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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Music and Art in Schools

by L. Winifred Nicholls
Volume 14, no. 7, July 1903, pgs. 535-537

About music I feel a little diffidence in speaking, as it is not my subject; but, having lived for many years in a musical atmosphere, I have, perhaps, learnt more about the teaching of music in schools than the average uninitiated person. Moreover, many of the considerations which apply to art, apply to music equally.  Perhaps I ought to preface my remarks by saying that they refer to secondary schools only, and especially to girls' schools, of which I have more experience than of boys'.

Speaking generally of both subjects, music and art, I have a strong feeling that, as one of the chief objects of both should be to cultivate the aesthetic sense, they ought both to have a regular place on the school time-table. Drawing is, as a matter of course, included in the morning time-table in all forms up to the Fifth without special fee. Why not music? Much that would generate an intelligent appreciation of music, as a science and as an art, can be taught to all the girls at once in class. This is already being done in most Kindergartens and many First Forms now, and it helps wonderfully to make the music lessons themselves more interesting and profitable. My idea would be: Two half-hour lessons a week in the Lower School, and one three-quarters in the Upper School, which should be devoted, not to training the executive faculty, which, after all, is the less important, but to training the appreciative faculty, which is all important. The lessons in the Lower School would partake somewhat of the nature of the present Kindergarten music classes, and would include ear-training, simple experiments in acoustics, mastery of rhythm and time, learning to read from staff-notation, and to write from dictation. In the higher classes, the girls would learn something of musical form, and be shown how the present complicated forms of sonata and symphony have developed from the simplest musical germ. They would also learn harmony, and be taught something of the lives and works of the greatest musicians, if possible hearing some of the work played. All this with a view to training a power of appreciation of the best music—the executive faculty [ability to create/perform], which must be trained individually, not in class, being treated as a special subject with a special fee, and the training of the executive faculty being optional, not compulsory.

It may be said that much which I advocate to be treated in a special music class may be treated in the usual class singing lesson. It may—but is it? And even if it is, this does not quite take the place of the music class; for the primary object of the singing lesson is of course to teach to sing, whereas I would have, as the primary object of my music class, to teach to appreciate. May I, en passant, enter a protest against the practice prevalent in some schools of discontinuing class singing in the Fifths and Sixths—just when the girls are beginning to enter into the spirit of part singing, to feel the harmonies of the music, and to be able to tackle more interesting works.

The ideal school time-table would, according to my idea, include:—
In the Lower School: 1/2 hr. singing a week, 1/2 hrs. music-class a week.

In the upper School (including the Fifth and Sixth): 3/4 hr. singing; 3/4 hr. music-class.

Although I have assigned to the training of the executive faculty a lower place than to that of the appreciative, it must not be forgotten that there are few subjects in the whole educational curriculum which train so many faculties at once as executive music—the ear, the eye and the hand, all being brought at once into close sympathy with the brain.

In dealing with the question of art, it is the same idea which I should like to keep prominently in the foreground,the aesthetic value of the subject. A school of 300 girls cannot turn out 300 gifted artists, or 300 brilliant players, I am not sure that it would be an unmixed advantage if it could! but it can turn out 300 girls ready to take an appreciate interest in the best music, and the highest art, and this is what it ought to aim at. Every good school ought to feel it a serious reproach to its system if a large proportion of the girls leave it with a greater appreciation of a comic-song than of a sonata of Beethoven, or a keener interest in Comic Cuts than in a gallery of Old Master. Let the drawing-class still retain the position it has on the school time-table, i.e., let the Lower School spend about 3/4 hr. a week on learning to see correctly, and to reproduce exactly; and the Middle School an hour with the same object (I do not say 1.5 hrs., although I believe this is the rule in most schools, because this seems to me a little out of proportion for the majority of the girls who will not take up an artistic career later.) In the Fifth and Sixth Forms, where drawing is generally dropped altogether as a morning subject, I would give the girls history of art in some form as a training in appreciation, lessons on the history and styles of architecture, on sculpture, on the history of painting, and the lives of the great artists—something to give them an interest in the beautiful for its own sake. Then, let the few girls who show special aptitude for the executive side of the subject, take it up in afternoon classes as a special subject with a special fee. My proposal for art would be:—

In the Lower School: 3/4 hr. spent in drawing.
"Middle" 1 hr. (not 1 1/2 hrs.) also spent in drawing
"Upper" 1 hr. devoted entirely to the history and appreciation of art.

I believe that the adoption of this plan would, to some extent, counterbalance the tendency to develop the very matter-of-fact unimaginative mind, which is generally the result of a preponderance of science and mathematics, and would also act as a counterpose to the spirit of this very utilitarian age, which is apt to estimate the value of everything according to its power of conversion into £/s/d [pounds, shillings and pence].

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, November 2008