Now is hardly the time (was it ever?) to extol the virtues of the free market. However, I recently experienced the musical equivalent of the benefits on social mobility. As I wrote recently, pupils in the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble bid for parts which would offer a challenge without causing undue stress and worry. We rehearsed the piece for the first time on Friday 31st Oct and, I would argue, broke the back of it – despite end-of-week tiredness, trenchant rain and Halloween excitement.
One spin-off of pupils examining the score to choose their part is that they know how many parts* the arrangement features. This might come back to them when they begin their own compositions and arrangements for SQA Music courses.
Since then, a few pupils have asked for an upgrade to a more demanding part. No-one has asked for an easier part. Is this a sign that pupils, through lack of confidence bid for an easy part and experienced the boredom which lack of challenge can bring? Or does it mean that confidence, fuelled by success, has led them to seek a new challenge? Or both? Or nothing?
* the piece began as a trio. After the addition of heterophonic parts there were seven. Spread across approximately 40 pupils this results in roughly 6 pupils per part – numeracy across the curriculum 🙂
One of the thorniest questions in any justice debate is “what is prison for?” Punishment? Rehabilitation? The protection of society? A mixture of the above and more? As far as punishment goes, the debate continues. Is simply being there the punishment? Is the prison simply the location where punishments (imposition of this – denial of that) are administered? The perspective of the victims of crime are often brought into the debate. Such a conversation recently unfolded on Radio 4’s Today on the subject of music in prisons (scroll down to 0743 – the time this item was broadcast).
The discussion was prompted by the installation of listening posts in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall where visitors can hear the compositions of offenders. Reporter, Nicola Stanbridge, discussed the varying points of view with Sara Lee (Projects Coordinator, Irene Taylor Trust “Music In Prisons”), Dr Loraine Gelsthorpe (University of Cambridge, Institute of Criminology) and a former prisoner. Needless to say, the conversations were punctuated by recordings of Johnny Cash from Folsom Prison.
Dr Gelsthorpe listed the rehabilitative benefits of involvement as including: “well-being, relatedness, confidence & learning.” These terms will surely resonate with anyone connected to the changes currently being wrought in Scottish education by A Curriculum for Excellence. Particularly withdrawn or troublesome prisoners, who had not previously taken part in education (in any sense that mainstream teaching would imply) were often targeted for this programme.
I looked in vain on the website of the Royal Festival Hall for a link to this project – but did stumble upon Art by Offenders (Koestler Exhibition).
I taught a guitar class in HM Prison Edinburgh (Saughton) in the late 80s. As far as I could make out (I was only there one evening per week) the most popular classes were Art, Music, Maths (numeracy) & Chess. These relatively informal classes ran alongside a more formal Open University programme.
Reckless behaviour is often the domain of those with nothing to lose. However, when it comes to pupils making recordings for this blog, the reverse appears to be true. Pupils generally play very cautiously, striving to avoid error in the hope of a perfect recording. This is perfectly understandable. Nobody wants a permanent record of an under par performance hanging around for eternity and this thought can stalk pupils throughout a recording. Only when they have a good one in the can that they can be persuaded to go for a more relaxed, abandoned and, where appropriate, up-tempo version. I find the psychology of this interesting. It’s as though the confidence required for the more spirited performance has been generated solely by the existence of a successful recording, now tucked out of harm’s way. Perhaps, in addition to the buzz provided by an audience, live performances owe their increased vitality to escaping the tyranny of posterity.