Category Archives: Conferences

So, What Do You Teach?

By the end of last week, I was getting quite good at explaining that teaching is only part of my role!  It was a fairly natural thing to be asked, considering I was at the International Society for Music Education biennial conference.  I was beginning to think maybe I could do with a new job title, something like “Teaching Researching Librarian”.  It’s important to ‘own’ your practice, and to be able to rationalise why you do what you do.  I’m beginning to feel that teaching is genuinely part of my practice, which is an interesting development, considering I had no intention of teaching when I chose instead to become a librarian several decades ago!

Monday was mostly spent at the conference. Tuesday in the Library. Wednesday a research day in St Andrews.  Thursday was split between the Library and the conference, and Friday, mainly at the conference.

Scottish Music Educati0n in Recent Years

I attended Charles Byrne’s symposium, Transformations and cultural change in Scottish musical education: historical perspectives and contemporary solutions. He reminded us of the emergence of traditional music as a strong component in music education, with people like Hamish Henderson and filmmaker Alan Lomax igniting a new interest in grassroots culture, ceilidhs and other iterations of traditional music.  This was mirrored by a blurring of the boundaries between formal and informal learning, and the growth of the Feis movement.

Simultaneously, there was a swing towards student-centred learning, and new thinking took centre stage: creativity, inclusion, diversity and equality. In schools, the new Standard Grade showed different emphases to earlier exams, based on all-round musicianship, multi-genre and more focus on the integrated curriculum.

There was now a move towards the professional development of traditional music tutors, and the principles of learning and teaching were summarised in a memorable acronym: PREPARE.  (Participation, Resources, Ecological (music within the community), Performance, Activist, Reflective and Ethical.

Charles’ paper was subsequently responded to by Marie McCarthy, Martin [check surname], Jane Southcott and Josh Dickson. Charles’ themes were recalled and elaborated upon, particularly with regard to more emphasis on ‘meaningful engagement’ as opposed to an over-emphasis on assessment; on community and traditional music. Martin is contributing to a forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Community Music, due to be published in 2017 (edited by Lee Higgins and Brydie-Leigh Bartlett – I haven’t found reference to it on the OUP website yet).  Josh spoke about a new approach to assessment in pre-honours years at RCS, and also alluded to Lori Watson’s comments about elitism, defending elite artistry in both innovation and continuation of tradition.  Our traditional music students develop their own identity as a musician, as well as authenticity and integrity, in their journey as aspirational performers.

Being ‘Real’

How does all this fit into my own practice? As someone who generally delivers one lecture or seminar at a time, it can be difficult to relate the bigger philosophical arguments to my own context, but it is still important to understand how what I teach sits alongside what the students are learning in other parts of their course.  I’d like to know how the concept of ‘authenticity’ for today’s traditional musicians sits alongside the issues of authenticity that I research and talk about in an 18th-19th century context. Do we actually mean the same thing? Authenticity in an individual’s own performance practice, isn’t quite the same as the insistence on authenticity for individual tunes and accompaniments, but being ‘authentic’ is clearly a thread that has been interwoven through traditional music for a very long time indeed.

Symposium on Assessment

Five presentations were given.  Even though the speakers often worked in the context of school rather than university, the practical suggestions meant that there would have been much food for thought for everyone.  Since we have been encouraged in our own PGCert studies to consider how we assess learning to have been acquired by our students, I took copious notes.  I’ll reflect on these in my next posting.

 

A Historical Approach to Studying Traditional Music: Valuing Older Collections

In this presentation, I managed to combine Karen the music librarian, Karen the musicologist and Karen the newbie educationalist.  I’m posting the slides here, just so they’re there if I need them, but I’ll turn my notes into a written piece at a later stage.

A Historic Approach to Studying Traditional Music, slides without notes

Now then, later today Jennifer Snow gave an excellent presentation extolling the virtues of YouTube as an educational tool. Brilliant, I thought – maybe I could find some examples of my Scottish music for when I give seminars to our traditional music students.  (Someone had suggested this after my own presentation – so obvious that I could kick myself for not thinking of it earlier!)

