singles chart continued as a Top 50 rundown, the length of the albums moved a number of times, varying in length from 15 to 77, before stabilising as a Top 50 in January 1971. The lengths changed again in 1978, with the Official Singles Chart is extended from Top 50 to Top 75 in May and the Official Album Charts increasing from Top 60 to Top 75 in December.

1978 – Paul McCartney & Wings’ single Mull Of Kintyre became the first single to pass 2 million singles sales in the UK. It remains one of only four singles to sell 2 million copies – the others are Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and Elton John’s Candle In The Wind ’97.

In 1983 Gallup took over the compilation of the Official Singles Chart and Official Albums Chart. This change led to the end of hand-written diaries, motorcycle courier collection and manually-checked charts, implementing a new computerised system which involved collection of data via telephone and digital monitoring of sales to minimise hyping. The new system introduced Top 200 singles and albums charts every week (only the Top 100 is available publically at that point via Music Week). Cassette sales were also incorporated into the albums charts, while separate cassette albums and 12-inch singles charts were produced.

1984 – Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas sets new sales records, selling 600,000 in its first week, another 810,000 in its second week and becoming the first single to Top 3 million sales. 1991 – Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You has 16 consecutive weeks at Number 1, breaking the 1955 record set by Slim Whitman’s 11-week chart-topper Rose Marie. Everything I do is also the biggest selling cassette single of all time.

Major changes in how people accessed music led to changes in 2004 with the launch of the UK’s Official Download Chart following the launch of iTunes 3 months previously. In July 2005 downloads are counted toward the Official Singles Chart for the first time, initially only the week before the physical release is available. The Charts further adapt to the digital revolution in 2007 in January, when the chart rules were changed to fully embrace downloads, which meant artists could chart for the first time without requiring a physical release. In 2008 MTV began broadcasting the Official Singles Chart every week for the first time, as part of a new partnership that made it the TV home of the Official Charts. The Official UK Top 40 is broadcast several times a week, following a first broadcast on Monday afternoon.

2002 – Following success on TV’s Pop Idol, Will Young’s Anything Is Possible/Evergreen scores the biggest first day (403,000 copies) and first week (1.1m copies) sales for a non-charity record.

Changes to charts again took place in 2012, when in May, the UK’s first Official Streaming Chart was launched. This reflected the change to music consumption from owning music to accessing music and included from services including Spotify, Napster and We7. Further changes were made the following year when streaming was added to the Singles Chart. This was calculated as 100 streams being equal to 1 single/download sale. Contributors to this data included Spotify, Deezer, Napster, O2 Tracks and many others. In 2015, streamed albums were counted towards the Official Album Charts.

2013 – Daft Punk’s Get Lucky sells a million copies in just 69 days, and the first track to be streamed one million times in a single week.


If you would like to know more about our interactive, bespoke music workshops, contact the Music Workshop Company today:

Higher Education: What’s Right for You?

Although the deadline for applying to conservatoires and music colleges has passed, the closing date for university applications through UCAS (UCAS.com) is the 15th January 2018.

This gives plenty of time for potential applicants to consider whether they want to study at university, and if so, which university and which course best suits them.

Alex Baxter, Programme Leader Music Technology Programmes at the University of Hertfordshire advises:

The best degree courses expose their students to the huge range of connected areas which make up music technology as a whole – including those that students may not know even exist when they start their course.  Industry accredited degrees highlight that the broader industry sees the course content as being relevant to current industry practice, and this also offers excellent opportunities for industry input, and live projects where students’ developing techniques can be applied.  Universities which foster collaboration opportunities between courses (ie music technology students working with film & TV and animation students) offer that great extra dimension, as does the opportunity to study abroad or take a work placement.

UCAS offer 1,763 courses with ‘music’ in the title. These range from BMus(Hons) and BA(Hons) in Music to courses in Music Production, Songwriting, Music Performance, Community Music, Music Psychology, Music Technology, Music Composition, Music Business, Musical Theatre, Commercial Music, Digital Music, Popular Music, Sound Design, Composition for Film & Games and Music Industry Management…

That’s before looking at Joint Honours Programmes: Music and another subject.

[Image: Emily]

Supporters of universities suggest that benefits for students include the opportunity to study an area of interest, meeting people with both similar and different interests, making connections with fellow students, lecturers and industry, and improving job prospects.

With current fees in the UK at £9,250 per year for many degree courses, plus the additional costs of study (text books, resources, accommodation, travel etc.), it’s important to consider whether university study is for you.

There is a big difference between studying for A-Levels or BTEC and studying at university. Although universities offer a range of support services, particularly for those with learning needs, university studies are much more focussed on individual study and research. This requires self-discipline and focus.

Choosing the right university for you is also important. Different universities have different specialisms and contacts within particular Industries or Sectors. For example, if you are considering studying Music Business or Music Industry Management, you may want to study in or close to London to take advantage of the opportunities in London for internships and attending Industry events.

Universities also have different ‘feels’. Attending open days where you can meet staff and current students and check out the facilities can help you get a good feel for each institution.

