A greater emphasis on music in our schools could have enormous benefits
Stabroek News
April 14, 2002

Related Links: Letters on education
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Dear Editor,

It is strange that in a country so fond of music as Guyana, this art has been denied the right of intellectual citizenship in the realm of Primary Education. It is held aloof as a remote stranger whose purpose we do not know, whose claim to equality we would not admit, and whose language we could not hope to understand.

To learn "music" in our Primary Schools is to learn to sing a few songs if and when the "more important" subjects of the time table allow it, and this usually on a Friday afternoon when teachers and pupils are worn out with the week's work and anxiously await the ringing of the bell which dismisses them for the weekend.

The emphasis in most subjects taught in the Primary School is upon training the intellect to think logically, and to acquire a large amount of factual knowledge for the futherance of material welfare. And so the children grow up into men and women in whom has been inculcated a mercenary attitude even to sentiments which should have no cash value. "It has been all too usual", writes J E Barton, "for parents, teachers, inspectors, school administrators, and university professors, to regard aesthetics as a laudable amenity of school life, adding a little charm to the more solid achievements of mind-training and character building". But what better exercise in character building could there be than the cooperation of all under the leadership of one that is necessary for the success of choral singing! The implicit obedience to the slightest motion of the conductor's baton, the alertness of the mind, ear and eye needed for concerted "attack"?

"Only a few seem to be aware", continues Mr Barton, "that it is by an imaginative act that all history and all kinds of distinctive human knowledge are held together, unified and vitalized in the mind". What is needed is a greatly increased consciousness that the education of feeling and desire is as necessary as the education of the power to think and analyze.

"The psychologial application should underlie all aspects of the work" writes Ann Driver in "Music and Movement". "Only the sensitive teacher, aware that his power to relate school to life, and life to school, is of more value than his ability to teach subjects, will be alive to all the opportunities this work offers in helping children with mal-adjusted or difficult characteristics". And again" "It may be useful, in conclusion, to sum up what a child may gain from a considered school course in "Music and Movement" if skillfully presented.

1. he learns rightly to use and control his own body, and gains skill in the use of space.

2. He learns to adapt his own movement, rhythm and ideas to those or the group or community.

3. He acquires a love of order and a real appreciation of music and the arts.

4. He learns to listen well and to understand music as a language Sometimes he is given an impetus towards the study of an instrument.

5. He is directed to right creative and emotional release.

6. He learns to take responsibility and to lead in matters he is equipped to deal with, and, equally, to lend his loyal cooperation when necessary, as a member of a group under the leadership of another.

Education is a social business. Home and school are only two of many educational media, and from adolescence onwards others will become predominant. One of these may very well be the Music Club, which should develop a firmness of expressive activity because it is good in itself, not in any sense because of what may be achieved through it... this will in no small measure help to counteract the emotional hot bath of some of the films seen on television, the idle loafing at street corners, the resort to the formation of groups, on mischief bent, which very often is just another means of expressing the gregarious instinct natural to all human beings.

Having left the community of the school where the effort of everyone was called to support a common cause through group singing and team games, etc., the adolescent very often suffers from frustration at the lack of a suitable organization where he could meet others like himself to share common joys. At school perhaps he was not taught how to enjoy his leisure. Out of school, out of a job perhaps, time hangs even more heavily on his hands.

There is need for a channel through which the spiritual energy of these frustrated youth could pour itself forth, and this could be effected through music.

Apart from the obvious social advantage of singing and musical appreciation both in school years and later life, it has one special advantage over most school activities - that many pupils of limited intelligence or scholastic attainment have natural talent for singing. Excellence in singing may therefore be a means of creating self-respect, and become a source of pride for an individual, or a class, or even a school unable to achieve distinction of a more academic kind.

I have so far proven this to be true in my experiences among 12-year olds in our church's "Junior Choir', in voluntary work among the youth of one of our villages which I have visited periodically during my studentship days at the Teachers' Training College, in the Lads and Lassies Club in New Amsterdam, of which I was co-founder and director. In the last named club the porter, the garbage collector, the civil servant, the teacher, the saw mill hand, and the cane cutter all stood together as equals to lift their voices in a concord of sweet sound.

And unobtrusively they learnt that among individuals, as among nations, a singleness of purpose can make us one.

That is the true discipline, involving not subordination, but integration, an integration of the elements of human life in the joy of rhythmical activity. There is a craving for it in all human life.

Give this instinctive craving a chance and human nature, especially when it is fresh and unspoilt, will respond to the call of discipline with a rush of spontaneous happiness.

Yours faithfully,
Edith Pieters, AA, BA, LTCL, LRSM
Music Education Programme
Ministry of Education