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Education

School Sounds

Teaching music becomes compulsory again

LUANA GEIGERIn the 1930’s, choir practice, a habit imported from French schools to the Brazilian ones in the previous century, became a compulsory subject. More informal than classical choir music, it was adapted to the school environment and was thus disseminated by the educational policy of the Getulio Vargas administration (1930-1945),which saw, in these lessons, an opportunity to develop among students not only musical technique per se, but also discipline and civility. At the head of this project was an extremely respected figure: Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), one of the major classical composers in the twentiety century. This segment of the history of music in Brazil is almost always recalled by those who are part of it: even if the intention was different, the singing classes did help to awaken talent. Almost once century later, music is to become, once again, part of the compulsory content of basic education in the country’s private and public schools as of the second half of 2011.

The circumstances are certainly different from those of Villa-Lobos’ time. The inclusion is taking place after a long period of requests on the part of educators and it aims, generally speaking, to help students improve their concentration, coexistence and performance in other disciplines, while being initiated in the language of music. The schools have had three years to adapt to the new law, passed in 2008. On the eve of the start of the school year, however, there are still many questions as to what musical education will consist of. “A new law, per se, does not guarantee everything. The legislation itself says that states and municipalities are to collaborate and that the pedagogical project is up to the schools”, recalls Regina Simão Santos, a professor at the Department of Musical Education at the Villa-Lobos Institute of the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Unirio).

The law that determines that music should return to the schools establishes only that it is compulsory content of the artistic education discipline, and not a specific discipline, highlights Silvia Nassif, a professor at the School of Philosophy, Science and Literature of the University of São Paulo (USP) in Ribeirão Preto. “This isn’t merely a detail and it has gone unnoticed in some discussions of the subject. It will be more difficult to control what is actually to be offered in the classroom and, without wanting to be pessimistic, there is a lot of room to ‘pretend it’s being done'”, stresses Silvia, who is conducting, along with the Musilinc (Music, Language and Culture) research group, from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), a project about the musical education of children. Discussions as to “how” the law is to be complied with in practice, says the researcher, should go hand in hand with other discussion on “why” music should be present in schools. “Without a deep awareness of this value, no law can make music return consistently”, she explains.

Who will be responsible for the lessons? Regina, from Unirio, reminds us that the legislation is clear: teaching school requires a bachelor’s degree in teaching in the particular field taught, obtained  by taking a university course designed to train specialists. To admit that the teaching qualifications can be waived, according to her, is tantamount to admitting that a set of knowledge built on systematic thinking and based on music education at university level is unnecessary.

However, the number of properly qualified music educators is small in relation to demand, so Silvia Nassif argues that limiting the responsibility for the class to trained music educators may make it unfeasible to comply with the law. “The teacher should have sensibility and a deep involvement with music, but might not necessarily have the technical training of a musician. There’s a lot that can be done in terms of active and significant musical experience without going into the technical arena”, she adds. One cannot provide “recipes” for lessons to meet all teaching situations, Silvia reminds us. “Any educational process must take its own context into account. Each different situation calls for different conduct”. She says, however, that there are problems to be avoided, such as using “primers” – already available in the market – proposing “rigid lessons taken from airtight repertoires and de-contextualized musical elements.”

It is more important to know how to teach music than to know music, stresses Iveta Ávila Fernandes, a professor at Unesp’s art institute, whose doctoral thesis was Música na escola: desafios e perspectivas na formação contínua de educadores da rede pública [Music in schools: challenges and perspectives in the ongoing training of educators from the public network]. One of its aims was to reveal how these teachers, even when they lack any musical academic education, can overcome the traditional method for teaching this discipline in schools. If a child can learn to read and write, this child can also learn to compose, she argues. Thus, one should move beyond the traditional method for teaching music by incorporating into it new ways of working, including fun activities such as games and learning activities in groups. “The proposal is to sing, play, improvise, compose, interpret and appreciate”, she explains. It will be useless, according to her, to sing tunes that are were not written by the people singing it without developing the musical language. “The repetitive way in which a lesson is usually taught and the rare use of instruments and the playful aspect make learning less attractive to children”, she states.

Noise
For Jorge Schroeder, who coordinates Unicamp’s Musilinc research group, one must get a broad assessment of the school and its students before determining what music lessons should be like. Some of the factors to be taken into account are whether the school has musical instruments and a suitable place for the lessons; whether “noise” from the lesson will interfere with other activities; whether there is a specialist teacher in the area; what the average musical taste of the students is; and whether there is any strong cultural manifestation that includes music in the region. “This type of evaluation, which generally only occurs in the medium- or long-term if one dives into the school’s daily life, may help one to determine the educational strategies for music, also taking into account the possibility of cooperation with teachers from other areas in joint projects and the limitations and specializations of the actual music teachers”. Schroeder reminds us that it is likely, for instance, that a person with a teaching degree in music who actually plays an instrument will choose a different way and have different objectives from a person with the same university degree if he or she is a singer or composer.

Magali Kleber, a professor of music at the State University of Londrina (UEL), highlights the importance of offering content in the classes that is connected to the social and cultural reality of the students. “One must consider the Brazilian cultural diversity and the social and cultural values of the students’ context, as well as of the school and of the networks that make it up”, explains Magali, who heads a research group on musical education and social movements. The researcher argues that the lessons should give priority to creation, critical listening, musical appreciation of the widest range of styles and musical genres, and cover different periods and peoples. One should avoid any prejudice against genres, according to her, even if a given genre is not to the teacher’s liking. “It is also important to incorporate the schedule of festivities and significant events related to the place, the popular culture and the concert halls; in sum, the areas of the city that might be understood as educational sites, awakening the feeling of belonging and the exercising of citizenship”, she says.

Good musical education experiences, according to the UEL researcher, are those that consider the needs of the community where they occur and seek a dialogue among the social actors, whether they are students, teachers or people from the neighborhood.  Generally, these projects are tied to municipal or state bureaus of Culture. Alternatively, they are run by NGOs that have support from government bodies. Thus, they might cover needs such as transport and infrastructure for lessons and public performances, besides offering students some financial benefit (scholarships). She mentions examples in cities such as Mogi das Cruzes and Franca (inner-state São Paulo), Porto Alegre, Vitória and Goiânia. “These projects have a beginning, a middle and an end, and they are not characterized as State policy. This state of affairs does not ensure permanent offerings and such projects often come to an end because of a lack of funding, frustrating those who had the opportunity to enjoy positive experiences”, states Magali Kleber.

In Rio de Janeiro state, Regina Simão Santos lists various successful examples. In the town of Volta Redonda, in inner-state Rio de Janeiro, Cidade de Música [City of Music] has been active since 1974. This was the brainchild of conductor Nicolau Martins de Oliveira, who then implemented the idea. In the capital city, for instance, there is the Rocinha Music School, a social project that has an educational character and that was set up in 1994 by a German, Hans Ulrich Koch. It is now headed by Gilberto Figueiredo. It has several partners, such as the city administration and Unesco. In the community of Morro Dona Marta, the Villa-Lobinhos project has been under way since 2000, under the guidance of the Spanish guitar player Turíbio Santos. It has obtained support from several sources: the Viva Rio NGOP, the Moreira Salles Institute and the Villa-Lobos Museum. Additionally, there is still the AfroReggae Cultural Group, a project that arose in the Vigário Geral shantytown back in 1993, when a Community Cultural Center was created offering workshops, including one on percussion. “Although they all target the full education of the citizen, they see the possibility of professionalizing the people taking part. This attracts people and causes the school room and the social life outside the school room to mix”, explains Regina.

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