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Why Should Billy Play or Lisa Sing?

Jonas Gustafsson
Dept of Teacher Education
Uppsala University, Sweden
August 2001

So many parents want their children to play an instrument. And so many teachers want them to practice every day in a certain way. But what do we think young persons benefit from practicing an instrument? And why should they practice several times every week? Through my project, I hope to uncover the process by which many of the habits whithin music education in Sweden have become traditions. Further, I want to understand what contributions some important persons have made to the Swedish field of music education, and what has made these persons important.

I want to understand how music education in Sweden has become an area where some traditions and behaviors have been regarded as necessary or tasteful by influential educators, while others are considered strange, or as challenging to good manners. For many years, all Swedish children who wanted to play an instrument – may it be piano or trombone – first had to spend one or two semesters learning how to play the recorder. Or, to put my research question another way, why were jazz and rock music disliked by so many music teachers?

The main aim for the project is to better understand the evolution of the music education field. Studying how the field has developed requires studying those who have made important contributions to the field; however, these individuals are not necessarily the most important themselves. Even though the field is shaped by the actions and strategies of individuals, for my research, the constitution of the field as a whole is the most significant.

By studying various media such as journals and letters, and by interviewing people, I have mananged to get a picture of the important questions discussed by music educators during the period 1900-1965. I have also seen who were the most influential persons and institutions when it comes to music education. By analyzing which were most important questions and who were the dominating individuals and institutions, I can show how the field of music education have developed during this period.

My study shows that we can understand the music education field in the beginning of the 20th century as an area between musical institutions and the schools. Many music teachers had a double identity. At school they was expected to be a teacher among other teachers. Inspired by other musicians and music institutions, they however looked upon themselves as musicians and artists, trying to lead the children to the Great Classical Music, performed by the Great Masters.

This tension between schools and music institutions remained in the 1930s, but then another polarity appeared between forward- and backward-looking educators. For some teachers, tradition and the appreciation of classical music was the most important, while others emphasised the children’s own interest and activity. Sometimes, these two groups did not at all understand each other.

After the second world war, a new musical avant garde was formed. Many of the young composers and performers also were engaged in matters of music education. To them, music education was not only about learning about music from earlier centuries, but also about experiencing today’s culture and life. Therefore, a challenge to the Royal Conservatory of Music, from which music teachers were graduated, was formed. The young radical groups also wanted to introduce new teaching methods, emphasising creativity and participation of all children. They saw music more as a group activity than as a ”one man show”. They meant that music education should not primarily be about developing technical skills, but also about communication and sharing experiences.

This evolution of the Swedish music education field can be illustrated by analyzing distinguished music educators who came to the forefront during these periods. By identifying valuable assets and characteristics, I have developed different ideal types, who together illustrate how the field has changed. The first of these is the servant of the church, preparing children for Sunday’s sermon. The second is the apostle of tradition, not defending the church, but the Great Music and the Great Masters. This person is a teacher, musician and composer, often seen and respected as a local celebrity. The third type is the inventor of art, a person in the fifties who challenges the borders between school and art by claiming that school music should take more notice of the radical changes in music at that time. To them, music education should be about inventing, creating and participating, rather than learning and reproducing. A similar type is the liberator of the child, who also takes the musical stage, but with the students, rather than in front of the students, as had the local celebrities. The last type is a micro politician, who understands the rapid change of the educational system after World War II and successfully developes a contemporary system for music education. It is obvoius that many of the most successfull persons in the sixties skillfully co-operated with the bureaucratic and educational-political system in order to achieve what they wanted.

This project can help us to better understand why music education is carried out in a certain way. It will become more clear that in most day to day practice, traditions from long ago still have a great impact. In order to become a respected educator, you cannot do whatever you like. Certain habits, expectations and traditions together create a “room of possibilities”, in which you can do certain things but not anything. Secondly, this study can contribute to the understanding of how the interest for culture and education has developed among different groups during the 20th century. Togehter with other studies, focusing on other fields such as litterature, art, and teacher education, we can better understand how culture and education have played an important role in the modernisation of Scandinavia.