Music Education in the 21st Century – book review


Music Education in the 21st century in the United Kingdom: Achievements, analysis and aspirations edited by Susan Hallam and Andrea Creech, London, Institute of Education, 2010, xviii+354pp pp., £23.99 (paperback)

ISBN 978-0-85473-899-1

After reading this book, I sat for a moment and contemplated the viability of gift wrapping a copy for every single student on our Creativity and Learning module, not to mention sending a copy to Michael Gove. It offers an extremely comprehensive overview of the state of music education in the UK, giving a full account of the drivers, levers and barriers facing music educators in the early 21st century as they seek to impart knowledge and share their gifts throughout society. Based on a number of empirical studies, and referring to key literature from the past forty years (and occasionally beyond), the book paints a clear picture of the genesis and implementation of current music education practice.

Throughout each chapter a clear quest becomes evident: namely, to support and enrich the nation’s musical heritage at all costs. As Hallam and Creech argue in the final chapter,

The UK has a plethora of opportunities in place for individuals and communities to access the deeply enriching and rewarding experience of participation in music. The music education opportunities that now exist across the UK represent a most valuable resource that must be preserved and developed as part of any long term strategy relating to quality of life for all. (pp 345-346)

This is a timely message from authors who are clearly musicians at heart and educators by vocation, at a time when music education is apparently under threat. This state of affairs has come about as a result of extensive funding cutbacks for instrumental tuition, as well as more recently (since the publication of the book) through the perceived devaluation of the subject as a consequence of its omission from the proposed English Baccalaureate, amongst other factors.

In terms of presentation, it is typical of Institute of Education Bedford Way volumes, with a broad spread of chapters written by current leaders in the fields. The layout is clear and easily navigable. There are case studies and examples in boxes throughout each chapter, which makes it ideal for undergraduate, PGCE and postgraduate use. The chapter structure is carefully considered, with a complete microcosm of British musical education contained within, ranging from Early Years education through to special needs education, music technology, private music lessons, elite conservatoire training and community music. I could probably pick fault if I cared to, as there are some areas of overlap which could have been more usefully cross-referenced by the editors. For example there is some repetition of material relating to primary music education in Part II (Current Issues in Music Education) which was very similar to the contents of the discrete chapter on the topic that appears in Part III (Contexts of Learning). However it feels petty to make these criticisms in light of the considerable achievements of this book.

In summary, this ambitious and extensive overview of the UK’s music education scene gives us a tantalising glimpse of what might be possible, if we commit to inclusion; what might be achievable, if funding were to be more forthcoming; and what what good might be done, if we reach beyond the troubled and erroneous notions of musical ability and success being pre-ordained as a form of biological natural selection. My question to readers of this blog is how far this book might inspire them to implement in their own fields some of the creative inclusion practices and philosophies outlined in this book, as they have contemporary relevance well beyond music education. More than that, if as a society we could be brave enough to grasp and implement particular concepts more boldly, such as the desire for excellence for all, the world might be a richer, more equitable and fulfilling place to inhabit. This is best summed up using the words of Welch and Ockelford in their chapter “Music for All”:

To be human is to be musical, and to be offered the opportunities for musical engagement is every child’s right. (p.50)

By restricting and rationing music engagement, we suppress the education and cognitive development of our children and young people. Let us hope for more books like this, to encourage educators and policy makers to reconsider the vital role of music education within contemporary society.

Image: nuttakit /


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