International Journal of Education & the Arts

Volume 4 Review 3

September 1, 2003

Cox, Gordon. (2002). Living music in schools 1923-1999: Studies in the history of music education in England. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

170 pages
ISBN 0 7546 0631 7

Reviewed by Pamela Burnard
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK

What makes this book distinctive from existing research into our professional history is that we are invited to explore aspects of our collective past with a compelling story told that maps discourse on reform and experiences of change in the school music scene in England. Covering a period from 1923 through to the end of the twentieth century, Cox gives us a well-crafted book, based upon seven previously published articles on selected topics from the history of English music education. These essays have been revised and expanded to reconstruct not only the process of reform but also the reception of change by those “living” the subject of music in schools.

The style and content of this history of music education is refreshing in that it examines the shifting place and perception of music in the school curriculum and the relationship of all this to the history of education. In so doing, readers from other parts of the globe can develop a deeper understanding of the principles, policy and practice that characterise English music education and, hopefully, learn some “lessons for the future.” At its various points, Cox offers a combination of connectedness and openness to the history of music education with valuable ways to “liberate us from our institutionalised view” (p. 4).

This is among the most interesting and useful books not just because it explores the potential of music in education but also for the comprehensive and compelling search to situate the study of historical understanding within social, cultural and institutional contexts, rather than solely within the minds of autonomous individuals. In this way, it offers a unique repository of an under-valued kind of knowledge where recollections of a historical past are treated as a resource and source of “usable history” for the revitalisation of music teachers and teaching.

There are four main reasons why the book is useful, in particular for the story of music education’s “usable past,” but also for broadening the vision of teachers and researchers in this field:

  • Firstly, it draws upon seven case studies from which to illuminate historical perspectives illustrating innovatively the applicability of this research to education historians and music educators alike.
  • Secondly, it shows how combinations of data types (documents, artefacts and interviews) can be combined to examine and articulate the variety of stakeholders’ angles. We get to hear many different voices to illuminate the rich diversity of meanings that constitute the discourse which frames the lived out and lived through reception of educational reform.
  • Thirdly, it demonstrates the great variety of diverse relationships between music education and governments, institutions, organisations, individuals; all players in educational contexts that aid, constrain, call for and respond to change. By giving voice to the various stakeholders, it also illustrates how different roles—such as that of mediator and supporter—are played out in the educational arena.
  • Fourthly, and this is the real strength of the book, it locates historical research in music education in a broader context and attempts to implement a set of coherent, well thought out principles and ideas about how we can learn from the past and what we can take as “usable” lessons for the future. One of these lessons is the need to shift from a focus on control (by which institutions dominate individuals) to facilitation and innovation (in which individuals plan the form, pacing and detail of their practice, can teach for and develop their own creativity, aided rather than constrained by institutions).

The central (and overlapping) themes in this book include: (i) the nature and significance of discourse in the making, mapping and meaning of history; (ii) curriculum reform and development and teachers’ experience of change; and (iii) the place and perception of school music curriculum. One of the most vitalising and persuasive themes of “usable past” is demonstrated innovatively when Cox introduces teachers’ talk about teaching music and in doing so, invites us to think historically and construct historical analogies not as an end unto itself but as a means to compare and connect past and present.

The seven chapters are arranged into different voices that make history, as in the collectively lived out experience of people and events during particular time periods, with the later sections providing both the lived through experiences (of those making history), of change by individual music teachers and the arguments concerning the “relationship of all this to the history of education” (p. 5).

In the first chapter we are introduced to Music in Schools 1923-1999 in which Cox lucidly outlines the main educational debate played out in “snapshots” of the music education press taken at 25-year intervals in selected decades. This sets the stage for the chapter on Changing the Face of School Music, which exemplifies the role of the BBC’s music broadcasts for schools (1924-1947) by highlighting the contribution of specific UK personalities who were not confined to formal institutional settings.

Then Cox charts the progress of Musical Education of the Under-Twelve’s 1949-1983 before we are introduced to A House Divided, a chapter that tells the fascinating story of two conflicting views on musical literacy and musical creativity. The chapter explores how the conflict was played out between the two nationally significant projects, “Music Education of Young Children” led by Arnold Bentley and “Music in the Secondary School Curriculum” led by John Paynter.

Realities are lived through in the chapter Talking about Music Teacher: Recollections and Realities in which empirical studies explore teachers’ stories of career paths and experiences of change as told by 20 student music teachers and secondary school music teachers. Here, Cox reminds us that the de-professionalizing of teachers, the “crisis of confidence in secondary school music teaching” (p. 129) and the erosion of subject status within schools, persists at our peril. What Cox also achieves here is explaining why so many teachers feel so powerless. He emphasises the need for music teachers to remain resilient, adaptable and “to think radically about the future” and “to re-define roles in order to generate fresh ways of working” (p. 4).

In the final chapters, the story draws smoothly to a close with a good case for the greater awareness of past and present and the offer of “a usable past” as “one set of weapons in the music teacher’s armoury” (p. 131) for coping with curriculum reform. Cox invites music education historians to broaden the horizons of historical research in music education and rethink the way in which they approach their research. All of this is a most useful addition to music education, educational thought and research. It also provides a springboard for further enquiry and a vision for “living” through and reflecting upon the competing forces that act upon and drives within each of us.

This finely crafted book will be of particular interest to those interested in educational policy and practice, curriculum reform, teacher thinking, teachers’ experiences of change and development and new approaches to teaching and learning. Of course, all of these issues are not limited to the United Kingdom. Profound changes are occurring in music education across the globe. What Cox offers, is what we need, more than ever, which is “to locate our radical thinking” and embrace “a historical perspective to help make sense of it all” (p. 13).

This book is a stimulating addition to the literature on the history of music education. It is a “must-read” for all who are interested in understanding and learning from educational change. Its wide-ranging scope will enable the differing audiences to pick and choose as they wish. It operates at several levels. It will contribute to improving teaching and “living” music in schools, as a resource for teacher education, music historians, students in music education, and for researchers in the emerging field of history education, making the best of times for history education even better. I recommend it highly.

About the Reviewer

Pamela Burnard, PhD, lectures in Music and Arts Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, England, where she teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses and supervises higher degree research students. She is co-editor of Music Education International (ISME), on the editorial board of Music Education Research, Treasurer of the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research (SEMPRE) and committee member of The Orff Society (UK). Her research interests include musical creativity, pupil voice, teacher education, and teacher thinking.

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