This quotation from an interview with Anne Fine set me to thinking. (H/T Stephan)
[I] hate the way that we have weeded out the things that I remember made my heart lift in primary school, and were transforming in my secondary education. I mean, we did so much singing when I was at school – folk songs, hymns, we sang everything. But now that seems to have gone, along with the language of the Book of Common Prayer and so much classic poetry. And school days are horrifically long if pretty well everything you are doing lacks colour and style, just for the sake of 'relevance' and 'accessibility'".
Music was a big part of my own elementary school, though not being British we missed out on the BCP. Music lessons started in grade four (of six) for strings and in fifth for band instruments. Chorus started at about the same time, and in two of the three schools I experienced, we were singing three-part harmony. (Occasionally four, as in one school we had a set of older boy twins whose voices had mostly changed.) These musical activities were optional, but what stands out most in my mind in contrast to today is that nearly every classroom had a piano, and many of the teachers could play it. (So could some of the students, and we were allowed to use it some ourselves outside of class.) We sang patriotic songs, folk songs, hymns, Negro spirituals, and children's songs. And most of these we read out of music books. Not that we were specifically taught much in the way of reading music, but we were expected to absorb basic skills simply by observing the relationship between the printed notes and what we sang.
I should note that these were not "music magnet schools" but ordinary public elementary schools in a small village/rural school district in the late 1950's and early 60's.
Our own children had a fantastic music teacher in elementary school, there's no doubt about that, and their musical education outside of school was far greater than mine, with the availability of private music lessons, youth orchestras, and excellent church choirs. And being in the South, their high school chorus still sang the great Western choral music, which had already been all but banned in the schools we'd left behind in the North because it is largely church music. So I'm not complaining about that.
But something great has been lost in general education if there's no longer daily singing in the classroom, children graduate knowing nothing of the music of the past and without the most basic music-reading skills, and adults would rather attend a concert or plug into an iPod than raise their own voices in song.
I don't think, based on the interview, that I would like Anne Fine's books. But she's spot on in the quote. "Relevance" and "accessibility" are two of the dirtiest words in the educationist's vocabulary.
What were your musical experiences in the early school years? How have they affected your adult life?
I lived in Iowa in the thirties, and was in the lower grades where music was a regular subject and included singing using syllables(fa,sol,la)BY SIGHT. It wasn't easy but you learned a lot. (Depression days, no music lessons.)Even in early 50s most classrooms had a piano that was used regularly. We seemed to use a "Golden Books of Songs" everywhere I lived, old Stephen Foster songs and other classics. We sang many verses, not just the first. We even had to learn several verses of Christmas carols in 7th grade. I'm glad I lived in that era.
And I'm glad you confirmed my memory of a piano in nearly every room. With at least two readers who remember my elementary school days, writing about those times is a bit risky. :)
My school didn't have pianos in the classrooms. I don't know if we sang in class, but there were optional choral groups, starting in grade 4, I think.