[Image: Ольга Жданова]

The teaching staff are also a key element of your university experience, so research the teaching team. See what research they have been involved in, what their position in the industry is and how active they are outside the university. Also find out about industry speakers and alumni. Developing your network while still at university is crucial to developing a career on graduation.

When selecting a university, key questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do you want to live at home or move away?
  • If you want to move away, does the university have halls and suitable accommodation nearby?
  • If studying music, what aspect of music do you want to study? What might you want to do as a job?
  • Do you want an academic programme or a more vocational one?
  • Do you want to study with particular tutors/lecturers?

Key questions to ask the University include:

  • How much contact time do you get on the course? What wider support is available?
  • What experience do you get on the course? For example performing opportunities, recording, managing live projects?
  • What opportunities does the course give for Studying Abroad or a Work Placement as part of the degree?
  • Does the course focus on a specific discipline or does it give you a wide overview of your chosen area?
  • How involved in the programme are named tutors?
  • How many students are in each cohort / class?
  • What jobs do recent graduates get? Where are alumni working 3 – 5 years after graduation?

[Image: Danchuter]

The key to finding the right path for you is in looking at the most important aspects of study thoroughly. The most important decisions centre around whether or not to go to university, which course to study and where to study. It’s vital to take time to visit any universities you’re considering, and to seek advice from family, friends and people in your preferred industry.

The author of this blog, MWC’s Maria Thomas, is a Senior Lecturer on the Music Industry Management course at the University of Hertfordshire. 


If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about anything in this blog, or to book a workshop, contact us today:

The Influence of African Musicians on Classical Music

Western classical music, by its very definition, is rooted in the sacred and secular traditions of the western world, centred around Europe. Although the genre has been influenced throughout history by folk song, jazz and music from other continents such as America and China, it rarely diverges far from its Western identity.

Much like Western music outside the ‘classical’ box, African music is incredibly diverse, varying greatly by region. There is lots of opportunity for creative inspiration.

In his 2006 book, Listening to Artifacts: Music Culture in Ancient Israel/Palestine, Theodore Burgh suggests that classical music ultimately has its roots in North Africa, in the art music of Ancient Egypt, as well as other ancient cultures such as Greece. However, there seems, at first glance, little evidence of African influence in classical music. When it is found, for example in Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, it is generally Afro-American in origin, interpreted in a western-dominated form of music.

When explored, the contribution of black composers and musicians, and the influence of African music, forms a fascinating part of classical music history.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Probably the first and perhaps best-known classical composer of African descent, Saint-Georges was the illegitimate son of a Guadeloupe plantation owner, Bologne de Saint-Georges, and his mistress, an African slave girl of probable Senegalese birth called Nanon.

A contemporary of Mozart, Saint-Georges was barred from sharing his father’s French noble status because he was black, but his father ensured he was educated as an aristocrat. He studied fencing with a famous swordsman, becoming a champion fencer. He learned harpsichord, and he studied violin with one of the famous French virtuosi, Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder. His success both as a musician and athlete made him famous, but while religious leaders were agitating for an end to slavery, interracial marriages were still forbidden, and his skin colour built him an ambivalent status in society.

Although close to Queen Marie Antoinette, Saint-Georges was refused the prestigious post of director of the Paris Opéra, for which he was considered in 1775, because two of the company’s leading sopranos objected and successfully petitioned the Queen against his appointment on the ground of his race. Even so, he was a major star in Paris in the 1770s, nicknamed “Le Mozart Noir” on concert posters, often sharing equal billing with Mozart.

The later part of Saint-Georges’ life was disrupted by the French Revolution. Although he had been active in campaigning against slavery and sympathised with the democratic aims of the revolution, his aristocratic background meant he was not trusted.

He continued performing and directing up to his death, and he was remained famous enough to attract large crowds. However, living alone, he contracted a bladder infection and died on June 10, 1799.

Commemorative editions of his music were published, but within a short time, new restrictions on blacks came into force across France and its empire. Slavery had been abolished in 1794, but was re-imposed by Napoleon Bonaparte. Under Bonaparte’s regime, Saint-George and his music were removed from orchestra repertoires, wiping him from the history books for nearly 200 years.

His profile has risen in recent years thanks to concerts by ensembles including the Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, but he has not yet regained the equal footing he held with Mozart among classical music fans.

Embracing Ideas in the Romantic Period and Beyond

Towards the end of the 19th century, composers were looking towards different cultures for inspiration. Antonín Dvořák’s interest in themes from the ‘new world’ is well documented. His move to New York brought him directly into contact with Afro-American music.

In fact, Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, From the New World, written in 1893, contains some of the most famous examples of Afro-American themes in classical music. But Dvořák’s themes are not actually of Afro-American origin. The composer wrote accurate imitations of the pentatonic melodies, a technique which he also used in his American string quartet.

Interestingly, these compositions were pretty much contemporaneous with an emerging style of music in North America called ragtime.