A TREASURE HUNT FOR PARTICULAR SETTINGS OF SCOTTISH TUNES ON YOUTUBE

Things didn’t start well.  I couldn’t find a YouTube video of the very first example. But I did find one of the second. So I kept going!

  1. Dutches [Dutchess, Duchess] of Athole’s Strathspey / Niel Gow, First Collection of Scottish Fiddle Tunes, 1784
  2. The Highland watch, now the 42nd Regt. or Royal Highlanders Strathspey. Very Slow / First Part of Gow’s Complete Repository, 2nd edition, 1805  – here played by Tim Macdonald and Jeremy Ward, March 2016 – I think they’re using the first edition, though. This is how it would have sounded.  And see how slow it actually is!
  3. The Lass of Peatie’s Mill / Frances Barsanti [ca.1742] -in A Collection of Old Scots Tunes. It’s written “with the bass for violoncello or harpsichord”. I have been playing it with realised figured bass on the piano, but I found a YouTube version for 3 cellos by Giovanni Solima. It’s a thought-provoking arrangement – I like it.
  4. Thro’ the wood, laddie / Barsanti again. Here on the Baroque oboe with cello and harpsichord accompaniment. Delightfully played by Michael Henry, Roberto Gini and Diana Petech. Starts 7 minutes in.  Recognise it from Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy?
  5. Cope, are you waking yet? / Ritson’s Scotish Song. Published as an unaccompanied tune, there probably won’t be a recording of it!  (If you look it up, try ‘Cope, are ye waking yet?’ – loads of versions but NOT Ritson’s unaccompanied vocal version. (Did he even intend it sung? His version is ridiculously high, perhaps because he was more interested in the words than the music, for the notation of which he had to seek advice.)  Just  because I like it, here’s an alternative for you – another Tim Macdonald YouTube recording. With cello accompaniment and variations -definitely not Ritson’s version, but I love the raw sound and energy of this setting.
  6. Robin Adair / arr. Colin Brown, 1883 in a collection called The Thistle.  You won’t find this arrangement on YouTube – it’s very averagely late Victorian! I’ll record it myself at some stage.

 

Footnote: The paper was entitled “A Historic Approach”.  Any subsequent interations will be “A Historical Approach”, which is more correct! My approach isn’t historic in the sense that you’d talk of a historic event. It’s a historical approach making due recognition of the cultural history surrounding these music publications. Mea culpa!

 

Is it really me? I’m attending ISME

Up until a couple of years ago, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to attend ISME – the big summer conference of the International Society for Music Education.  However, the music librarian-turned-musicologist is currently brushing up her pedagogical skills with a PGCert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Arts Education.  Attendance at ISME (which happens to be in Glasgow this year) is thus nothing if not timely!

Today, I attended presentations concerning the education of the professional musician – that’s what we spend a lot of time doing at RCS, after all.  The first session was under the aegis of CEPROM (Commission of Education of the PROfessional Musician), about leadership in the education of professional musicians.  There had been a CEPROM pre-conference seminar, and five people gave us summaries of different aspects of that.

  •  Judith Brown (Australia) spoke of developing leadership skills in musicians, of community projects in this context, workplace placements, and autonomy in student learning. In my practice, only the latter is really applicable, but it does tie in with my concern to engage students in their own learning, rather than standing and lecturing them, wherever possible.
  • Pamela Pike (USA) spoke of transformative pedagogy: student-centred, flexible and explorative.  She reminded us that leadership could be facilitative, directive or integrative, depending on the cohort’s place in their learning journey; and that leadership is actually an attitude.  Above all, she said, we must “foster students’ ownership of their own learning.”  (A theme was beginning to come through loud and clear! )  To do this, we should “shift curricular paradigms; engage students in the reflective process; [help them to] begin their professional narrative; and the process should not be separated from the product.”
  • Annie Mitchell (Australia) spoke of leadership in large ensembles and community music.
  • Pamela Burnard (Cambridge, UK) talked about institutional change, and of a positive welcoming of change – the “we’ll find a way” approach, and of facilitating leadership.
  • Glen Carruthers (Canada) talked about the “responsive university”, and how, with declining applications to music courses in Ontario, his university started a degree in community music, in response to students’ need.

