Every so often the Stormzy* vs Mozart debate returns via one media outlet or another. Here is one example:
Instead?! It’s ludicrous isn’t it. Funny really. You’d imagine your average teenager was crying out in despair – please, I beg you, for God’s sake, enough with the Mozart, can’t we, just for once, listen to something else? Something…. cool?
Reality Check: Ask the next few teenagers you meet about Mozart – they will probably hardly know anything about him at all. Next to nothing in fact. Across the land, the music curriculum is being forced to the margins and music teachers are doing their best to cover a pretty wide brief: musical knowledge of a range of genres spanning the centuries; singing; performance; some theory; composition… all in what is barely an hour a week for a couple of years or so. Mozart might get a mention… if he’s lucky.
The music curriculum is a classic case of the breadth vs depth dilemma. Given the realities of time constraints, what’s more important? I think the solution lies in making sure that a busy curriculum has an overarching structure that is made explicit to students from the beginning so that the hinterland – that wider terrain of the subject is surveyed deliberately and early so that, thereafter, each specific element explored in depth can be referenced to the broader scope.
If you google ‘classical music composers’ – look what comes up:
There you see what might represent some of the terrain of Western classical music. Mozart is actually just one of several of composers in this selection but we can consider him and his work as a ‘gateway’ through which we might later explore further afield. They’re all Dead White Men for sure – and that’s an issue to discuss in itself, a cue perhaps to stare that reality in the face and then look beyond to other important genres that span the world of music. My view is that it really helps to know that Mozart sits on a genre-linked timeline from Bach to Beethoven to Brahms to Bernstein.. names to conjure with, music to sample alongside as go a bit deeper into the Mozart oeuvre. This is certainly something I personally found helpful when I studied music O level – as mentioned in the previous (closely related) Curriculum Notes:
#2 in a series. I’ve often found that students in lessons are wading through a foggy cloud of confusion about why they are learning what they are learning. I’ve been in that cloud plenty of times myself. If, as an expert in a subject, you make a selection of the elements of the curriculum for … Continue reading
With this sampling of Mozart from the classical genre, we can then explore other genres in a similar way, giving students that sense of breadth. It’s here that we might find Stormzy, doing his thing 250 years later. And he, of course, is just one of many contemporary Grime artists. We don’t have to teach them – but they might warrant a mention, reinforcing the concept of genre and the fact of music’s continually evolving nature, each new genre borrowing from history as well as making it.
Rather than an all-at once hit, the slow and steady approach taken in the DFE Model Music Curriculum is excellent in my view. The suggestion is that children encounter a sample of genre-defining pieces from various genres each year, listening to them and discussing them, perhaps learning to sing or play them too. Significantly, the idea is that this knowledge is accumulated so whilst focusing on certain pieces each year, the resulting range is significant. Here’s what you might have listened to by the end of Year 6:
And there’s more:
Play Dead by Björk??!!! YES. She is in there! The bold in the lists highlights the pieces added in Year 6, adding to suggestions for earlier years. And here’s the ‘by end of Year 9’ selection:
I think this is just magnificent. Imagine if every child reached Year 9 with that breadth of knowledge of music. The Lark Ascending and Paranoid Android. Ujona Uyabaleka and Sahela Re. I could punch the air.. imagine it! You can hear the whole lot of samples on Spotify right here:
(And guess what – it’s not compulsory! You could replace every single item with another -that’s allowed, so don’t freak out if your pet sounds aren’t included. Just get the spirit of it.)
Of course, for older students who haven’t had this breadth of experience over time (has anyone? ) or have major knowledge gaps (who hasn’t? ), a broad orientiation unit is going to be especially useful, orientating students to a wide sweep of curriculum terrain at once. Show them what is out there – even if it’s just a flavour. Mozart, Stormzy and the whole world between.