Ragtime descended from the jigs and marching music played by African American bands, referred to as “jig piano” or “piano thumping”. Rags by Scott Joplin such as The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag are still instantly recognisable, and Ragtime had a lasting influence on classical composers. Igor Stravinsky wrote a solo piano work called Piano-Rag-Music, while ragtime is evident in the works of Erik Satie, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud and the other members of The Group of Six in Paris.

In 1930, William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony marked the first symphony by an African-American man. The work marries conventional classical forms with popular African styles, also referencing the blues. The bass line of the final movement moves from an F to a D-flat, resembling Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

The following epigraph, from African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1896 work, Ode to Ethiopia, appears with the fourth movement:

Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul,

Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll

In characters of fire.

High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky,

Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,

And truth shall lift them higher.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

The composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is considered to be the only black composer to have broken through from the Romantic era. Born to a Sierra Leonean father, Coleridge-Taylor was from Holborn, London. He incorporated black traditional music with classical music, with such compositions as African Suite, African Romances and Twenty Four Negro Melodies. The first performance of his work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, was described by the principal of the Royal College of Music as, “One of the most remarkable events in modern English musical history.” Despite this success, Coleridge-Taylor’s music is out of fashion and all-but out of print.

Accepted to the Royal College of Music aged 15, despite concerns about his skin colour, he swapped violin studies for composition. His tutor was Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford challenged his student to write a clarinet quintet without showing the influence of his favourite composer, Brahms. Coleridge-Taylor wrote the piece, and when this work was revived in 1973, the New York Times critic called it, “Something of an eye opener…an assured piece of writing in the post-Romantic tradition…sweetly melodic.”

Despite little modern recognition, his influence lives on: From 1903 to his death in 1912, he was professor of composition at the Trinity College of Music in London. However, violinist Philippe Graffin performed the violin concerto at the Proms in 2005, and the Nash Ensemble have recorded the composer’s piano quintet.

Modern Times

Modern classical music has been more influenced by African culture. John Cage’s 1940 work, Bacchanale was the first significant modern synthesis of African and Western music. It was also instrumental in the development of the prepared piano, as the composer sought out African sounds with only room on stage for a grand piano.

Other composers such as George Crumb, Ligeti and Steve Reich have explored African influences, while composers born in Africa include Nigerian composer Joshua Uzoigwe. A member of the Igbo ethnic group, many of Uzoigwe’s works draw on the traditional music of his people.

Classical music is far from reaching the limits of inspiration from African music, and it is far from incorporating the work of black composers on a level playing field. However, for centuries, composers and the curiosity of the creative mind have shown us that the more the classical music world stretches its knowledge beyond the boundaries of its own traditional culture, the more unique voices will be found.


If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about booking a workshop inspired by African music, contact us today:

Celebrating the Centenary of Two Jazz Greats: Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie

October 2017 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of two jazz legends: Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.

Born 11 days apart on October 10 and 21, 1917, pianist, Monk and trumpeter, Gillespie, shaped the landscape of jazz composition and improvisation, each exploring harmonies with a complexity previously unheard in jazz, leaving behind an immense legacy of music.

Anyone familiar with jazz music knows the tune Round Midnight. That was written by Monk, as were standards including Blue Monk, Straight, No Chaser, Ruby, My Dear, Well, You Needn’t, and In Walked Bud.

Round Midnight, Thelonious Monk

Monk had an unorthodox approach to the piano. In fact, he was pretty unorthodox all round. Musically, his compositions and improvisations feature dissonances and angular melodic twists, which combined a highly percussive attack with sudden, dramatic use of silence, switched key releases and hesitations. The unusual contours of his music led the jazz critic Whitney Balliett to describe them as rippling,

with dissonances and rhythms that often give one the sensation of missing the bottom step in the dark.

Apparently, on one occasion, when Monk was a guest at a jazz class at Columbia University, the lecturer turned to him and asked if he would ”play some of your weird chords for the class.”

“‘What do you mean, weird?” Monk bridled. ”They’re perfectly logical.”

He thought of jazz as an adventure and was always looking for ways to use notes differently: New chords, new ways of syncopating, new figurations and new runs.

Personally, he was known for his distinctive dress sense – suits, hats and sunglasses. He was also unusual in his performance style. Often, during a gig, while the band carried on, he would stop playing, stand up from the keyboard, and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. He was frequently labelled as aloof, eccentric and weird, with even his son, drummer T.S. Monk, describing his father as an, “unusual guy”, while critic and writer Stanley Crouch called Monk “an abstracted stride piano player… he played it in a way that made it funny.”

As a testament to his musicianship and character, Monk is the second most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington. This is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed more than 1000 pieces, whereas Monk wrote only around 70. He is also one of only five jazz musicians to have ever been featured on the cover of Time Magazine, alongside Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and, more recently, Wynton Marsalis,

According to an obituary of Monk by John S Wilson, Randy Weston, a pianist who studied with Mr. Monk, called him: “As complete an original as it is possible to be.”

Alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Monk led a generation of jazz musicians through the bebop era. Dubbed the “The High Priest of Bop,” he refused to conform to expectations.

