Philosophy for Children & Music

Year 1
Stimulus: ‘Que Viene al Coco’ for two guitars (Paco de Lucia and Raman de Algeciras).

This is a lively Flamenco piece with the added excitement of castanets towards the end.
Talk about different feelings; make a list of ‘feelings’ words (e.g. happy, angry, calm etc); listen to the music; discuss how we felt while listening
Class 1
“I liked it because it was fun! It was real music”…

“It made me feel like I was making a mixture to make cakes”, “The music made me feel happy because it went click-clock, click-clock” (the castanets)…”It reminded me of an advert with a piggy dancing in a shopping centre”…”I didn’t like it because I don’t like songs.”
I asked why people dance. The answers were straightforward: for fun, because they like the music, because the music makes me dance. We ended by dancing to the music!
Reflections on the sessions:
Classes 2 & 3 both enjoyed the Flamenco music as well. I ended both these sessions with a freestyle dance session as well; the sessions were on a very simple level (5 minutes musical warm-up; 5 minutes generating and talking about ‘feeling’ words; 5 minutes listening to music; 5 minutes talking about how the music made us feel; 5 minutes listening to the music again); the Washington session briefly opened out into a discussion because someone said there could not be sad music
Feelings words that were thought of by this year group: happy, excited, sad, nervous, frustrated, disappointed, angry, worried, frightened, scared, proud, relaxed and terrified

Year 2
Stimulus: Ravel’s Bolero (performed as a ‘Flashmob’ in a market square in Spain)
Begin the session by watching the film and then encourage all to generate questions. Possible concepts are: private and public space; the purpose of music; sharing; cooperating; surprises; beauty; joy
Class 1
Questions included: “Why did the musicians do it?” “What is music for?” “Why were people watching?” “Is their music important?” and “Who invented music?”
I should have eliminated this last question, unfortunately it was chosen! It was hard to open up this conversation. There was some talk around how music is usually made by groups and not individuals and so it was unlikely that one person had invented music.
Class 2
Questions included: “Why were there so many musicians?” “Why did lot of people join in?” “Why did it happen?” “Why were there lots of children?”
The question “How did they learn to be musicians?” was chosen. The concept here was ‘learning’ and it led to a number of interesting questions: Can you learn on your own? What is the best way to learn: book, teacher or Youtube? What happens if you’re learning from a book and you don’t understand something? Could we replace Mr Green with an online course for music lessons? Do we only learn things at school?
Class 3
Questions included “Did they do it for fun?” and “Why was it loud?” Eventually another question was chosen: “Why did lots of people watch?” Answers included “They liked it/it was interesting” Several answers were on a theme: They could buy the instruments and be like them/they want to be famous. This failed to spark a discussion around fame and music-making; I asked some other questions: “Would you stop and listen to a musician in the street?” & “Did you like it?”

Year 3
Stimulus: ‘Nocturne en si majeur; Op.62 No.1 – Adante’ by Chopin
Begin by trying to guess how long a minute is; discuss the length of different experiences (playtime, lunchbreak, taking the register, walking to school etc); how long can we concentrate? Sit in silence for another minute and, afterwards, talk about what we thought about; listen to the whole of this piece (8 minutes – this is longer than I would normally choose with this age-group); again discuss what we thought about during this time
Class 1
During the second minute of silence children said that they had thought about: flying; being in a movie; helping my mum; being in a hot tub and drinking hot chocolate.
After the 8 minute listening session answers to the question “What were you thinking about?” included: a haunted house; shooting stars; everything was falling; it made me feel sad like somebody’s died; I felt like I was in Flanders field; I had a dream
Class 2
The class enjoyed guessing the length of a minute; most were baffled by the question ‘what were you thinking about?’ during the second minute; however the 8 minute listening experience elicited some interesting responses to the same question including a whole ‘fairy tale style’ adventure, “it felt like I was playing the piano”, “ I felt like I was doing the music”, “I was in a candy world” and “I went to another country where my cousins are (Albania/Kosovo) in an underground train.” Others had drawn on their knowledge of Pompeii and Mozart to colour their thinking during this listening time
Class 3
Two children said they had imagined a stage with a piano player on; one girl thought about the people who had died in war (it was Armistice Day today); quite a few children thought about family members including “my mum’s birthday in my mum’s country”, “My gran and grandpa in Bangladesh”, “My sister’s baby” and “I thought about my dad, he is very ill, he’s nearly dead.”
Reflections on the sessions:
I was unsure about the wisdom of basing a session around sitting still and thinking/reflecting. After these sessions I am glad that I did this. It’s true that there were individuals in each class who were unable to detach themselves from their immediate surroundings but many of the children could and they did.

Year 5
Stimulus: ‘All Was Well’ by Wintergatan (played by a Music Box with solos on a ‘Modulin’, a home-made modular synth instrument)
Begin with egg-passing ‘keeping-the-beat’ exercise; this can be accompanied by piano music too; ask if music can be made by machines, ask for examples; watch the Youtube video and then continue the discussion with reference to the film and music.
Class 1
I asked the class if the piano is a machine; the conversation throughout was really only amongst ten children; the distinction between instrument, machine and ‘tool’ was explored; many children liked the music although one girl found it slow and boring and said it wasn’t the right time of day to be listening to it; the conversation revolved around whether anything can be said to be ‘made by machines’ since all machines are ultimately made by human beings
Class 2
This was a very stimulating conversation. The piano and the human body were compared as machines; one comment “Everything is a machine, technically” was countered with ‘How can paper be a machine?” and “How can a bench be a machine?” There was talk around whether you had to have electricity to be a real machine and this led to discussion of looms (something this class made a real working version of with their teacher in Year 3; he would be glad they remembered this, notice how they recall this experiential learning). We talked about whether a roll-piano is music made by a human or by a machine. After watching the video there was a lot of fruitful discussion: the man (Wintergatan) didn’t touch the machine but he was responsible for the music; this led to comparing his role with that of a computer programmer “It’s like giving instructions, like when we use the Scratch program.”
This discussion was one of the best P4C sessions I’ve known; in particular seeing the children drawing on their own prior learning was inspiring.

Year 6
Stimulus: ‘Julud’ by Aziza Brahim
Begin with egg-passing ‘keeping-the-beat’ exercise; this can be accompanied by piano music too; ask if anyone listens to grime? Ask if everyone always understands all the lyrics? Ask if it matters if you understand all the lyrics? Can you listen to a song in another language and enjoy it? Give some background to Aziza Brahim and watch the Youtube film of Aziza Brahim singing ‘Julud’ accompanied by electric bass, acoustic guitar and electric guitar (this song is about her mother).
Summary: All three classes enjoyed having the chance to talk about ‘grime’ (a type of urban rap music that has its origins in this part of East London) especially some of the boys. Reasons for not understanding lyrics included: the rapping is too fast, the words are slang that is not understood and that garbled written lyrics are sometimes added to the videos and this can be confusing. There were pupils in all three classes that have enjoyed songs in other languages (French, Italian, Indian and some African languages). There was also some talk about the national backgrounds of some of the big grime stars (e.g. Stormzy’s family come from Ghana). In all classes the point was made that the rhythm and melody of a song can make up for not knowing what the words mean. On watching the video there was a mixed reaction: many found it hard to repress giggles while others just enjoyed it. Most agreed that it was a good song and all three classes wanted to watch it again at the end of the session. I read out the translation and we thought of other songs that are about a special person (e.g. ‘Mama’ by The Spice Girls and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ by The Special AKA)