Saturday, 12 March 2011

The real value of a good music education

What is the real value of music education? Is it to produce robot performers or to produce people who are artists in some less tangible way? Thinking of Orff and Kodaly has made me wonder: why music education, especially in places where there aren't many resources or outlets for formal music making? Being a true artist is more than robot production. A really good basic music education sparks off something deeper in people, so whatever they go on to do in life, it sticks with them in some small way. That's why I think music education is an essential part of the curriculum.

I don't know what system they had in the school I attended.  From kindergarten, we started the day with activity. Moving, clapping, banging triangles and tambourines.  Some of the kids were already getting piano lessons at home, but in school, the emphasis was having fun, not producing music. Mental and emotional stimulation - calisthenics for the soul.

Because this was a good school, there were thousands of applicants for each place. Huge pressure, but pressure can inspire as well as destroy. Everyone knows about the Oxbridge syndrome where students who were top in secondary school suddenly come adrift in a milieu where everyone is mega bright.  Although my school was for the academically gifted, we were instilled from the start with the ethos of "giving". The idea was that the world gave us so much, we would give in return. Lots more fancy terminology possible, but that's what it meant. You are part of society, not out for yourself. So music was part of that process. "Listening to others" as the Orff Schulwerk teacher said.

It used to drive other schools crazy that we won nearly every single prize for singing, reciting and orchestra in every single music festival for more than 60 years. But for us it wasn't competitive, it was fun and emotionally satisfying. "To be the best you can be, whatever you do."

In Chinese society, pressure to strive comes from a historical background. If your children benefit, then suffering can be borne. Even by Chinese standards, Lang Lang was cruelly treated by his father. But he fought back. He's a lot more independent than he gets credit for, which is part of his appeal.  So what if he's not divine musically? He's admired for who he is. I don't have much time for Tiger Mothers who are getting so much attention in the western press, because they operate outside the communal context. It's their spineless husbands who can't stick up for their kids in a different environment.
Pressure does not "have" to be negative and joyless. Enjoy this clip of 10, 11 and 12 year olds doing their best and having tremendous fun. The teacher herself grew up in that system. Once she too was little, banging a triangle and having fun.

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