Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Malone has Quiet Life



In interview, I teach a class of eleven-year-olds how to compose using a dice to generate melody. They enjoy throwing the foam cube round the classroom. A gentle tune emerges. They sing it and add percussion. I still don't get the job, though. The management are more interested in what I know about Assessment for Learning, which is not much. There were silences as we sat round a table next to a toilet door.

'We don't shout at the children here,' said the deputy head as if she thought I might. The school operates a Restorative Justice system which I know from a previous establishment. Instances of disagreement between teacher and pupil are mediated by a third party. One talks through the consequences of a miscreant's actions. I daydream the three-year-old scene during a silence in the interrogation. I am in a room apologising to a 13-year-old tormentor facing me across a table. Is life like that? Are there saints? Do policemen apologise?

Sunday 28th November Malone has quiet life
Gareth Malone doesn’t get quite so upset with the adult females in his Military Wives’ Choir as he does with the recalcitrant schoolchildren in his previous programmes. The exasperation of bending students to a choirmaster’s will is absent from the recently concluded series and this is to its detriment. This was all tearful emotion and no bitterness or resentment which made for a lop-sided programme. It was too easy for Malone for there seemed to be little tension in the current challenge. Still, I hear the wives' recording of Paul Mealor's Wherever You Are is a hot tip or the Christmas Number One.

Malone is an alumnus of the University of East Anglia which is talking of closing down its music department. It would be a shame if no more Malones were to emerge from the bleak Norfolk and Suffolk mists that Britten loved. The UEA has strong inks with Aldeburgh, or it did in my day. University choirs often gave concerts there. I missed the coach once and had to requisition a motorcycle to get me to the remote fishing village.

Still, why should I care? I was in the German department and they closed that down years ago despite having had one of the greatest post-war authors in WG Sebald on the staff. At least they had the courtesy to wait until he’d died in a car crash before sending all the German library books to the basement and shutting down. Of course, they can only reflect what is happening in schools where the study of German has become very rare. That is because teaching modern foreign languages nowadays is more about booking hotel rooms and asking the way to the beach than understanding a culture.

If there’s one culture which we should have spent time studying over the last few years, it’s Germany’s. They’ve managed to maintain a buoyant economy, low unemployment and a high standard of living and still have enough surplus cash to bail out the rest of Europe. Although time is said to be the great healer, it sometimes seems that hatred of Germany has deepened with the passing years. I blame the History teachers for spending too much time on the Second World War.

‘German and Music?’ a colleague once reacted to the compatibility of my two teaching subjects. ‘What have they got to do with each other?’ ‘Well, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner…..’ I replied. Tragic how many so-called educators can’t even see past their own pop culture.