Enhancing access to good music learning is successful national policy

Enhancing access to good music learning is successful national policy

Enhancing access to good music learning is successful national policy
Saudi Arabian singer Rabeh Saqer peforms during a concert in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, January 30, 2017. (Reuters)
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In my previous column I tackled the question of whether music is a universal language, taking issue with the idea that music is a singular thing that is readily understood by all people everywhere. I focused on the new undertaking of starting music schools in Saudi Arabia, in light of the recent licensing in the Kingdom. In the current column I want to highlight a few things that the new schools, or indeed wider policy considerations, might contemplate while considering the most effective directions for future plans in music education around the country.
One idea I advocated for in the previous column and which bears emphasis here is that music comes in many kinds and forms. The examples I mentioned last week took historic, geographic and regional differences as examples of the diverse ways in which peoples and countries, as well as individuals, can understand music and appreciate it.
Also worth putting under a spotlight at this point is how diverse the musical styles available to us today are, and the diversity of tastes any given group of people or, indeed, individuals may have. Because of the ubiquity of communications technology and the ease with which music can be produced, shared, disseminated and obtained in any direction across the globe, geographic location is no longer the only determining factor of the kinds of music people access, enjoy, practice and consume.
For that reason, in a context such as Saudi Arabia, as indeed has been the case throughout the Arabian Peninsula over the past decade or so, available samples of music are increasingly globalized, just as the countries of the region are. The coronavirus crisis aside, festivals in the region, not least in the Kingdom, have boasted in recent years a diverse roster of international stars, bands and ensembles performing a wide variety of musical styles. So how do such recent developments relate to the teaching of music in the region, especially in its largest country?
Music education, generally speaking, can follow a number of existing routes. European countries have a long history of instrumental and theoretical music instruction, and despite there being a great deal of similarity in terms of the musical languages and repertoires taught across the continent, each country has developed its own approaches to music formation, which, while taking on board history and tradition, continuously evolve, undergo revision and incorporate emerging techniques and musical styles.
A number of Arab countries have also been working on developing music education, both formally under state direction and patronage, and informally through the organic growth of regional and local music schools. In these countries, as is the case in the wider Middle East, the evolution of government-sponsored music education has proceeded in parallel with the continuation of the passing down of music expertise from master to pupils, which in some countries has also benefited from state endorsement.
Whether the emerging prospect of learning music takes on a premeditated set of directions is typically the call of governments. A national agenda, for example, may be encouraged or instituted through multiple means, which range from logistical facilitation to outright financial sponsorship.
In most examples of recently emerging music tuition in the region, it has been possible to observe a number of evolving schools, methods, styles and techniques, which have been yielding a variety of results, particularly in terms of quality of outcome and degree of popularity. While aiming to follow in the footsteps of countries that have formalized music education for centuries, the evolution of institutional music tuition in the region remains very much an unfolding process.

Because of the ubiquity of communications technology and the ease with which music can be produced, shared, disseminated and obtained in any direction across the globe, geographic location is no longer the only determining factor of the kinds of music people access, enjoy, practice and consume.

Tala Jarjour

National priorities may inform certain directions, while popular demand may guide others. For example, if a country is seeking to create specific types of  artistic formations, groups or ensembles that were not in existence before, particular schools of music might be given priority in order to feed these ensembles, initially with instructors and eventually with graduates.
By the same token, a number of parallel directions may showcase diversity in the country, or capitalize on existing strengths. There will always be, in any event, an element of organic growth that would follow shifting tides as well as reflect local aspirations.
In any country or context, opening up new opportunities for learning music is a sure way to enhance the quality of life for the population as a whole. Such opportunities are possible through a number of avenues. Be it formalized instrumental tuition, introducing music education into national curricula, encouraging diverse musical styles through private schools, producing and hosting music performances, or indeed by encouraging private tuition, possibilities abound.
While all populations would benefit from learning more about music — including those that have long been working on developing music education — in countries where such possibilities are few, the potential for social benefit and creative success is, in fact, high.

  • Tala Jarjour is author of “Sense and Sadness: Syriac Chant in Aleppo.” She is visiting research fellow at King’s College London and associate fellow at the Yale College.
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