For years, they were telling me to play commercial, be commercial. I’m not commercial. I say, play your own way. You play what you want, and let the public pick up on what you were doing, even if it takes 15, 20 years.

Monk Performs with his Quartet in 1969:

By the 1960s, Monk had achieved recognition. He worked regularly with a quartet featuring tenor saxophonist, Charlie Rouse until in the 1970’s, his public appearances became infrequent because of illness. His last official performance was at Carnegie Hall in 1976.

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, ushered in the era of Bebop in the American jazz tradition. The youngest of nine children, Gillespie began playing piano at the age of four and received a music scholarship to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. Noted for his trademark ‘swollen cheeks,’ he admitted to copying the style of trumpeter Roy Eldridge early in his career.

It was when Gillespie began experimenting with his own style that he eventually came to the attention of Mario Bauza, the godfather of Afro-Cuban jazz who was then a member of the Cap Calloway Orchestra. Gillespie joined the band in 1939.

The following story is recorded in Playing the Changes: Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs, by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson,

Diz’s music was revolutionary. Even back then he was playing way ahead of the times. But only a couple of us who had our ears open listened. I knew he’d take music to a new place. So did Chu, Cozy [Cole], and a couple of the others.

Diz’s biggest musical problem was that he’d try playing things he couldn’t technically handle. I’d often hear him start a solo he just couldn’t finish. Whenever that happened, some of the older guys would look over at him and make ugly faces. Cab usually showed the same kind of disgust and often scolded Diz at rehearsals or after a performance. He’s say things like, “Why in hell can’t you play like everybody else? Why d’ya make all those mistakes and have all those funny sounds come outta your horn? Play it like the other guys do!”

Diz would sit quietly, with his head hung down. He looked like a little school kid being scolded by the teacher.

Gillespie continued to develop as one of the founding fathers of the Afro-Cuban/Latin jazz tradition. Influenced by Bauza, known as Gillespie’s musical father, he fused Afro-American jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms to form a burgeoning Cubop sound.

He toured Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America under the sponsorship of the US State Department, frequently returning with new musical ideas, and with musicians who would eventually go on to achieve world recognition.

Dizzy Gillespie, On the Sunny Side of the Street 1958

With a strong sense of pride in his Afro-American heritage, Gillespie left a legacy of musical excellence that embraced and fused the music of Africa, the Caribbean, Cuba and other Latin American countries. He also left behind a legacy of humour and good will that infused jazz musicians and fans throughout the world with the genuine sense of jazz’s ability to transcend national and ethnic boundaries.

Dizzy Gillespie, Salt Peanuts:


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Handel’s Water Music – 300 Years in the Charts

July 17th 2017 marks the 300th anniversary of the first performance of Handel’s famous Water Music. The orchestral suites were written for a party on the Thames river in London, held by King George I, in 1717.

 

The music consists of the Suite in F major (HWV 348), Suite in D major (HWV 349) and Suite in G major (HWV 350). However, although many of the pieces became instant hits throughout London, none of them were published at the time. Extensive research by Samuel Arnold led to a 1788 edition of nineteen pieces that is generally accepted as the authoritative Water Music, but the original structure is unclear.

One of the best-known and most frequently performed movements is the Alla Hornpipe from the D major suite:

George Frideric Handel is known today for many compositions, and for his role as a court composer. Born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, he is one of the foremost composers of the Baroque era.

But he should never have been a composer in the first place.

Handel was born at a time when music and the arts flourished only in the highest echelons of society. His grandfather was a coppersmith, his grandmother was the daughter of a coppersmith. Handel’s own father was a barber, and his mother was the daughter of a Lutheran minister. Handel went to the gymnasium school in Halle. A gymnasium in the German education system is a selective school for the gifted. The headmaster at the school Johann Praetorius, was passionate about music, but many of Handel’s biographers record that he was withdrawn from the school because his father was implacably opposed to music education.

In fact, Georg Handel was alarmed by his son’s interest in music that he took every step to oppose it, even banning musical instruments in the house and forbidding Handel from visiting any house where they might be found. There is a story that Handel found a way to sneak a small clavichord into the attic of the house, and he would steal away to play it when the family were asleep. This tale is unsubstantiated, but for the fact that Handel was able to play the keyboard well enough to come to the notice of Duke Johann Adolf, who on hearing Handel play the church organ, persuaded his father to let him have music lessons.

 It’s quite incredible given this unpromising start that Handel is still a household name.

His Water Music was written for King George I of England. It consists of three orchestral suites, and was first performed on barges on the Thames. Its first performance as an integral part of a massive Royal shindig, was reported in Britain’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant.

The party was possibly an attempt by King George to win popularity (for various reasons, including a serious economic crisis in 1720, his refusal or inability to learn English and rumours about the treatment of his wife, the King was not well liked), and he turned to Handel to help him impress.

In 1710, Handel had worked as Kapellmeister to the German Prince George; the same Prince George who in 1714 became King of Great Britain and Ireland. Handel had left Germany to settle in England full time, which had angered Prince George at the time.