There were comments from the floor about mature students, recreational music-making, and an acknowledgement that portfolio careers are now a reality in”the real world”.

Making our way to the International Concert Hall for the main keynote of the day, we first heard Nick Elliott of ABRSM tell us how they try to support independent learning, provide resources, and seek to reconnect the performance and understanding of music.  There are new forms of assessment, accreditation and resources planned.

As with the Teaching Artist and PGCert courses, the ABRSM makes a blended offer of analogue and digital platforms, and Nick alluded to the recent “Classical 100” primary digital resource.

Next, we heard a stunning presentation from Evelyn Glennie, who told us about the philosophy of her own old school, “Every child has a story to tell”, and her first percussion teacher’s openness to creativity.  Delegates were urged to keep creativity and imagination alive in their pupils and themselves, at any stage in life.

As a downpour overwhelmed Glasgow, I went to the Piping Centre for a lunchtime concert which turned out to have been cancelled, then instead went to a five-piano concert, spending some time after that networking over lunch before the afternoon sessions.

Frank Abrahams spoke engagingly about musical literacy and sight-reading, pointing out that the use of folksongs for sight-reading over the years was now becoming outdated as being an idiom far-removed from students’ everyday experience.  He talked about an experiment he’d run with two teachers getting students to pick repertoire for sight-reading, from pop music and hiphop, which the teachers would then grade and transcribe for them. In terms of engagement, meeting students “where they are” definitely has its benefits – though I am left wondering how I could best do this, when I introduce historic Scottish tunebooks to first/second-year students, or demonstrate databases etc.  The “parachute lecturer” (dropping in to deliver single seminars) doesn’t have the opportunity to allow students to collaborate in deciding what they’d like to learn over a period of weeks.

Frank said that getting students to collaborate empowers them. Have them feel the rhythm by moving their feet and counting, and get them to brainstorm what the possible difficulties of different songs might be.  There were challenges in choosing music that wasn’t too difficult rhythmically, and in teachers being willing to shift the power and responsibility to the students.  It means being willing to let go, to an extent.

I attended a talk by Brit Aagot Broeske Danielson about students being involved in a collaborative student project, but unfortunately, moving between sessions meant I missed the beginning of her paper, and struggled to understand what the powerpoint slides were actually about, though the project itself sounded as though it had been highly beneficial for the students.

Karen Burland (Leeds) spoke about research projects she had done and was about to continue, regarding career information for students, what different levels of student found helpful, and how engaged they were in different kinds of training provided.  It seemed as though it was just about as hard to get students to attend careers seminars as it is to get them to attend any library training that is perceived as voluntary or extra.  It has to be timetabled, particularly to get first years to attend, when they are still not really thinking about future careers.  The other strong message was that students welcomed the chance to speak to someone who knew them and their strengths, or alternatively was just a few years further along the same path so that they could see what was possible and achievable (“Idols in touching distance”).  Alumni links are actually vital.

Karen reminded us that not all students became performers or music teachers, so students need other “employability activities”, but perhaps they don’t realise when they’re acquiring some of these – eg networking skills.  Portfolio careers require entrepreneurial skills, too, but students need to be taught them or given opportunities to develop them.

The final session I attended was about programme music, specifically, Rachmaninov’s “Faust” sonata.  This was probably the session I gained least from.  I had expected a presentation about the benefits of understanding the ‘programme’ behind particular pieces of music.  Instead, it was a blow-by-blow account of the programme behind one specific sonata.  There was nothing relating to pedagogical skills or student development, and the presenter would have had an easier time had there been a colleague either running the powerpoint, and/or reading prepared excerpts from Goethe’s Faust so that he could concentrate on talking and playing musical examples.  Additionally, at times I struggled with the assertion that particular musical passages were directly related to specific passages in Goethe’s text.

Tomorrow, I’ll be in the library, but I’ll attend more sessions of ISME later this week.

