Wider, Wider, Wider

The word “Wider” seems to be a buzz word doesn’t it. What with that report “Wider Still & Wider” and now the emphasis on “Wider Listening”, us music teachers are obsessed with “Wider”. Now i promise to try and use that word as little as possible, but I wanted to blog some thoughts on wider listening and GCSE/A-Level.

It is no secret that students need to now embrace, listening that isn’t the anthology – see I told you I would avoid the word Wider – DAMN! But the thing is, this approach to listening really shouldn’t be something new to the A-Level classroom. In all my years of teaching I have encourage students to listen to as much music as they can and embrace as many different genres as possible. But not it really is essential – well at least it is for us in the world of Edexcel – but I assume for all exam boards.

But we need to be careful. We need to ensure that we are steering our students in the right direction. For me, Wider Listening isn’t “more anthology” and it certainly isn’t about studying more scores. For me, Wider Listening is about embracing the genres that we are studying and absorbing the music so that we have a clear line of argument in our essays.

This week I have really been thinking about that part of the exam, and forgive me, but this is very much an Edexcel thing potentially. The mark scheme requires students to include a sense of argument – a clear line of argument in fact. Now in order to succeed in any argument you need to be able to back yourself up, and that is where this…listening comes in.

I have been training my students to make sure that they have a clear introduction, that doesn’t include too much waffle, but includes what exactly they are considering in their essay:

“In this essay I am going to consider how Vaughan William moved away from the German Romantic tradition of song cycles and moved towards a more English approach. Through my discussion of “INSERT ELEMENTS” I am going to consider how he embraced the impressionist genre that he gained an insight from when studying with Ravel and I am going to discuss what makes this such a successful example of a song cycle”

That may not be the perfect paragraph, but I hope you are still with me.

What I want my students to do is have a clear sense of angle to their work, because I hope they will then have something to pin all the theory to. I want them to avoid just stating facts and I want them to write about the real language of music and show an understanding of the period, style and genre. But also I want them to be discussing the piece with a clear evaluative objective. They need to be able to assess what makes is a successful piece but also put this into some context.

And that is where Wider Listening comes in – I am assuming you have forgiven me for mentioned that word Wider so many times. In they discussions of the impressionist influences on Vaughan Williams, it seems only right that they should be able to site examples of French Impressionism. I am not expecting them to be able to give much detail, but mentioning a piece by Ravel or Debussy and showing that they have linked this to their essay is enough – well at least it is in my book.

Because they are learning enough aren’t they. They are embracing sveral set works and learning so much theory that they can’t have an endless and infinite stream of knowledge in their brains about a range of pieces from 1500 – 2017. But if they can show awareness of music that links to their set works and use that piece in the right way to back up the right argument, well I think they are on to a winner.

So there should be no Set list of Wider Listening, there should just be an approach that embraces pieces that help to back up the line of argument. The mere mention of a piece that is correctly similar in genre, period or composer will go a long way to showing that the student knows what they are talking about and that they are able to cite the correct example when they need to.

Just some thoughts, I am on the same journey as everyone and this summer will be scary! But we can only do our best. And frankly, thank goodness for streaming because at least we now have music at our fingertips!

Happy Listening!

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