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The transforming power of music education

Geordie symphony school orchestraAnyone with doubts about the transformative power of music could not have have come across the work of the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra or the work done with music education in Soweto, South Africa. It is enough to listen and watch a little of the music made by children, many of whom come from deprived backgrounds to see that this could not happen without serious personal engagement on the part of the young musicians.

Music is a part of virtually everyone’s life and often a major part. It is ubiquitous. Any given individual may spend days without reading a book, looking at a painting or listening to poetry. But music, well that would be hard to exclude. The ubiquity of music has its downside. Often it is used and even created for purely commercial reasons. Powerful commercial interests in the music business, advertising and venues regulate a great deal of the music that is made, although fortunately their tentacles do not reach every form of expression – I can enjoy some pretty good music-making in my local pub along with others keen to give their attention to what the musicians have to offer.

The educational potential of music is vast, both for its own sake and for the sake of the social interaction and life-skills that come with music making. Learning to appreciate the different dimensions of music (scales, rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre) and putting this understanding into practice by making music introduces young people to the joy of working closely with others along with the importance of self and collective discipline. Moreover in making music the learner naturally has their ability to hear music expanded immeasurably. They learn music as a language through which they can express themselves. And every language, as Marx once put it in another context, is a “new window on the world”.

With this in mind it is great to hear about the development of young musicianship, which includes some of the most deprived children, through the Geordie Symphony School. We don’t have to go to South Africa or Venezuala to find children being transformed by giving them access to music creation. This involves a serious educational effort, the provision of instruments, well-planned music lessons and a persistence in the face of inevitable difficulties.

It is in this context that it is worth drawing attention to an aspect of agreed Labour Party policy that has so far, as far as I know, received no comment. The NPF Annual Report to Conference 2014 which is the agreed basis for Labour policy for the next election said something rather surprising about music education:

Labour also believes that all children should have access to high quality music education and that there should not be a postcode lottery in musical opportunities for young people.

Let’s think about that. “All children should have access to high quality music education”. What can that mean if it does not mean providing the teachers, the instruments, the time and the organisation to get as many children as possible making music and playing together?

The question is whether this passage in the NPF report was just a sop to some pushy music teachers or does it represent a genuine commitment to something that could help to change the lives of a large number of young people and give them a lot of fun in the process. Will this commitment make it to the manifesto? Will Labour show that it takes the issue seriously? Music education has suffered under the Grandgind educational philosophy that promotes a narrowly conceived curriculum which squeezes music into second class status. It would be great to see that Labour understands what is in its own policy commitments and that “high quality music education” will be something it want to deliver to all children.


  1. Barry Ewart says:

    Enjoyed this piece David and was moved when I read about The Geordie Symphony School and yes we need music and creativity in the manifesto.
    I write as a self-published singer/songwriter (soft pop/rock) sill undiscovered (Ha!Ha!)but I don’t play or read music and work with a local producer (supporting local studios) and it is a great feeling to be create work and to hear it, not surprisingly most of my songs are political and I was not driven by being a star or to be rich, I wanted to share and my music out there. So we need to promote diverse music and creativity through all forms of art to enable working people to fulfill their full potential and to have dreams.

  2. Barry Ewart says:

    Enjoyed this piece David and was moved when I read about The Geordie Symphony School and yes we need music and creativity in the manifesto.
    I write as a self-published singer/songwriter (soft pop/rock) sill undiscovered (Ha!Ha!) but I don’t play or read music and work with a local producer (supporting local studios) and it is a great feeling to be create work and to hear it.
    Not surprisingly most of my songs are political and I was not driven by being a star or to be rich, I wanted to share and get my music out there.
    So we need to promote diverse music and creativity through all forms of art to enable working people to fulfill their full potential and to pursue dreams.

  3. John.P reid says: These classes inspired by Ray Davies of the kinks was something id like to have been on

    1. Billericaydickie says:

      The words of Waterloo Sunset should be studied in every school instead of Rap Crap.

      1. John.P reid says:

        I would have thought someone who took their monicker from a Ian duty song would appreciate rap,
        Renegades of funk, Africa bobarta
        white lines, the message by grandmaster flash
        Brenda’s got a baby, by 2Pac
        we dont care by ruthless rap assasins

      2. Barry Ewart says:

        I think it was David who suggested people should use their real names on here and I agree.
        All musical taste is subjective.

        1. gerry says:

          Barry – music is subjective, true but on this BillericayDickie is right: overall rap is deeply misogynistic, capitalistic and materialistic whereas the marvellous Ian Duty Kinks Specials et am were the polar opposite!

          1. Barry Ewart says:

            Yes so we need positive rappers!
            Arts in themselves don’t really belong to groups in society but for example opera, ballet, even classical music can be dominated by predominantly middle class audiences in the UK but go to Italy or Russia and the audiences may be much broader.
            The usually well funded ‘high’ arts may not always particularly be my cup of tea but I recognise they give a lot of people pleasure (and jobs) and I always have a feeling that if I actually saw one of these events live I would probably love it!
            So I guess I am a 60’s music, Beatles, Rock, Tamla, Soul, Reggae, eclectic music person whose taste has matured over the years (I like Abba now) but I have never got round to writing a rap song – will leave that to Grand Master Flash!
            We need an arts policy which supports diverse arts including political art (I was recently moved by a Red Ladder Theatre performance at a Miner’s Strike event in Wakefield).
            We need arts that stir the soul positively!