Shared Thinking

Yesterday, I saw on my Twitter feed that royal_york_hotelUniversity of South Wales librarian Sue House (whom I don’t know, apart from following her on Twitter!) was attending a conference about student induction, in York, run by a company called Shared Thinking.

When I realised she was sharing lots of references to names I’d never heard of, about things that might be relevant to my teaching practice, I decided I’d need to keep a note of them.  After all, she mentioned buzzwords like experiential learning, and student engagement and so on.

I decided I needed to hoover up as many relevant tweets from that conference as possible. I don’t know if others there were tweeting, but I think I have enough information to be going on with!   Bits of paper get lost, even saved Word documents can be forgotten. So this time I saved the whole thing to Storify and can go back to it relatively easily, as well as sharing with other people.  (I also looked up most of Sue’s citations and posted links to them. Might save time for me or someone else later on!)  Here it is:-

Shared Thinking: Student Induction Event (mainly as reported by Sue House)

(I might add that this actually validates much of my social media activity, because I am often thinking about quite serious professional issues as I tweet or react to tweets!)

 

A Finale Flute Trio: French Fraternity

French Fraternity

It has been a busy weekend! I’ve arranged three late 18th/early 19th century tunes about the Napoleonic Wars, for flute trio.  I’ve thought about and interrogated data for a possible paper later this year.  I’ve attended a Musica Scotica Board meeting.  Played at church.  Done the domesticity stuff.  And spent about five hours revising a paper for a workshop on Friday.  It was a perfectly good paper, but I felt that I needed to go over it, highlighting keywords etc. Somehow, some bits got rearranged in the process.

The flute trio was a bit of an indulgence, in one sense, but I’m giving a paper at the ISME music education conference in July, and my arrangement demonstrates that you can find unexpected gems in old music sources, not only finding nice pieces to perform, but also informing yourself about many aspects of cultural history into the bargain.  That’s the subject of my paper, so why not arrange some music to prove my point?!

 

Abstract for ISME Conference

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is hosting the ISME Conference this summer – ie, the International Society for Music Education.  I felt it would be fitting to give a paper, since I’m engaged in research and pedagogy as well as music librarianship.  I’m pleased to say that my abstract was accepted.

A Historic Approach to Studying Traditional Music: Valuing Older Collections

Theoretical/Pedagogical Background

This paper arises from my own approach to the historic Scottish song and fiddle collections that have been the focus of my doctoral and postdoctoral research; my concern that music performers should develop an understanding of the historical context in which repertoire originated; and my studies for a credit-bearing short course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, ‘The Teaching Artist’.

Aim/focus of work/research reported

I have had opportunities to teach undergraduates about early collections of Scottish traditional music, to increase their awareness of key resources and their place in the historical canon. Whilst today’s performers may do no more than plunder these collections for appealing tunes, or lyrics telling a poignant story, their history gives students deeper insight into what the material meant to earlier generations; and provides them with a source of interesting anecdotes for future use.

Students learn to search for library resources and to examine unfamiliar older material, whilst the treasured rare collections get increased exposure and appreciation.

Method/approach of the work

Taking a constructivist approach to teaching, and striving for experiential learning, I prefer to introduce one or two typical collections, and then to encourage students to interrogate these early sources by close examination of the music and its paratextual material, ie by studying the title page, dedication or contextual notes, and the form of musical presentation.  Students are tasked with presenting their findings to the rest of the class, highlighting interesting features.

Results and/or summary of main ideas

Students remark upon many features, depending on the collections they examined.  The presence and nature of accompaniment (or its absence); commentary in the preface about the method of compilation or approach to performance; attitudes to authenticity; notes relating to particular pieces; or even something as comparatively old-fashioned as sol-fa notation all prompt observations about the volumes’ compilation and intended audiences.  Researching the material and devising a presentation promotes deeper engagement with this historical material.

Conclusions and implications for music education

Taking a historical approach to traditional music counterbalances to students’ preparation for a career in the performing arts, by enriching their understanding of how the repertoire developed; learning how to research and interrogate the sources; and sharing their findings.

They also gain insight into the value of library collections that have been built up over the years, and a readiness to spend time with older resources that are a little harder to understand than today’s.