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Quality at the heart of Spain’s national conference on Social Inclusion in Music Education

Maybe it was the sheer number of green-shirted children on the Philharmonic Hall stage; perhaps it was their correct posture and the well-rounded arm movements which helped them make sense of the bars’ rest; or was it the RLPO players’ commitment, with a little help on open strings from Julian Lloyd Webber at the back of the cello section? In the end it was the overall musical quality in the video of the Liverpool In Harmony project performance which transformed the graveyard slot at the end of a long day conference into the day’s crowning moment, perfectly summing up the message which one speaker after another had argued: that an experience of social inclusion in music education is no longer, if it ever was, a matter of being a passive recipient of therapy, but rather an active participant in a well-defined process which is driven towards a product of recognisable quality.

Spain’s second national conference on Social Inclusion in Music Education was organised by Nicolas Jackson, Arts officer at the British Council’s Madrid office, with the Ministry of Culture and the Dutch Embassy. Speakers included Richard Hallam and Peter Garden (RLPO) from the United Kingdom, and specialists from Spain and Holland, and approximately 200 sector professionals attended from around the country.

The conference was opened by Spain’s most senior arts administrator, D. Félix Palomero, Director General of the Ministry of Culture’s Instituto Nacional de las Artes Escenicas y de la Música. In his opening remarks, the DG stressed the important role of the arts in progress and social integration, the need to establish and maintain structures which are sustainable and free of political considerations, and the importance of achieving results rather than just filling in forms. It was D. Félix who instituted an innovative education programme at the national orchestra (OCNE) when his tenure as chief administrator there coincided with the arrival of Josep Pons as Principal Conductor and Musical Director, forming the basis of a sustained quality education programme. http://ocne.mcu.es/

Rod Pryde, British Council Director, Spain, explained how this conference is part of the Council’s continued work to connect the United Kingdom with the rest of the world, and that it follows on from last year’s event in Madrid which took a wider look at social inclusion in the arts, and from a recent conference on the same theme in Barcelona.http://www.britishcouncil.org/es/spain.htm

Jorge Fernández Guerra, Director of the Centro para la difusión de la música contemporánea was host for the day, as the conference facilities are part of the concert hall development built for the CDMC in the extension of the Reina Sofía art gallery. In his introduction he remarked that the expression music for all is widely used and there is a need to define who is included in this concept of all; he went on to talk about the vital part music can play in progress towards equality.http://cdmc.mcu.es/en/cdmc/

Richard Hallam, National Music Participation Director, was the first speaker. After a look back to a photo from 1895 showing hundreds of children taking part in music in a school hall, he summarised his presentation in three words: Quantity, Quality and Vision. He described the work of the three main actions in England: the inclusion of music as an obligatory subject in the National Curriculum; the Wider Opportunities initiative which is funded up to 82 million pounds per year, and the Sing Up! campaign, with funding up to 40 millions. For the Spanish listeners, the most striking part was certainly the explanation of the class teaching of instruments through Wider Opportunities, which was supported by a video excerpt. Over coffee my Spanish colleagues were interested to know whether classroom teachers were paid extra for participating, whether the teachers felt embarrassed at being beginners alongside their pupils, and how much other class teachers complained about the noise. There is considerable interest in hearing more about the Wider Opportunities provision.

In response to questions about how to win political support, Richard Hallam insisted that it is essential to demand high quality from providers and to provide evidence of high quality outcomes to funding bodies, and he cited recent research by Dean Susan Hallam and Professor Ann Bamford. He also made it clear that the timing of the end of Year of Music is geared to coincide with the expected arrival of a new government after the general election. This up-front campaigning spirit was unexpected in a Spanish context.

Richard Hallam finished by returning to the issue of quality: firstly, how studies have shown that poor quality provision is not better than nothing, it is actually worse that nothing, and secondly, the ongoing debate as to how to define what is good enough. http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/tunein

Janneke van der Wijk is Director of the Muziek Centrum Nederland, which was established to promote live music in all styles, to be a provider of information and documentation, and to attempt national synchronisation (her expression) in music education. Four areas of work in social inclusion in the Netherlands were covered in her presentation: the national orchestra’s NedPhoGo! outreach programme, the Leerorkest, a Rotterdam cooperative venture, and music with deaf youth.

“A modern symphony orchestra wants to reach out, it is not just a duty”, is a quote from one of the Netherland Philharmonic players, and they are seen at work in hospitals, schools and prisons. A video clip was shown of a string quartet performing to an audience at a Turkish cultural centre.

The Leerorkest is a training orchestra started in an area of social deprivation in south east Amsterdam in 2005, and which now has 600 young members. A video clip was shown with their parents’ rapturous response.

In Rotterdam, the local symphony orchestra is cooperating with the city council and the conservatoire to develop their youth music participation.

Finally, a video clip was shown of provision for deaf youth, with extra loud dance music and specially prepared moving floors to allow the participants to feel the music.

The speaker explained that education in Holland is devolved to local government; there is no national curriculum and content is demand led. Every school receives a voucher of €20 per student to spend on music, but there is no prescription as to how it should be spent. As a national coordinator, Janneke van der Wijk is responsible for supervising the implementation of actions, but decisions are made locally. In the end, her criteria for accepting projects is not the musical style involved or even the project design, but the quality of the proposal and the quality of the final product seen over time.

Holland is modelling a campaign to gain extra support for music education based on the Music Manifesto with three strands: Music for every child, Sing Up and An instrument for every child. http://www.muziekcentrumnederland.nl/en/

Gloria Cid is in charge of the Departamento de actividades culturales de impacto social of the La Caixa bank’s foundation. According to the bank’s own figures, La Caixa is Spain’s third largest banking group, and the annual budget for cultural activities with a social impact is 1.5 million euros.

