One of the hallmarks of the Music Engagement Program approach has to do with embedding choice for all participants, whether child or adult. The MEP has developed a set of repertoire based on the choices of many children and teachers over a ten year period. This set is called the Seventy over Seven (70/7) series because it includes 10 songs for every year of primary school. Collection of information about song choices continues unabated, particularly with High School students. The songs in the MEP sets are not in any way mandatory. They simply provide an easy starting point for teachers and students at a school to develop a song set for each school and, indeed, for each class in each school.
Much of the MEP repertoire has been developed with two criteria in mind. First, that the songs are singable in groups as well and individually; and, secondly, that the songs work in outreach situations. These two criteria are also not compulsory: we have also developed song sets that are useful for other purposes. For example, there is a set of songs that have been shown to be popular for piano beginners because they have a small number of easy chords or chordal patterns.
The MEP team is keen to continue collecting information about songs that are both popular and appropriate for different situations. If you are already collecting such information at your school, we’d love to hear from you. Or if you would like some help in how to go about embedding choices of this nature in your programming, the MEP is happy to help. There is a paper here (Children and Choice WEST 2007) that not only talks more about this part of the MEP approach but has examples of the sorts of survey forms we have used in the past. Consulting students can have important positive repercussions for teacher and class and provide learning opportunities for all concerned. I have certainly often been surprised by the choices student make. Here is just one story of many I have collected as part of my own research:
Surveying students, a regular part of the MEP paradigm, to ascertain group opinions on songs can give a good idea about majority opinion but, as the next incident suggests, majority opinion is just that: majority opinion. One year 3 class at Sale (name of school changed) included a boy, Greg (name changed), who, unlike many of his peers, tended to like slow songs. Over a period of several months he kept asking if the class could learn Yesterday by Lennon and McCartney. He asked me privately more than once and I said I would consider it but I felt the rest of the class wouldn’t like it so kept ‘forgetting’ to ask the class because I didn’t want Greg to be disappointed. One day he asked me in front of the whole class and I honestly told him and everyone my reason. Some class members felt that it was unreasonable of me to make up their minds for them (fair enough!) and asked to hear it, which, at the very least, showed respect for Greg and his opinion.
I played the song and then we sang it a little as a class. A show of hands suggested that at least three-quarters of the class liked it and wanted to keep it in the repertoire. It was hard to know, of course, whether reverse psychology was at work: I had said to the class that I didn’t think they would like it! Yesterday is considered quite an important song in the pop pantheon with a whole book dedicated to it and for some weeks I shared the best stories about Yesterday with the kids. The song stayed on the requested list for some months and, surprisingly, the children seemed to remember much of the detail about the song. It faded as a choice reasonably quickly which suggests that at least part of the reason the children wanted to learn it was to prove me wrong. Nonetheless honour was satisfied on all counts and the children not only learned an important song but some pop music history along the way. Incidents like this have helped mould the direction of the MEP which considers both majority and minority opinion important. It is individual opinion, after all, that indicates individual musical identity.
If you have information about your students’ choices, interesting stories, or would like our help, please let us know!