However, the Water Music is said to have allowed a reconciliation between King George and Handel. It was rumoured that the success of the music enabled the King to regain some of the London spotlight back from his son, Prince George, who was throwing lavish parties and dinners. The Prince did not get on with his father – a resentment that possibly began when King George dissolved his marriage to the young George’s mother due to ‘abandonment’, which meant that the children never saw their mother again (though the King did his best to ensure that his son had more choice when he was himself to be married).

The Courant records that at about 8pm on Wednesday, July 17th 1717, King George I boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace, along with several aristocrats, for an excursion up the Thames towards Chelsea.

A second barge, provided by the City of London, carried around 50 musicians who performed Handel’s music. Many other Londoners also took to the river to hear the concert.

According to the Courant, “the whole River in a manner was covered” with boats and barges.

The king enjoyed the music so much, he asked the musicians to play the suites at least three times over the course of the trip, both on the way up to Chelsea and on the return journey, with the orchestra playing from around 8pm until well after midnight.

In 2009 the BBC aired a documentary showing an ambitious reconstruction of the performance, with the Water Music played by musicians of the English Consort in full period costume.


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Nursery Rhymes – Literacy, Imagination and Identity

Nursery rhymes are traditional poems sung to small children. They often contain historical references and fantastical characters, and many have been rumoured to have hidden meanings.

The earliest nursery rhymes documented include a 13th century French poem numbering the days of the month. From the mid 16th century children’s songs can be found recorded in English plays. Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man is one of the oldest surviving English nursery rhymes, first appearing in The Campaigners, a play written in 1698 by Thomas d’Urfey (1653 -1723). Interestingly, D’Urfey, active as a writer in the days when the term ‘wit’ was held almost as a career epithet, also composed songs and poetry and was instrumental to the evolution of the Ballad opera.

The first English collections of nursery rhymes were published before 1744.  Tommy Thumb’s Song Book and Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book included rhymes including London Bridge is Falling Down, Hickory Dickory Dock, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary and Baa Baa Black Sheep; the very same songs popular today, nearly 300 years after they were first published. In fact they were probably sung for many years before publication, passed down in the oral tradition.

There is a lot of speculation about the words of these rhymes with suggestions that they refer covertly to insalubrious or violent topics. It is commonly believed that Ring a Ring o Roses is about the black plague that hit London in 1655, with the ‘rosie’ thought to refer to the rash that developed and ‘we all fall down’ (dead) being the result, but although this theory fits with the illustrative lyrics, there is actually no evidence to support this.

John Newbery’s collection of English Rhymes, Mother Goose’s Melody (or Sonnets for the Cradle) was published in 1765. This is the first record of many of today’s classic nursery rhymes. Newberry’s compilation seems to come from a variety of sources including drinking songs, historical events, traditional riddles, proverbs, ballads, lines of Mummers’ plays and even ancient pagan rituals.

The name Mother Goose is associated with Maurice Ravel’s piano suite (Ma Mère l’Oye) which was originally written for two children of Ravel’s acquaintance and subsequently orchestrated for ballet. The movements of Ravel’s suite relate more to fairytale characters such as Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb than to the nursery rhymes of Newberry’s publication.

There are rumours that Mozart wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He didn’t. But he did write variations on a French children’s song, Ah! vous dirai-je, maman, originally an anonymous pastoral song dating from 1740. The words to the popular English lullaby are from an early 19th-century English poem by Jane Taylor, The Star. The tune has been used for other songs too, including Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Despite, or maybe because of, the lack of real historical clarity, nursery rhymes and their weird and wonderful characters continue to entertain. History and the role of music in society are undoubtedly interwoven in a fascinating way into the sometimes seemingly nonsensical words of the songs. Pop Goes the Weasel is a nursery rhyme and singing game, first found in a manuscript of 1853, which not only references a pub that still exists, The Eagle on City Road, London, the words were added to an already existing dance tune.

Considering elements such as the incorporation of a pub into this song, it does seem likely that many nursery rhymes were not actually written for children. According to Kay Vandergrift, Professor Emerita of Children’s Literature at Rutgers University, most of them were part of an oral-based society that relayed news, spread coded rumours about authority figures, and worked out its moral dilemmas in rhyme and song. Existing nonsense rhymes would be adapted to make references to current events. It was not until the 19th century and the Victorian romanticising of childhood the past that nursery rhymes were written down and presented in collections for small children.

The poems are inhabited by kings and queens, peasants and drunkards, historical and mythical characters from a wild, often rural past. They predate many of our modern preferences, yet they are still relevant to today’s children and parents.

The world that spawned the rhymes seems far away from our modern lives, but the reasons people sang nursery rhymes are still the same.

Why Nursery Rhymes are Important

The dish ran away with the spoon…

Adults instinctively converse with babies using a sing- song voice with short, repetitive phrases and long pauses for the baby to respond.

