Honest debate impels me to include points of view which do not match my own. In this regard here is an article in which it it stated that parents who invest in music lessons for their children, in the hope of improved academic ability, are wasting their money. Whether or not you agree with this does not change the fact that having instrumental lessons, not through love of music, but in the hope of improving other abilities does seem an odd approach – why not just study harder?
There’s nothing as refreshing to one’s professionalism as a challenging shot across the bows, particularly if it comes from a distant field. The admiral of thought in this case was neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, (chair of the Dept of Biological Sciences, Columbia University). His excellent contributory chapter to This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking (edited by John Brockman of Edge fame) is entitled The Name Game. Early in the short chapter he cites a phenomenon which he and others call nominal fallicy – namely (pun intended) that being able to put a name to something equates to, increases or is the beginning of understanding. Often, in science, this can mean the end of investigation or, at least, a postponement in favour of nameless phenomena.
This caused me some alarm as, to say that naming is a big thing in my daily round, is an understatement. I always stress to pupils – and the younger the pupil, the more so – that without names things cannot be discussed. To offer young minds some context I ask if they would respect a teacher who knew all their names more than one who had to rely on descriptions like ‘the boy with the fair hair beside the window’. Without exception they unhesitatingly express a preference for the former.
Why am I so keen on names? Apart from belief in Wittgenstein’s assertion that “what can be said at all can be said clearly,” there are simply too many areas in music to survive otherwise. Pitches, durations and techniques cross the paths of new pupils from the outset. Later, myriad musical concepts – often in Italian appear. These feature heavily in SQA exams and it part of our job to support our classroom colleagues in this endeavour.
Soon, I began to relax as I realised that Firestein was referring solely to the naming and taming of unknowns. The elements of music which crop up in lessons have, in most cases, been established for centuries. So, crisis of confidence over – for the meantime. However, it was enlivening to experience a mirage of a fundamental shake-up.
Postscript: numeracy in music has its own taxonomy. We use the following:
Arabic numerals – fingering (left hand – as right hand uses initials for Spanish finger names)
Roman numerals – position e.g. 1st finger based at fret 5 = V
Circled numbers – string number
The above three are internationally used. We also use numbers written in a square to represent ‘phrase number’. To help pupils see and hear connections and variations we use, for example, 1, 2, 1, 2a.
I’ve always felt somewhat cool towards the oft-quoted links between Music & Maths, feeling that Music has more in common with Language(s). As neuroscience reveals an equal amount of our intuitions to have been either true or misguided, I was pleased to see this article about some recent research led by Nina Kraus – one of the most engaging speakers at last June’s Music/Neuroscience conference hosted by Edinburgh University. It suggests that bilingualism – and music – are advantageous when it comes to processing sound. Much of this comes to being able to block our distractions – increasingly necessary in our busy world.
Can you think of a situation where age, race and classical music would come together in a single article? Read on…
Last night I took part in an extraordinary event in Musselburgh Grammar School. Organised by Maya, a pupil in S4, One World Night featured an imaginative mix of pupil performance and presentations on humanitarian themes by guest speakers and pupils of MGS and Campie Primary School. The event was warmly compèred by Fiona O’Donnell, MP for East Lothian.
MGS Orchestra opened with the Prelude from Charpentier’s Te Deum, followed by an arrangement of Over The Rainbow. John Cunningham then gave a presentation on the work of Mercy Corps. MGS Guitar Group performed Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra before Katherine and Roanna described the work of the MGS Amnesty Group and the necessity of speaking out against injustice.
After the interval, six pupil members the local branch of the Alpha Dance Academy gave a fantastic performance of Jai Ho from the film, Slum Dog Millionaire. This was an energetic and impressive mix of Indian and en pointe styles.
P7 pupils from Campie PS spoke eloquently about the school’s links with a Burmese refugee school (CDC) in Thailand, and also about the recently released Aung San Suu Kyi. Having listened to an edition of Radio 4′s Word of Mouth earlier in the week in which schools in the U.S. were praised for nurturing confidence in public speaking, I couldn’t help feeling that Campie’s presentations were as confident and capable as it was possible to find. On this note, I also couldn’t help noticing some of my P6 pupils from Campie listening intently throughout the evening – an impressive counter to current worries about young people’s attention span.
Edinburgh based lawyer, Alison Smith talked about the Dalit (Untouchable caste) in India. I had no idea that so many people suffered such exclusion – 150 million – that’s 30 Scotlands!
Shirley gave a heartfelt performance of Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia, accompanied on guitar by Amy. The final presentation by Susan Dalgety (vice-chair of the Scotland-Malawi Partnership) described Scotland’s historic links with Malawi.
In her vote of thanks at the evening’s close, Maya informed us that £264 had been raised during the evening. This had been a moving mix of entertainment, information and philanthropy. I was particularly indebted to my pupils at MGS. As a result of the holidays and the itinerant nature of my work, they were asked only on the previous Friday if they would be free and willing to take part. Almost all were able to make it, happy to be there and engaged by all the speakers.
If you like the mix of music/sound and science – plus a bit of comedy – why not listen to this episode of The Infinite Monkey Cage?
The programme features Professor Brian Cox; Robin Ince; University of Salford’s acoustic expert Professor Trevor Cox; neuroscientist Professor Chris Plack; violinist Julian Gregory; comedian and former acoustics student Tom Wrigglesworth.
Topics covered include major/minor-happy/sad correlation; why some sounds fill us with horror; acoustics of concert halls; musical intervals and maths/ratios – including the tritone also known as Diabolus in Musica (The Devil in Music).
…because I heard it via Facebook first – the power of social media:
the headline says it all – but why not click anyway
… I hate that expression – but anyway.
Tomorrow sees the Neuromusic IV conference kick off. I’ve been looking forward to this for ages. I intend to write up (m)any interesting things when it’s over (it runs till Sunday). Fittingly the conference closes with a concert and jazz session, at which I have offered to play what has become one of my favourite tunes (see video below).
On Saturday evening, I’ll be taking time out for a much loved musical experience – a Calton Consort concert (what a poet!) Had that not been on, I’d have gone along to this Edinburgh Contemporary Music Ensemble event. I’ve just been listening to some audio from previous events.
I received a nice pingback on a recent post today on the Mind Over Music blog by Justin Yanowicz and Judy Crook. Having been in touch with Nina Krauss, the director of the work mentioned on my original post, and discovering that we will both be attending The Neurosciences and Music conference in June, today’s unexpected tie-in was further proof of the ease with which the internet can bring together those with a shared interest, connecting and amplifying learning.
What I liked in particular was their advice to delay cognitive ageing: “Speak several languages daily and keep playing your instrument.” Easier said than done or, as I like to say when pupils suggest insurmountability, “difficult, but not impossible.”
My colleague, Iain Bruce (East Lothian Strategic Music Partnership Co-ordinator) sent through the following information on a FREE African Drumming Workshop, delivered by renowned facilitator, Dougie Hudson.
- For children & young people aged 10–18 years old
- Saturday the 21st May, 11 a.m. – 1p.m. at the Haddington Bridge Centre, 11 Poldrate, Haddington, EH41 4DA
- Call 01620 823 137 to book a place!
- Workshops will be split according to age
Click this link to download poster (with details) and distribute to your pals: African Drumming Workshop