Kirsty Devaney reflects on her Erasmus+ visit to the University of Wuppertal earlier this year.
On the 12th-14th May I was able to visit the beautiful location of University of Wuppertal in Germany as part of Erasmus+ :
This visit was part of an ongoing research relationship regarding composing in music education with lecturer Annette Ziegenmeyer.
Campaigning for Creativity and Composing
Unlike in England where composing in classroom plays a fundamental role in secondary education:
‘Considerably more time is spent on composing than other musical processes within a typical Key Stage 4 music classroom’ (Savage and Fautley, 2011: 142)
School composing in Germany is not a practice that is imbedded. Annette mentioned that the influence of the likes of John Paynter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Paynter_(composer)) and other composer-educators, did not take place in Germany. Instead music lessons focus on the “replication” and “reproduction” of other music, rather than students creating their own music. Annette, who was a music teacher and composes herself, felt that this lack of creative music making was missing in music education and since started to campaign for composing in schools.
Earlier this academic year, Annette came to Birmingham to investigate how music education, and composing, is done in England:
I organised observations in a range of schools, including whole class instrumental lessons, to meet with music educators at the university and the Conservatoire, and to discuss her research to others in the BCU music education research community. She was keen that I come and visit her in Germany to see how music education differs and to share my thoughts and research to her colleagues and students.
During my short visit I was able to visit a secondary school and observe music taking place in the classroom. Unlike when Annette visited and she had asked to see composing taking place, Annette warned me that due to composing being so rare, it was unlikely I would be able to observe any composing. The lesson I observed focused on learning to play a popular song using instruments. The informal approach felt it had roots in the Musical Futures (https://www.musicalfutures.org/) movement: the students had selected the song, they worked in friendship groups and the teacher allowed them to just come into the lesson and start practicing and playing rather than outlining the key objectives. Although an interesting approach, students were not able to deviate away from what was being taught. Some of the boys, who were clearly disengaged playing pitched percussion, seemed to be bored playing straight crotchet beats and when they varied the rhythms were told they were getting in wrong.
I gave a lecture to trainee music teachers on composing, getting them to reflect on what composing means and how to support it in the classroom:
Annette had mentioned that the word “composing” was very rarely used, if at all in music education due to the historical connotations and “baggage” of the word. Discussions were engaging and thought provoking with one student asking if Ed Sheeran was a composer. It was clear that this more open and inclusive approach to composing being possible for all students, and being about making decisions and being creative was new to them. Similarly, perceptions and beliefs about composers were discussed in my PhD thesis, concluding that 3 main beliefs were present in students and teachers. These were the belief that the word “composer” worked only in relation to composing as:
- A profession (earning money)
- An out-dated practice
- A creative genius
The rest of the visit involved meetings and discussions about future research. The first direction Annette was keen to pursue was to conduct a survey to investigate current composing provision and teaching in schools. After showing her my own composing survey (https://www.ism.org/advice/research-into-teachers-attitudes-towards-a-level-composing-released) , and the survey conducted by Savage and Fautley (2011), we identified three main research questions:
- How much composing is taking place in schools?
- What is taking place?
- What beliefs and perceptions are held by teachers regarding composing, composers and composing teaching?
Some of these questions have been asked in the England through research, but for Germany Annette felt this was a first. In conducting the survey we hope to be able to do a comparison study and present initial findings together at European and International conferences in the future. Developing good practice and resources for music teachers is another main stage for Annette and her team. Overall there was a sense that there was a huge amount of work to be done to promote composing as an inclusive and beneficial aspect of a well rounded and creative musical education, but both Annette and others on her team seem passionate and being at the start of this creative revolution is a very exciting position to be in!
Fautley, M. and Savage, J. (2011b) ‘The organisation and assessment of composing at Key Stage 4 in English secondary schools’, British Journal of Music Education, 28(2), pp. 135-157.
Devaney, K. and Fautley, M. (2015) Music A level Assessment of Composing – Research into teacher attitudes: Incorporated Society of Musicans. Available at: http://www.ism.org/blog/music-a-level-composing-research-into-teacher-attitudes (Accessed: 18th May 2017).