This ‘dialect’ can be described as musical in its characteristics of rhythm, timing and rising and falling pitch. The qualities for relating well to babies and toddlers are also the basis of music, a nice synchronicity, since music is a means for bringing people together.

The way in which parents interact with their baby is vital to the baby’s development. It has been found that mothers who are having difficulty relating or who are suffering from depression can be helped if they are encouraged to sing and play musical games with their children. The singing provides a framework to support the mother to baby interaction.

Nursery rhymes fall into two categories:

  • Lullabies – designed to lull a baby to sleep or soothe a fretful toddler, lullabies are an age-old part of childcare in all cultures.
  • One-to-one songs/play songs – more appropriate for older babies and toddlers, these songs. They are sung and played on laps, often featuring actions such as knee joggling, tickling and surprise dips and spills. They are mini dramatic stories full of language, excitement, anticipation and rhythmic movement.

They help infant development and family relationships:

They are good for the brain. The repetition of rhymes and stories teaches language and builds memory. Nursery rhymes also often represent a child’s first experience of literacy. Before a child learns to read, they can see how a book works.

Nursery rhymes preserve generations’ worth of history and culture. Familiar rhymes provide common ground between parents, grandparents and children, and between people who don’t know each other.

Singing is a great group activity. Singing nursery rhymes allows children to feel confident about singing and dancing, engaging them with music and building self esteem.

The moralistic lessons in some rhymes might seem important, but the main message of nursery rhymes is that they are fun to learn and sing. The supposed meanings of the songs and their obscure origins do not detract from their value – the words just sound good and help children discover a shared language, shared experience and a sense of a shared past.

Resource:

http://www.mamalisa.com has lots of great songs and nursery rhymes from around the world. Here’s one we use in our workshops – a Turkish version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm


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Claudio Monteverdi: 450 Years of Inspiration

May 15th 2017 marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi.

Born in 1567, in Cremona, Italy, Monteverdi was famous during his lifetime as a musician and composer, and his works are still regularly performed today.

Cremona is a city with a vast musical heritage. It was home to lute makers, later becoming renowned as a centre for musical instrument making, and home to the Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari violin making families. The historic feudal system – the myriad noble families ruling Italy at the time – laid the way for music to develop, supported and funded by the court, offering employment and opportunity for musicians.

Monteverdi thrived in this musical hotbed, exploring and developing music far beyond his contemporaries. He is nowadays considered to provide a transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods – and his compositions influenced 20th century composers such as Stravinsky.

One of the main differences between Renaissance and Baroque music is the move from counterpoint to melody with accompaniment. Much Renaissance music was based on imitation and variations, with ground bass or ostinato, where a tonal structure and multi-movement forms emerged in Baroque music – functional harmony based on a central tonic with a strong harmonic flow and tonal sequences such as the circle of fifths.

Many of these ideas were introduced and popularised in the work of Monteverdi.

Monteverdi began his musical studies at the Cathedral in Cremona, producing his first published works – a collection of sacred songs – at the age of 15. After his studies were complete, he was employed as a court musician for the Duke of Mantua, where he initially worked as a singer and viol player before a promotion to music director.

It can be difficult to see historic figures in a human light, but Monteverdi’s life was full of drama; a nice parallel with the plays of Shakespeare, which were written and premiered during his lifetime over in England.

He tragically lost his wife and his baby daughter, he was robbed at gunpoint by a highwayman, on the death of his employer, the Duke of Mantua, he was fired by the Duke’s successor who could not afford to keep him on, leaving the composer with virtually no money, and he was ambitious, planning to show his music to the Pope. By his mid-40s, he was the most celebrated composer in Italy.

His work L’Orfeo is the earliest surviving opera still regularly performed today.

The beginning of opera as a genre is unclear. The concept was born partly by Florentine intellectuals who were fascinated by the dramas of ancient Greece. But the idea was probably gestating long before 1600. Admiration for antiquity was a strong trend in Renaissance Italy, but the recreation of Greek tragedies was not the sole intent of opera composers.

There was a strong interest in the bucolic, pastoral story – nymphs and gods were featured rather than kings and queens. Instrumental music was increasingly integrated into dramatic performances and madrigals were used as interludes in more serious theatrical court productions. Legends such as that of Orpheus were incredibly popular, and composers found affinity with the divine musical gifts displayed by Orpheus.

Monteverdi took these ideas and created something new: The debut of L’Orfeo defied all previous musical convention. He placed words and emotions right at the forefront, subduing the traditional Renaissance polyphony (two or more lines of simultaneous independent melody) to emphasise one prominent melody line. He exploited dynamics and unprepared dissonance in order to convey human emotion, responding sensitively to the text. He was the first to create opera out of ‘real’ characters – living, breathing, emotional beings.

L’Orfeo was premiered at the Ducal Palace in Mantua – indications are of a small space, a narrow stage and an audience of only men. All of the performers were male, with castrati playing the female roles. The performance was successful enough that a repeat was demanded for all the ladies of the city to attend!