  4. Billericaydickie says:

    Ian Dury’s gentle tongue in cheek portrayal’s of working class life cannot be compared with the misogonistic, homophobic anti white adulation of violence that is at the essence of rap and its many derivatives.

    I even had to have a full and frank discussion of the lyrics of The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carrol with a Guardinista some years ago who was of the opinion that it was in fact a proto rap song.

    As to subjectivity I suppose that is the case with Horst Wessel Leid and Cara al Sol.

  5. Billericaydickie says:

    Nuff said then? Did I win this argument?

    1. John.P reid says:

      Having been the constituency secretRy of the area Dury lived in for most of his life, I’d hardly say he was working class,

      And dismissing rap as sexist and homophobic, just based on NWA, Bujumbura Nqton, or Ll Collj, no one would dismiss all R & B as being sexist based on the Rolling Stones,or all indie as being Sexist & homophobic just based on the Happy Monday’s or Ian Bown from the Stone Roses,
      rap is anti white racist?, I’m the first to point out there have been any anti white racist comments made over the years,including by 2 labour MPs,but evidence it’s anti white,(excluding professor Griffs anti semeticism,please)

      1. John.P reid says:

        Talking of music inciting violence,
        Billy Bragg, saying beating up the BNP, of which I’m also in favor

      2. Billericaydickie says:

        Before I regale you with numerous examples of white hating in rap and hip hop songs I would like you to do a little background reading.

        White hatred is endemic in black society in America and that has found its way over here as most of these things eventually do.

        It manifests itself as a group of politicians and commentators who make livings from guilt tripping white society, or those parts of it that are gullible enough to fall for the nonsense, and a black population, increasingly young, who are told that everything that has befallen them in terms jobs, housing, work, relations with education or the police etc is the fault of whitey.

        I am pleased to see that although several generations of black people have fallen for and been damaged by these lies that a stand has been taken and that, apart from the Guardian and the wider shores of the loony left, the idea that black people are victims of white supremacy has finally bitten the dust.

        The subject is quite complicated so I would like everyone to follow the links I give and then I will come back later today with copious examples of white hating in rap and hip hop lyrics.

        Firstly google “Khallid Abdul Muhammad and kill them all”. This will give you a couple of absolutely vile videos on You Tube that if they were to have been made by a white person would have ended up with that person in prison.


        Google Louis Farrakhan and look for the references to ” Devils”. This is important to understand the same references in the lyrics I will post later.

        The ideology of The Nation of Islam is that once upon a time the whole world was black but then a wicked wizard called Yacub, Jewish of course, was carrying out some biological experiments that went wrong and a mutation appeared that was white and blue eyed.

        These ” blue eyed devils ” were banished from black society but because they were able to practise trickery they were able to eventually enslave the black race and rule the world.

        Yeah, I know it’s a load of old cobblers but Farrakhan is almost unassailable in the States and the ideology, in many forms, has made inroads here.

        Then google “Joseph Harker and all whites are racist” This article is from 2002 but Harker is still churning the same stuff out and as an editor of comment is free is, presumably, one of the people who deletes thousands of comments every years especially, I have noticed on anything to do with race and immigration.

        While I don’t agree with everything on this site at least an open discussion is allowed which can only be good.

        Back later.

    1. Billericaydickie says:

      Kill the white people, we gonna make them hurt; kill the white people; but buy my record first; ha,ha,ha. This is from an album by Apache. Apache Ain’t Shit of 1993. Tommy Boy Music and Time Warner.

      Would you like to comment anyone? More soon.

  6. David Pavett says:

    I had hoped to draw attention to a little-known feature of Labour policy. I thought this might start some discussion about raising the profile of music education in opposition to excessive focus on English, Maths and Science.

    It would have been interesting to hear views on what music education should aim to do. Music in the National Curriculum is so vague that it could mean almost anything, or nothing.

    1. Music Teacher says:

      This may be a further tangent, but I don’t think your examples (El Sistema, etc.) are necessarily the best representations of socially-responsive musical projects. I haven’t read Geoffrey Baker’s book yet…

      …but look forward to doing so.

      Martin Fautley ( ) cites Gary Spruce on the National Plan for Music Education (NPME) but his analysis might be equally applicable to musical projects focusing on the provision of ‘good’ music which have fundamentally social objectives.

      ‘In promoting a narrow concept of music making and music education (limited ways of musical knowing) the NPME has the potential to provide a framework, rationale and legitimation for a curriculum where ‘other’ musics are included only under the terms of the western art music paradigm. This then excludes the musical histories and identities of those social and cultural groups whose musical practices do not reflect the practices of western art music, resulting in the ‘distancing’ of many young people from musical ‘knowledge’ as it is presented in formal music education contexts. Music education then becomes primarily a process for inducting young people into the hegemonic practices of western art music thus returning music education to … exclusionist practices.’

      Maybe Michael Young’s discussion of ‘powerful knowledge’ as opposed to just ‘knowledge of the powerful’ (e.g. those musical cultures enjoyed, valorised and prescribed by the elite) would be helpful here.

      Thank you for drawing attention to this issue and to the remark in the policy report.

      1. Billericaydickie says:

        I don’t know if I will get this past the moderator but all my previous posts where I link to anti white and anti semitic Rap and Hip Hop lyrics have now awaiting moderation whereas before you could read them. Looks like the whole subject is too sensitive for Left Futures.

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