This week all the music lessons are based on the ‘Philosophy for Children’ model (P4C). On the website www.philosophy4children.co.uk it is stated that “Philosophy for Children (enquiry based learning) offers a way to open up children’s learning through enquiry and the exploration of ideas. Children learn that their ideas have value, and that the ideas of other children have value too. Through Philosophy for Children they realise that they don’t always have to be right, but they gain the confidence to ask questions and learn through discussion.”
At first today’s Year 6 class are in no mood to settle down. About a third of the class are absent, as ever at this time of year, attending small-group tutorials; these extra sessions are designed to give certain pupils additional support in tackling the SATs exams that are fast approaching (three months until May). The twenty one children left help set the chairs out in a circle and we all sit down.
I ask “What do I mean by heavy metal?” Answers include: rock stars, loud music, shouting not singing, drums. I explain that we are going to watch some live footage of a heavy metal band playing a song: Metallica, formed in 1981 and one of the world’s most successful heavy metal bands, playing ‘Master of Puppets’, the title track from their six-times platinum-selling 1986 album of the same name.
I am not a serious fan of heavy metal although my musical tastes are varied and I have seen Iron Maiden, Slayer and Motorhead in concert. Of these I liked Slayer the most. It is a principle of Kodaly music educators that only music of the highest quality should be presented to children. It’s a principle that raises a lot of interesting questions. This particular lesson is presenting Metallica and their music as something to be considered in a thoughtful way. I am expecting responses to be varied and for this to generate some conversation and insights.
After we’ve watched the video I ask the class to share any questions they have about what we’ve just seen and heard. The following questions emerge:
- Why do they like playing that kind of music?
- Is music the same as art?
- Why were they repeating the same words?
- If we removed an instrument would it still be the same song?
- Is music the key to your problems?
- Why does music sometimes make you sad?
As is normal for a P4C session the class then vote for a question to discuss. ‘Is music the same as art?’ wins more than half the votes. To begin with one pupil suggests that both music and art require skill, precision and patience. I ask him if he recognises these qualities in the performance we’ve just watched. He says he does. The room is silent. I propose to the class that we look at art and we listen to music so they are different. Some take issue with this and claim that we can look at music (e.g. written music or an image of an album or musician that pops up when a recorded piece of music is selected on a digital player; this latter is how these children are accessing and selecting music to listen to). I ask if this ‘looking at music’ is enjoyable.
Someone makes the point that a picture and a piece of music could both be calm. This is followed by someone else stating that art and music are both ‘creative’. This is considered by several people and then another member of the groups says that art and music “most of the time tells a story”. He gives the examples of Eminem and Ed Sheeran.
I ask “What are the arts?” There is some talk of martial arts. It’s clear that the majority do not understand what is meant by ‘the arts’. When I present ‘the arts’ as something that might be a specialism of a college one pupil says that it is art, dance and music. At this point we don’t mention drama and I ask ‘What do they have in common?’ The same child who had initially made the point about skill and patience answers immediately “You can express yourself!” The class is split roughly into thirds: very actively engaged, quite engaged and silent.
“Does beauty come into this?” I ask. “No, some people might think trash is art!” is an immediate reply from someone else. I ask another question: “Would you describe the Metallica song as beautiful?” Someone responds “My Nan would say: what is this?” I ask if she would recognise it as music. The answer is “No!” Another pupil talks about his grandad not accepting his older brother’s favourite music as music.
I organise a quick hands-up vote: Is the Metallica song beautiful or trash? It’s a blunt choice. The class is pretty evenly split. I ask one boy, who has voted that it is trash, to explain his point of view. He says it’s not beautiful because it’s “hyper”. Another boy protests that this point of view is influenced by the first boy’s calm home background and so it’s not a fair assessment. I was fascinated by this rebuttal but by this point we’ve been discussing for over half an hour. There is just enough time to watch Metallica again, something everyone wants to do, especially one boy who missed most of the lesson and says he loves drumming.