Part of the uniqueness of the score lies in Monteverdi’s fragmentary markings and instructions. As was common for that period, Monteverdi encouraged instrumental ornamentation and embellishment, presenting his score as what today might be considered skeletal. This gives every performance of L’Orfeo its own distinct sound and identity.

Tom Ford – Limelight Magazine

Fragment of score for Poppea

The score also points to a composer in full command of his craft. It may be sparse, but it is not simple. Instrumentation was cleverly designed to characterise, and in some places, Monteverdi instructs what is to be played, not how: “Sung to the sound of five violins, three chitarrone, two harpsichords, a double harp, a double-bass viol and a sopranino recorder,” with only the vocal line and bass notated. This produces exciting challenges for modern performers.

Monteverdi’s second opera, L’Arianna, was completed a year after the tragic death of his wife. Sadly, like large swathes of Monteverdi’s work, this opera has been lost, save for Arianna’s Lament, which was so popular it was published separately several times.

In 1612, Monteverdi took a position as musical direct at the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice. During his latter years, when he was ordained as a Catholic priest, he composed much sacred music and music for civic occasions. Despite being ill much of the time, he also wrote two more operas, including L’incoronazione di Poppea, considered by many to be his finest work. Poppea contains romance, tragedy, and comedy – a new development in opera. The opera foreshadows those of Mozart, its complexity describing the triumph of evil over good through beautiful music.

Monteverdi died at the age of 76 in Venice in 1643. His legacy of works fall into three categories: Madrigals, opera and sacred music. Over 50 of his letters survive, giving a wonderful view of Italy and of the 17th century.

Experience the Music of Monteverdi:

Monteverdi at the V&A

Monteverdi’s Vespers at the BBC Proms

Monteverdi’s Vespers at St. James’ Piccadilly

Monteverdi 450, Colton Hall, Bristol

Come and Sing

Find events in your area…

Celebrate Monteverdi in Cremona!


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Is Music Reading Outdated?

A recent article in the Guardian by Charlotte C Gill has raised some interesting questions around problems in music education, and caused a fair amount of controversy too.

In her March 27 column, Gill expresses concern over the problems in class music – uptake in music at A-Level and GCSE has dropped by 9% since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) in 2010, an issue, which we’ve previously covered under the ISM’s Bacc for the Future campaign.

The ISM has been supporting the inclusion of creative subjects in schools after researchers claimed that pressure on students to take subjects included in the EBacc meant that music was being squeezed out. According to a Sussex University study, nearly two thirds of 650 state schoolteachers surveyed said the EBacc meant fewer students were taking GCSE music.

[Image: Tiffany Bailey]

However, Gill asserts that she believes the best way to encourage more children to engage in music is to teach the subject in a ‘less academic’ way. Speaking from her own childhood experience, she says that the problem lies with the focus on notation:

This is a cryptic, tricky language – rather like Latin – that can only be read by a small number of people, most of whom have benefited from private education. Children who do not have the resources, or ability, to comprehend it, are written off. Even when they are capable performers.

This is the statement that has raised hackles – and unlike the other points in her article, Gill produces no statistics to back it up. Gill’s own experience of difficulty with music reading, and the fact she struggled to have her love of music recognised are clear, but do they speak for every other state school child, and can one person’s undeniably frustrating experience ever validate the undermining of an entire subject?

It’s undeniable that elitism and imbalance exist. Just 7% of the UK population attended private school. But Gill’s statement that music is only for the “white and the wealthy” does not add up. If her question is aimed at preferential provision in private schools, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), 29% of its pupils are from a minority background – far higher than the 14% of BAME citizens in British society as a whole.

[Image: Frank R Snyder]

Meanwhile, children from a white background have been found to make significantly less progress in school than their BAME counterparts (Centre Forum). And according the World Literacy Foundation’s 2012 report, 20% of adults in the UK struggle with basic reading and writing, indicating deeper problems in the education system that no amount of soft-soaping will solve.

Gill makes no new points with her comments. Offsted’s 2011 report on music education devoted large sections to the importance of practical music making and performance, with Sistema Scotland reporting that 93% of participants were happier as a result of their involvement in the scheme.

But Ofsted’s report showed out of 300 music lessons observed, only 30 were deemed above average. A tiny 7% of schools in a survey of 90 qualified as ‘outstanding’ providers of effective music education, while 61% were deemed satisfactory or inadequate.

Given that of these 90 schools, 66% were considered to be providing an effective education overall, this figure underlines the desperate situation into which music education has fallen. The weakest year group was found to be Key Stage 3 (years 7 to 9), “A direct consequence of weak teaching and poor curriculum provision.”

The report opposes Gill’s claims that music is seen as too academic, stating that many students see academic music as a soft option. Only those children who have been exposed to culture from a young age, and who have developed proficiency as performers tend to be encouraged to take music at GCSE and A-level. The divide between those deemed suitable to take music is set almost as soon as a child joins the school.

This would seem to imply that in order for a child to progress in music at GCSE and A-level, more provision is needed in primary schools, and that children with parents who are interested in music are at an advantage.

