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Our spotlight series explores the musical stories and experiences that first bring people to music and what it is that inspires a lifelong love of music and the drive to share that through teaching music to others.
It’s the end of May, and I’m not sure whether to regard this time period as the beginning, end or continuation of a journey. I’m planning to submit my PhD thesis next week – which sought to explore perceptions of the informal learning branch of Musical Futures (ILMF) in the UK.
I feel that the end is in sight, as this printed, bounded mountain of paper reflects three years’ worth of enjoyment and hard work which has absolutely tested my resilience on many occasions – it has also facilitated the opportunity to meet many inspiring music education professionals and students along the way.
On the other hand, I feel that I’m about to begin a new journey in music education in attempt to fulfil my increased appetite for knowledge beyond my PhD thesis (I’ve gradually realised that the more you learn, the more you realise that there is so much more to learn. This is not my proposed original contribution to knowledge!).
My PhD journey has been a powerful one. It has prompted deep reflection of my own school music experiences – as a student myself, key memories include learning to play ‘jingle bells’ on the keyboard (in the summer) and learning by rote an analysis of a Mozart concerto. On top of this, my parents had paid for me to have private flute lessons (which I will always be grateful for) and I had worked my way through traditional instrumental examinations. I had not noticed the obvious divide between in- and out-of-school music at the time, and the possible alienation of many of my peers for a variety of reasons.
After studying music at University and completing a PGCE course, I began to teach music in a ‘challenging’ secondary school. This was a challenge indeed for the traditional, classical musician I had been trained to be. I was torn between my own values as a musician at the time – of being able to read traditional notation and having a strong grounding in music theory – and the interests and expertise of my students which were different to my own – and ones I lacked confidence in as a Newly Qualified Teacher.
At first, I panicked and went down the ‘behaviour management route’. Then I had a lightbulb moment – if the students were motivated, perhaps I wouldn’t need to focus so much on ‘managing behaviour’. Herein lay my MA research – coming to the realisation that a better way to start improving the music education within my own classroom would be to motivate students by drawing upon and valuing their own areas of interest and expertise.
This realisation I had experienced led me to the work of Professor Lucy Green and Musical Futures on informal learning – an approach which had the potential to increase the motivational levels of students experiencing it. Yet the existing literature had raised some tensions and issues relating to the approach, and I felt that there were still many unanswered questions and in-depth knowledge lacking about ILMF.
To contribute towards filling this gap in knowledge, I sought to explore how ILMF was understood by key figures associated with Musical Futures UK, and understood, implemented and experienced by secondary school music teachers and their students in England. I also wanted to explore whether the understanding, implementation and experience of the phenomenon had evolved since Green’s initial research and the implementation of the Musical Futures pilot studies – fifteen years ago.
I therefore conducted my PhD study to see if I could obtain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. Methods included semi-structured interviews with key figures, and the conduction of case studies in four secondary schools. Four key themes were identified as an outcome of the study:
Within my thesis, I have divided the implications of these findings into possible aspects for sustainability, and aspects which could lead to the potential demise of the approach (for those interested, I’m hoping that my thesis will be available on the Edge Hill University repository very soon!).
I believe that the positive aspects for sustainability can be built upon, and the potential issues for demise should be considered and addressed. I also hope that my findings can further highlight the strengths of ILMF, which might contribute towards a more balanced advocation of both informal and formal pedagogies and approaches to teaching and learning within the UK and beyond.
Although my findings might mark the (near) end of my PhD journey, my curiosity about the complex nature of music education continues and I now have many more unanswered questions than those I had started with. However, I feel that the completion of my thesis does signify one more step along my journey to becoming a more reflective, thoughtful and inquisitive music education researcher, practitioner and musician.
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