Thursday, 17 January 2008

Music and Steiner Education

Today we had a talk from musicologist Brien Masters. It was amazing. In himself he was a really interesting man, but his ideas about music and how it is applied in Steiner schools was fascinating and inspiring. What was relevant to Class One was the evolution of music and how it applied to the child as s/he grew. He began talking about the pentatonic scale - specifically the five notes which make up 'Speed Bonnie Boat'. This, he said, had been defined as the notes which denoted the link between the ego/will and the community.

In the past, he said, many thousands of years ago, human beings were more cogniscent of the existence of 'spirit beings'. The modern names of these beings were angels, seraphims, archangels, and so on. In Scotland, he said, they spoke of the 'sight' in being able to see these beings. Now he said, we are less aware of them, however these notes were the notes which almost 'connected' (not his words) to his awareness or consciousness. They also had the added quality of 'educating' the child into being aware of a communal consciousness and therefore prevented the child from becoming overly selfish. I am paraphrasing this quite a lot, but this is what i received from him.

The diatonic scale - the usual seven note scale which Western music was composed of was thought to be very much along the lines of will and ego. He said, if you looked at this, it was better that this was introduced around the second phase - from ages 9 - 12.

He also spoke about the importance of the orchestra and the way in which children were introduced to music. From ages seven to nine, it was the pentatonic scale and simple instruments - like the recorder or flute. It was about playing in unison. In the second phase, it was about discovering what instrument was suitable to the child, but beware he said, not the overly taxing instruments to the lungs - like the bassoon, or oboe, or brass instruments. Their lungs were still underdeveloped and it could impede their development. Instruments that would lead to playing in an orchestra and which encouraged mental dexterity, like the violin, were ideal at this stage. About the piano, he said that there was too much of similarity between what the hands did, and additionally, if you saw where the pianoforte came into popularity, it was when the ego was propelled into the spotlight.

'Music making', he said was far more important that learning how to play music. And interestingly he also said that anyone was inherently musical. It was a question of finding the right teacher to bring it out. For music teachers, he said it was vital to find one who wasn't only good at their instrument but who was also able to teach at different ages - because different ages required different forms of nurturing and motivation.

It was really fascinating. Oisin is now learning to play the recorder - and he's learning to sing Speed Bonnie Boat. I never knew the story behind his doing this. I thought it was a whim of Tracey's, but as it turns out, i'm discovering that nothing which the children do in school is done on a whim of Tracey's. It is a journey of discovery for not only Oisin, but myself as well.

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