chapter  1
7 Pages

How did we get here? The historical and social context of whole class instrumental and vocal teaching

Despite the fact that there is now a national curriculum for music in England some of these statements may still apply. An important development in the early 1840s was the introduction of the sol-fa system into English schools by proponents such as John Hullah, John Curwen and Sarah Glover. In England in the early nineteenth century a surprisingly large proportion of the population were involved in choral singing and became able to sight-sing through reading tonic sol-fa. Hullah, Curwen and Glover each developed a slightly different system, Hullah using a ‘fixed doh’ principle and Curwen and Glover a moveable doh where the tonic of any new key was always ‘doh’.

Each system was based on the principle that ‘traditional’ stave notation was hard to read and that tonic sol-fa allowed musical reading issues to be overcome. Those currently teaching whole classes to sing or play still have to grapple with similar concerns about what notations are accessible or even necessary for children to progress in their musical learning. The Education Act of 1870 established a national system of state education but music was often excluded in schools as a curriculum subject because it did not receive a subsidy. Eventually music was included and it was even decided that any state elementary school not including music on its syllabus would lose funding. Initially, a heavy emphasis was placed on singing and the acquisition of musical aural and literacy skills. Plummeridge suggests: ‘With the establishment of a national educational system, choral activity and music reading were encouraged in schools, partly in the hope that such action would eventually lead to an improved standard of musical performance in church services’ (Plummeridge in Philpott 2001: 5). Russell also states that ‘its great appeal to both educationalists and many music specialists lay in its cheapness, and above all its value as a vehicle for moral education’ (Russell 1987: 45). Parallels can again be drawn with recent thinking. The Music Manifesto Report No. 2 (DfES 2006) emphasises that singing is for everyone and, whilst it does not discuss moral education, it does state that singing can build communities and contribute to better mental and physical health. Some of the results were more tangible, and Russell (1987) suggests that, by 1891, 60 per cent of children in English and Welsh elementary schools were being taught to sing from one form of notation or another. It is a common misconception that most of the singing that took place in late nineteenthcentury schools was of hymns and sacred music. In fact the Education Code sought to ensure that state schools were non-denominational. The singing of folk songs was common but some suggested that these songs displayed ‘frank vulgarity’ and