Facing the Music: Shaping Music Education from a Global Perspective

This summer, I was invited to participate in the annual Orff Schulwerk Forum in Salzburg. The theme of the convention was ‘Interculturality and Orff Schulwerk’. Inspired by group conversations, I was drawn to read:

Schippers, H. (2010) Facing the Music: Shaping Music Education from a Global Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

I have written a short review of this book which can be found at the following link: Amended Schippers Review Short Version

A more extensive review of this book can be found below:

‘Facing the Music: Shaping Music Education from a Global Perspective’ by Huib Schippers (2010) is an engaging book that meaningfully presents an informed array of considerations on the subject of learning and teaching music from different cultures. Schippers offers insight into the ways in which people learn and teach music throughout our world. He calls for recognition of the diversity of approaches to music learning and teaching which are inherent within every musical culture and inseparable from the music itself.

Approaches to learning and teaching music, what Schippers describes as ‘the processes of music transmission’ and related issues are carefully discussed throughout this book and, furthermore, presented as a ‘framework for understanding music transmission in culturally diverse environments’.

Schipper’s ‘Twelve Continuum Transmission Framework’, addresses ‘issues of context’ when teaching music out with its home and/or cultural environment. Schippers asks educators and learners to uncover, to what extent a musical tradition is ‘static’ or in ‘constant flux’ within its original context before addressing the aspects of what Schippers describes as a ‘reconstructed authenticity’ or a ‘new identity authenticity’, as the music is taught within a new setting. He goes on to question if the music is being taught in line with an ‘original context’ or if a ‘recontextualization’ of the music would be a more accurate description. Issues of context, especially with regard to aspects of authenticity and approaches to learning and teaching, are particularly apparent when we consider traditions, such as the use of staff notation in music. Notation has a very valuable place in the documentation and transmission of Western Classical music, but its role is perhaps more limited and potentially misleading, for the unquestioning eye, when learning and teaching music from  musical cultures that have grown through aural traditions.

Modes of transmission’, the intricate ways in which music is taught globally, are also carefully discussed by Schippers and addressed within the framework. Schippers describes ‘atomistic/analytic’ approaches to teaching contrasted with that of ‘holistic’ approaches. He compares ‘notation-based’ teaching methods with that of ‘aural’ traditions and highlights the spectrum of ‘tangible’ to ‘intangible’ teaching concepts inherent in music teaching.

The ‘dimensions of interaction’ between learners and teachers during engagement in music making is observed throughout this book and shared through a variety of concepts. The concept of ‘individual central’ and ‘collective central’ reminds us that musical activity can be an individual and/or community endeavour and an understanding of this is integral to the musical experience.

Furthermore music educators are asked to consider what kind of cultural experiences they are offering their students. From monocultural musical experiences to multicultural, intercultural and transcultural musical experiences, music education can offer a broad spectrum of opportunities for integration between musical cultures; from virtually no integration to in depth enquiry and immersion. It is important for educators to know where their work lies within this spectrum.

Schippers details three case studies of culturally diverse music learning and teaching within the Netherlands using the ‘Twelve Continuum Transmission Framework’ as a way in which to gain deeper understanding on the subject of approaches to learning and teaching. Case studies include teaching “West African percussion (djembe) in a community music setting, Balinese gamelan (gong kebyar) in the training of music teachers who will work with schoolchildren, and classical music from North India (bansuri) in a dedicated music degree course.” (p. 141) Schippers’ case study examples clearly illustrate his observations with qualitative insight.

Schippers poses issues of context, modes of transmission, and dimensions of interaction and cultural experience, in relation to the learning and teaching of a new musical culture, as continuums within the framework. The intention is to raise awareness, not to overwhelm, and to provide guidance for music educators and learners to be able to reflect on both the diversity and unity of music learning and teaching across cultures.

“Be aware of tradition, authenticity, and context, but do not get stifled by these concepts. Read about them, think about them, and boldly present the recontextualized version of the music you have chosen to work with in the classroom. The core of music is not correctness but its power to move people. Acknowledge differences with originals, and proceed to create meaningful experiences.” (p.169)

Music educators are encouraged to look closely, research carefully and listen intently to the musical cultures of their teaching.

“Locate and access learning material designed for the classroom with solid background information. Do not depend on transcriptions if you do not know the music well; always try to find recordings. But most important, try to find people who make or listen to the music and speak to them; invite them into the classroom.” (p.168)

Forming positive relationships and communication with musicians who play the music in question and have a sensitive understanding of the cultural origins of the music is at the heart of this work.

“If you want to learn about world music, communicate with musicians and communities around you…..a dialogue approached with integrity and some cultural sensitivity can lead to highly rewarding experiences or even revelations.” (p.168)

Appreciation for the individuality and identity of a musical culture is of extreme importance, especially when we consider that the established ‘world music’ label has caused the blurring effect of grouping together not only diverse musical cultures but also distinct genres and styles of music. Music educators have the opportunity to restore clarity but Schippers advocates that this should be done gradually and with the inclusion of traditional and contemporary musical genres and styles. Furthermore, Schippers reminds the educator to not forget his/her own musical culture in their teachings.

“Do not try to master too many musics. Over a period of several years, concentrate on maybe two or three (in addition to your own). Choose musics that you feel genuinely interested in, and try to select musics that have very different sounds and background, perhaps a traditional one and a contemporary one…..If possible, try to attend live performances and speak to audiences, communities and musicians.” (p.168)

In addition to the process of “acquiring knowledge and skills, analysing, practicing, conversations, reading [and] listening” (p. 168), Schippers offers the following entry point to work of this nature which, in keeping with many of the ideas presented within this book, I found to be interesting and insightful.

“When planning introductions to world music, consider alternatives to single lessons dedicated to world music…..there are formats that are more inclusive and more engaging: for instance, discussing music from all over the world on the basis of themes such as music of the royal courts, music and love, or music and resistance. Remember to include contemporary musics in the mix.” (p.169)

This book concludes with an intriguing epilogue and appendix, which I believe to be of rich value for music educators committed to teaching music from different musical cultures in their work.