Gloria Cid began her presentation with a quote from François Matarasso: “It is time to think of what culture can do for society and not what society can do for culture.”

Four areas of La Caixa’s work in social inclusion were described: Diversons, funding for performing groups made up of immigrants; large scale participative concerts; projects with the mentally challenged; and funding of social action arts projects. Participation is the key in all of these areas.

Selection for groups to be included in the Diversons project is based on several criteria, including the legal and residence status of the performers, the relevance of their music to immigrant groups established in Spain, and, above all, musical quality. Experience has shown that, thanks to professional advice on contracts, licensing and marketing, 70% of groups funded have continued to function after the bank’s funding period has run its course.

The participative concerts have taken place in major cities around the country and have included repertoire such as The Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem. Choir trainers and pianists work with large groups of volunteer singers in the weeks leading up to shared performances which are given in major venues with a professional orchestra. One of the main features of inclusion in this project is age: a large proportion of the participants are near retirement, and some of them have brought their grandchildren along to sing.

A video clip was shown of music workshops with mentally challenged adults. The power to choose  and make musical decisions and the sense of responsibility for the final group performance combine, according to the speaker, to take these actions beyond the level of therapy to genuine musical participation.

A video was shown of the fourth area of La Caixa’s work: women prisoners who worked with a choreographer to create a dance piece. The process, according to the choreographer, gave the women a sense of ownership of their prison spaces, helping them to see the space and their relationship to it in a new way. With the help of a team of professionals, the women produced a video dance work, and the project has recently been awarded a national prize for its contribution to the place of arts in social inclusion.

The theoretical basis for La Caixa’s practice was outlined with the help of various graphics: one of a triangle with Art for art’s Sake, Culture as an educational force, at the top angles, and culture as an instrument of social impact at the third angle. Another graphic showed participative activities at the centre of a matrix including cultural professionals on one side, persons forming the target group for action on another, and the outcomes on yet another side: social inclusion and cohesion, social regeneration and personal development.

Lastly, a graphic which illustrated the important, but different roles of artists on one side and social agents on the other, both groups working towards the needs of the third element, the participants: an understanding of the difference between these roles, and the separation of their functions is crucial to any project’s success.

Gloria Cid concluded her presentation with a quote from Vanessa, a participant in one of La Caixa’s social impact projects: “I was never interested in art until art showed an interest in me”. http://obrasocial.lacaixa.es/

The conference’s fourth speaker was Rogelio Igualada Aragón, coordinator of the national choir & orchestra of Spain’s education project (OCNE). The speaker outlined the history of educational work at the OCNE: until 2005 it consisted of open rehearsals and schools concerts. With the arrival of Josep Pons as Principal Conductor and Musical Director, the orchestra began a more ambitious education programme, including Mark Withers as composer/director. My students and colleagues were fortunate to be involved in two projects, one based on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and one on  de Falla’s El Amor Brujo, which included working with orchestra players and performing on the national concert hall stage with orchestra players and children from a wide range of Madrid schools.

The speaker went on to explain how this project has been continued with local composer/directors, and how other actions have included performances by orchestra players in hospitals. He explained how participation of orchestra players in these activities is voluntary. When asked to clarify this point he explained that the musicians, civil servants with lifelong contracts, are paid extra when they take part: the voluntary element is that there is no obligation for players to take part.

Peter Garden’s presentation followed on and confidence, passion, ambition and a sense of purpose flooded the lecture hall and swept everyone up in a wave of positive energy. Next to me were colleagues from a local authority education service, and in front of me were senior administrators from the Ministry of Culture and from Spain’s leading conservatoire and the admiration towards the speaker and the project was palpable. Peter Garden is Executive Director (Learning & Engagement) at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and the theoretical basis and conviction for his work are as deep as the river Mersey and as solid as the Liver buildings.

I stopped taking notes as the list of initiatives went from one slide to another, looking back at the European City of Culture achievements (the RLPO was described as having “provided the soundtrack to the year”), taking in the collaboration with Liverpool Hope University in the European Opera Centre, and the 45,000 persons of all ages involved throughout the year, and looking forward to participating in the Shanghai Expo (Liverpool is the only English city to have a presence at Expo.) Peter Garden’s plans for the RLPO include targets up to 2015, and nobody in the room doubted that they will be met.

Just when some were beginning to doubt that all this could really be true, along came the video clip of the green shirted children and we saw and heard what is being achieved in one of most socially disadvantaged areas of Europe. Peter Garden introduced the video: “On 13 July 2009, the children and staff from Faith School performed at Philharmonic Hall for their debut performance as West Everton Children’s Orchestra, barely 12 weeks after having picked up their instrument for the first time. They performed a programme of 10 pieces to demonstrate their music skills, with a special arrangement of Hey Jude as a finale, performed alongside musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chair of In Harmony, Julian Lloyd Webber.”
Peter Garden referred to one of the West Everton schoolchildren’s father, who said that he never felt so proud of his child, and felt overwhelmed with pride seeing his child play in the Philharmonic Hall concert. The achievements in Liverpool are noteworthy in any context, but when seen against the backdrop of current provision in Spain, they are stunning, and this presentation made an excellent conclusion to the conference, reinforcing what other speakers from Spain, England, and Holland had referred to during the day, that quality in the process and in the product is achievable and is demonstrable.

http://www.liverpoolphil.com/

This article has been published in Spanish at the British Council’s Spain web  http://www.britishcouncil.org/jornada_de_inclusion_social_y_educacion_en_la_musica_articulo.pdf

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