Portugal is home in many ways, and home is inextricably linked with food. One the dishes I regularly order when I’m back in Portugal is Carne de Porco à Alentejana. In my usual home in Singapore, this dish is never actually called ‘Carne de Porco à Alentejana’ — it goes by ‘Portugese pork and clams’, and is a favourite among my family and friends, and one of my go-to dinner party recipes. My guests, especially those unfamiliar with Portuguese food, often ask me about what’s in it and how it’s cooked, and here’s where I go into educator mode — I begin by explaining what’s familiar and accessible about the dish, in a way that they can relate to.
Educators often face the challenge of introducing students to unfamiliar material such as a scholarly article in a journal or a musical practice from a cultural or social system far removed from their own. It is difficult to help students become invested in something that doesn’t make sense or means very little to them, so educators often fall into the habit of saying things like, “This is an important concept because it’s something you need to know; it’s significant in the field you’re studying; it’s something that’s fundamental to a big idea,” — basically, “this is important because it’s important.” But if we want to convince someone of something, we need to know how and why it’s important, not just that it is important. We need to examine how we can bring students through this process of understanding what we may consider ‘important’.
The Cathedral of St Patrick is one of the most recognisable and significant religious sites in New York City. It is also the setting for some of the best organ playing I have ever heard: in this video which showcases the virtuosity of Michael Hey, the Cathedral’s Assistant Director of Music and Organist. I was entirely blown away the first time I watched this; it represents everything I love about music.
Vox Humana: Why do you think people are reluctant about musicology? Why is this even a problem?
JF: Well let’s look at people who’ve always surrounded by music, like amateur musicians who enjoy music, but feel like they’ve never really fully understood it, possibly because of the way it was taught, or they just couldn’t grasp some of the concepts.
VH: Definitely the case with many people. And there’s the fear.
JF: The fear of…?
VH: Music theory. It was the part of any music lesson I hated the most, even more than practising scales and actually even more than sight reading, if I’m honest. At least with sight reading you can pretend you know what you’re doing and make something sound like it sort of fits.
JF: See I find it interesting that you speak of theory in opposition to ‘practice’. I’d argue that, when you expand your understanding of musicology, you definitely move away from the practical limitations of your instrument, but you’re also simultaneously able to take this knowledge and apply it in a practical context.
VH: What you say makes sense, but once we get into the ‘nuts and bolts’ of theory, it is a real struggle to understand it, so there’s a gap in my understanding —
JF: — which is why we’re having these conversations.
I’ll stop here and explain what’s happening in this post. This is a series of conversations between myself (JF) and various people who have struggled to understand music theory for a large part of their life, despite being either enthusiastic amateur musician or even professional instrumentalists and music makers. Musicology and/or music theory are the bane of many students of music, as you see in the conversation above. But it is my conviction that understanding musicology doesn’t have to be painful. It can be challenging, yes, but it’s also rewarding, and it does have a very real impact on an individual’s understanding of how music is structured.
Explorers in the wild.
Discovering the music of other cultures.
Living among the natives.
Understanding world music.
A harmonic analysis of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.
Which do you think is the odd one out?
Many of our perceptions and impressions of music inform us that Mozart doesn’t belong on that list. These same perceptions group the first four items on the list together, and are likely to associate those items with the term ‘ethnomusicology’. It’s understandable. This is how many of us learn about music; we learn that there are different ways of approaching different ‘types’ or ‘genres’ of music. But it’s also limiting, and, in many ways, harmful. Breaking this down and understanding why is an essential aspect of the pedagogy of music, which aims to create more meaningful educational experiences for students and teachers.Continue reading “Why Ethnomusicology (Part 1): Why music teachers benefit from ethnomusicological approaches”
The Social Power of Music was the 2019 theme of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that took place in Washington, DC over the weekend. This is exciting from an ethnomusicologist’s perspective, because what we do is examine the relationship between music and humans. Reading some of the stories and conversations coming out of the festival — many of them about deeply personal narratives as much as they are about the stories of cultures or nations — demonstrates how relevant the ethnomusicological approach is to the way educators teach music to younger students. PYP and Early Years music teachers are certain to benefit from this approach, but the body of literature to get through can be daunting.Continue reading “Understanding the ethnomusicological approach to teaching: a simple start for PYP educators”
One of the pleasures music-lovers enjoyed before the days of streaming, was going to a CD shop, choosing an album, and bringing it home to listen to it. It was certainly one of my favourite things to do in University. We consume music quite differently now of course — not necessarily better or worse, and this isn’t a discussion about technology in any case. I’d like to start this conversation by remembering a very specific aspect of the CD shop visit: stepping in, looking at albums on racks, and seeing them arranged by genre.Continue reading “Why Ethnomusicology: A Series”
Music is one of those aspects of human life about which most people have an opinion. Often, when interpretations and meanings clash and collide, it is the music maker’s viewpoint that many consider the most significant, whether it’s the intention of the composer, the interpretation of the performer, or the musical leadership of the conductor.
We know, however, that music is much more than a set of pre-determined meanings. Programme notes providing analysis and interpretation, a caption accompanying a video on a singer-songwriter’s Instagram account, a website detailing the philosophy and mission of an ensemble — all these are part of musical meaning-making, but far from all of it.Continue reading “Critical Thinking for Music Makers”
Teaching secondary music is an experience I’ve found very rewarding because students at this age have the ability to engage, talk back, and have conversations that are affected by — and affect — how they’re shaping their own identities as young adults. Three strategies I’ve found very useful in engaging secondary students during music lessons are: 1) starting with something familiar, 2) emphasising enjoyment, and 3) maintaining the importance of intellectual rigour.Continue reading “Making secondary music lessons more engaging and relevant to students”
Many of us grow up understanding music — and the arts in general — as something nice to have. Music provides entertainment, it brings joy, it adds emotional dimension to events from dinner parties and weddings to major international sporting events. And when we think of music as a profession, we often think of performance or composition. We do know, as well, that music occupies a significant place in cultural and religious practices. I find that it is of utmost importance to draw out the idea that music is not simply ‘something nice to have’, and neither is it a simply a ‘cultural’ practice that we may only encounter in a religious setting or at an occasion. Music shapes, and is shaped by, individual and social identity — and getting students to understand the mechanism behind these complex processes is the essence of a critical and intellectual approach to music, and one which I firmly believe cannot be ignored in the classroom.Continue reading “Teaching a critical approach to music”