Wednesday, 20 January 2010

How instruments get broken

In Britain many artists spent inordinate amounts of time chasing grants of one sort or another. There is a whole army of arts bureaucrats who administer this money and many's the meeting I have attended where half of us are paid to be there while the other half are effectively paying to be there by way of forced inactivity.

Because I find form-filling brain-deadening and infuriating it is my habit to piggy back on the applications of others, only spinning my own credentials when compelled. However, I have turned over a new leaf. Stage one of my grown-up attitude to getting work is attending a Presentation Skills course. It involves a day a week, sitting in a room with thirteen others, for three weeks.

Last week was week two and we all had to give a five minute presentation to the tutor and our peers. I gave mine on 'Damage to Equipment in Music Departments' and stressed at the outset that this phenomenon extends to all areas of school and, in fact, to society at large. My superbly structured talk identified reasons for equipment failure including loss, theft, obsolescence and damage caused by poor storage (see picture). And then I moved on to the thrust of my argument, damage by children.

There are four main causes of pupil damage:
1. IGNORANCE - understandable mistakes
2. CURIOSITY - ‘I wonder how…’ and testing to destruction
3. INDIFFERENCE - no respect for equipment
4. RESENTMENT - the equipment represents a process they don’t like

All this is bad for both budgets and the environment. So what to do?
Now I hit them with the solutions:
1. Choose equipment that is:
a. robust and reliable - the wax crayon you used last week will still work today. Can you say the same about a felt tip? Wood, metal or plastic, anyone?
b. immune from obsolescence - electronic technology moves so fast. What kid will be drawn to a five year old keyboard?

2. Engage children in the creation of equipment
Children don't make anything they use, it's all provided. The last musical instrument they made was probably a 'shaker' in kindergarten. (They all knew it was really a rattle.) There is no depth of connection between them and the things they use.

So now I introduced my prop - a stick and a pile of rubber bands - and demonstrated the beater I showed you a couple of posts back, showing how it could be repaired endlessly by the students themselves. I then waxed lyrical about how this approach develops problem solving and teaches use of materials. It also engenders a sense of ownership of the process. I waved a couple of other homemade instruments, both on the stick theme (watch this space), and urged them to apply this thinking to their own walks of life.

And, while I'm riding this particular hobby-horse, I urge you to do the same.

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