Education, by all accounts, is a privilege for some and a right for others. Westerners are afforded education as a right, but some are not so fortunate. A classical music education is something we are lucky to receive in Australia; as a matter of fact, the majority of the Western world does. In other places, music is a integrated part of culture, which is educated through time-tested aural methods and other non-formal study (learning from a teacher, rather than from an institution). But is music education really that important?

Another example of purist bigotry was published by The Telegraph this week. I was actually planning on writing about something else this week, but this really ground a notch into my intolerance post.

“Needing the child’s approval for what they do in school is just such an alien concept when you’re talking about maths, science, history or English. But, suddenly, when you bring music into the mix, it’s: ‘Oh no, we can’t show them anything that they don’t instantly love because that would be like forcing children into something that they don’t want to do.”

Those are the misguided words of violinist and pro-music education spokesperson Nicola Benedetti. I shared the article just to get a few piques. I thought I’d reserve my own opinions for this article because I guess I really don’t care about Facebook all that much.

Arts education is often prioritised further down the ladder than artists would like. Musicians seem to catastrophise more than others, because there is no universal theory of music. Of the arts, music is the least direct because of people like Nicola Benedetti claiming that classical music “…has life lessons, … uplift and joy and sorrow and tragedy – all the things that you will have to deal with in your life at some point.” In reality, it’s just a bunch of frequencies tempered to a twelve note system organised by dividing those frequencies into measures of time.

It sounds like Benedetti has confused Mozart with Shakespeare. On that point, the dramatic arts offers two honourable roles in your life that are very meaningful; maid of honour/best man speech, and a eulogy. You’ll be able to script it, time it comedically, perform it with confidence, and you’ll know which side of the stage is safe to exit when you’ve used the old “all past lovers can now give back those keys” joke at both events. We may have a need to draw something as an explanation or diagram (like in visual arts). We may need to be flexible and fit to get out of an awkward situation (like in dance, probably best you don’t read into that too much). But there is no specific life  skill that requires understanding of music, other than understanding music.

And before I get a billion emails from educators and every advocate for music education, let me make something clear: understanding how music is made makes it so much more beautiful. And we’ll never really know how it works. The human race has been studying music from every angle to try and understand it better, but the beauty is in the details of music from all periods and cultures. The beauty of music is in the study and performance of it, and it’s a great part of a well rounded education. But forcing someone to appreciate a symphony makes music out to be an undesirable pursuit of theories in a artistic climate that has moved 200 years beyond that.

“[I]f you were to turn round and say to a kids: ‘Would you like to play video games or would you like to have a maths lesson?’ Of course, they’re going to go for the video games,” Benedetti claims. In a generation that would prefer a video games over school, it’s no wonder we have electronic musicians creating music without having a background in music theory. And despite what musicians with a more formal education may think of that method of music making, it actually doesn’t make it any less music as what they are doing – there is no more or less “musical”.

I don’t think Nicola Benedetti intends to be voicing the outdated opinions of classical music education; her passion for music education is to revive the dying art form that is European classical music. The problem with that particular style of teaching is that music isn’t stagnant. Mozart moved past Bach. Time for self-proclaimed ‘classical’ musicians to move forward too – both in standards of education and performance.


2 thoughts on “Unneccesary Impositions to Young Ears

  1. As a music educator, so far this year I have had a year 8 class listen to and reflect on music such as Biggie Smalls, Sun Ra, Hank Williams, Tito Puente, Sepultura, Vangelis, Warumpi Band, Mozart, Miles Davis etc. One or two students are always inspired by every listening session in some way. Some are repulsed. Others indifferent.

    I think this ‘shotgun’ approach is pretty useful in adding to the lives of students by exposing them to something typically out of their reach or consciousness. Some positives: new passions discovered, unexpected enjoyment, broadening the echo chamber, redefining a teenager’s concept of what music is. Especially the Sun Ra, but that’s just a bit of my own bias creeping in! Speaking of which, it’s also rather healthy to be passionate about what you are teaching, whatever that may be.


    1. I totally agree – there are so many teachers who are passionate about their craft and that is a great thing. My disdain for Nicola Benedetti’s point of view comes from that idea of forcing students to like classical music before they can appreciate other styles of music. If anyone can explain that to me, I’m all ears (and eyes).
      Thanks for your comment!


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