Higher music DVD hits wrong note for leading experts

A DVD costing tens of thousands of pounds produced to support Scotland's new music syllabus has been criticised as "disappointing", "crazy" and "a missed opportunity" by some of Scotland's leading music educators. A new music syllabus is being introduced next year which is aimed at making Scotland's music education more diverse and creative. However, a GBP65,000 supporting DVD released last month has been criticised as failing to meet these goals, and sticking too firmly to the western classical tradition.

The DVD features 12 classical works by composers such as Bach, Mozart, Verdi, Beethoven and Bernstein arranged in chronological order. It is accompanied by an audio CD of the same works and is designed to enhance teaching and learning of music at Intermediate Higher, Higher 1 and 2 and Advanced Higher levels.

One folk performance is also included, but experts from Scotland’s folk and jazz communities have been unimpressed. Now Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) has announced that it is to spend another similar sum on putting together a follow-up DVD which draws on traditional music and
jazz. Critics say this apparently unplanned second pack is a belated attempt to rectify the flaws of the new DVD and a waste of scarce resources.

Tommy Smith, an internationally known jazz musician who runs the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra, said: “It is crazy. They should have sat down and thought this through in the first place.

“It seems as if there are not enough people from outside the classical field who are getting their voices heard where the decisions are being made. All the four main music forms, jazz, rock, traditional and classical are equally valid and they should get equal support. It is a positive step
that they have decided to do a follow-up.”

Educationalists from other musical traditions have been arguing during consultation over the new syllabus that assumptions about music education need to change to encompass the fundamentally different nature of different disciplines. Classical music teaching emphasises following a written score, with the composer’s intention given greater weight. Jazz, folk and rock are more about creativity in decisionmaking on the part of the performer, they argue.

Dougie Pincock, who heads the traditional music school at Plockton in Wester Ross, said: “It is a missed opportunity. Creativity is now very high up on the agenda but it doesn’t seem to be coming though in practice. Everything seems to have to be filtered though a western classical mindset.”

While the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) allows pieces from any genre to be presented for exams, that is not always advisable in practice, Pincock said: “There has to be a complete written score to which the performer has to stick, and one of the assessment criteria is that the
performer is accurately reflecting the intentions of the composer. That doesn’t make a lot of sense when it comes to traditional music.

“In traditional guitar or piano the performer is expected to improvise and in Gaelic song there is no written score, these songs exist within an oral tradition and they are performed slightly differently every time. We actually have students who are traditional musicians but play classical pieces just to get through the exams.”

Internationally known jazz saxophonist Phil Bancroft of ABC Creative Music, which is providing music education products for many Scottish schools, said the concept of creativity was crucial, but thought was required to put it at the centre of music education. He said: “If it is an add-on it can be a very confusing process for the student. We are putting a lot of thought into placing the child right at the centre of the experience and them making genuine decisions from the start. Through decision-making, they can learn musical skills and concepts.

“Too much emphasis on the western classical tradition can make music education feel alien to children. Approaching music through creativity and decision-making means they can explore any musical form and they can also explore issues in their own lives, for instance by writing songs about them.

“There is actually a phenomenally rich musical culture in Scotland. There is a lot of collaboration between musicians from all these areas and it is disappointing that a specifically Scottish resource doesn’t reflect that.”

The sleeve notes to MusicWorks, by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, say it is “an exciting resource . . . promoting enjoyment of music and fostering creativity”.

Project manager Dr Rita McAllister said the DVD would meat those goals: “It is acknowledged that music generally fosters creativity. The students watching the DVD will be able to see young people close to their own age performing these famous works. There are interviews which show how much
they get out of it. I hope the students enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it.”

An SQA spokesman said the authority had been a partner in the DVD’s development and that it had been well received. “We are pleased that further support materials for other genres are now in the pipeline to build on this success, ” he said.

The LTS spokesman added: “The Scottish Executive asked us to provide material to support the changes in the music syllabus. From the feedback we’ve been getting it is thought that there is a need to cover a wider range, so we have tried to put some money together to fund that.

“There was a relatively short time frame to produce this so what is on the DVD is partly governed by what was in the repertoire of the students. It is a multi-faceted resource that teachers can use in many different ways.”

The Herald
December 13th 2005