In May 2015, world famous concert violinist and music education supporter Nicola Benedetti argued that:

…needing the child’s approval for what they do in school is just such an alien concept when you’re talking about maths, science, history or English…but suddenly, when you bring music into the mix, it’s: ‘Oh no, we can’t show them anything that they don’t instantly love because that would be like forcing children into something that they don’t want to do.’

Benedetti’s comments underline the tendency, exemplified by Gill’s remarks, to feel that because music is profoundly personal and accesses the emotions, it does not warrant ‘restrictive’ academic study.

Gill’s comments have engendered an angry response from musicologist Ian Pace, who says her claim that music can only be read by a small number of people,

…flies in the face of countless initiatives over two centuries making musical literacy available to those of many backgrounds.

He continues:

As with written language, musical notation enables effective and accurate communication, as well as critical access to huge amounts of knowledge. In many musical fields, those without it will be at a deep disadvantage and dependent upon others.

Pace goes on to say that he agrees that “aural and other skills are equally important as those in notation,” but puts her comments about illiteracy down to “romanticisation,” warning that Gill’s position “could serve to make literate musical education even more exclusive through being marginalised in state schools yet further.”

Another article, also from the Guardian in 2015, actually highlights the fact that instrumental music tuition in the UK is more often than not excellent, but that children and parents are not always made aware of what provision is available to them. Author Sarah Derbyshire states:

We need to focus less on the ‘best’ way to learn and more on the fundamentals of engaging children and young people in excellent music of all kinds – in all settings. The starting point is to define clearly the building blocks of musical learning, which are, to my mind: singing; reading music; access to instrumental tuition (both formal and informal); digital technology; attending live performance; creative involvement in composition; improvisation and performance of their own work.

To look at the genuine problems of music reading, a blog from dyslexia experts Brightstar Learning explains that learning notation may be more difficult for dyslexic students.

Reading music may be more difficult than reading text. For one thing, the written language of music contains signs that are multifunctional, for instance, the line. Lines in music can be vertical or horizontal; they may be long or short: straight or curved; mean something on their own; or need to be combined with other symbols to make sense. There’s no doubt that someone who has a problem with visual discrimination is going to have trouble reading music.

But the blog offers a range of imaginative solutions, concluding simply that:

The main factor in teaching the dyslexic student seems to be pacing the lessons so that the student doesn’t go into overload. It will take the dyslexic student a bit longer to process the information in lessons.

As explained by USA teaching business, Musika, learning to read music is one of the hardest things a beginning instrumentalist will do, but no instrument is mastered overnight, and music reading flows in stages alongside technique. Various programmes have been devised, such as the Colourstrings Method and Suzuki Method, which have structured and specific ways of integrating music reading and musicianship into instrument learning in an holistic way, and every beginner tutor book carries careful instruction in notation.

[Image: Grunpfnul]

Looking at these facts as a whole, notation is not the main issue locking children out of genuine engagement in music education. The separate issue of sight reading which is lumped in to Gill’s complaint about the inaccessibility of notation is a red herring.

Success in sight reading is predominantly a mater of concerted practice: Since when a player is sight-reading the muscles are required to react instantly to what the eye sees, and the eye to read several beats ahead of what the hands are playing, the more the player practises this specific skill, the better and easier sight-reading will become. If sight-reading is only approached in a handful of lessons leading up to a grade exam, the child is likely to endure an embarrassing experience causing them to echo Gill’s sentiment, “I can’t sight-read.”

Gill’s article ends with the assertion that,

Diversity breeds diversity, and teaching is where this needs to start.

Again this is not quantified in her previous comments, nor does it follow from her arguments. She sites relevant issues with the wider music curriculum, which are legitimate and ongoing. But she goes on to imply that predominantly white children enjoy a private education and that those at state schools can’t be expected to learn to read music. Both of these comments are naïve and in turn elitist, and wrongly put the onus on the class teacher who is working within a strict curriculum and often with limited resources.

To follow on from Benedetti’s remarks, if a child is interested in creative writing, it does not stifle that child’s expression to teach vocabulary and grammar – expression is enhanced when the student has the tools. A budding artist will remain frustrated if he or she is not taught some of the technique of drawing. To look at Picasso’s later work, one might surmise that figurative technique and study of drawing are unnecessary to make art, but his work was informed by an immense, learned skill in draughtsmanship. Failure to teach the basics actually damages progression and ignorance never aids confidence.

[Image: The Harker School]

Ultimately, while it has less day-to-day application than general literacy, learning to read music is no more difficult than learning to read. While it is not necessary for performers of every genre to learn notation, it is enormously helpful and inclusive to be able to converse in a universal musical language that crosses other language barriers. The sticking point for some may be that music reading is best learned during one-one instrumental or singing lessons, and these are not always available or even desired.

By failing to teach notation, children who want to progress as musicians will become locked out. By pandering to the idea that music is something that everyone can naturally do, generations of knowledge and technique become unavailable. By ignoring the international nature of notation, an inclusive, wholly egalitarian means of creative communication is lost.

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