James Lamb writes: One of the pleasing side effects of this project is that as I encounter and experience music, I’m encouraged to keep an eye out for songs or albums that have a formal link with education. By this I mean material that was created with the aim of promoting or representing learning. This is distinct from the approach within our Elektronisches Lernen Muzik playlists where the goal has been to share songs that stimulate scholarly activity irrespective of composer intent. Within this blog entry, then, I've collected some such resources that I imagine would be filed under Educational Programming within a music library, or deep in the vaults of the BBC archive.
Our journey begins in the sentimental and scholarly seminar rooms of Belbury Poly. If the liner notes are to be trusted, Belbury Poly is the work of the musician Jim Jupp, founder of the excellent Ghostbox Music label. If I seem less than certain about the man concealed behind the gown it’s because the CD inserts that accompany my Belbury Poly CDs are less concerned with technical, factual information than with playing on imagery surrounding public information films and educational broadcasting of an imaginary past.
If you want to learn more about the world of edutainment that is Belbury Poly you can download and listen to tracks on the Ghostbox website. You might also want to flick through the Belbury Parish Magazine blog where, in addition to reading about forthcoming releases, you can gen up on the Shoreditch Experimental Musical School. This is kind of thing that comes up in an exam.
If Belbury Poly offers a gentle nod to the recent educational past, then the Trunk Records label leaps with both feet into a strange and distant world of musical misadventure. Perhaps the best way of describing the Trunk website is a place of musical curiosity. Whilst recently flicking through the racks of Bossa Nova, obscure Jazz and Official Soundtrack albums in search of long lost/ignored tracks for my own Exotica playlist, I came across a number of interesting educational resources.
Thanks to the dedication of the person or people behind Trunk Records, at the click of a button you could be listening to the Classroom Projects album, described in the accompanying notes as ‘a fine and rare collection of magic and oddness, including folky bits, tape manipulation, songs about drunk driving (on the CD not the LP), death, love, beaches, Autumn and more besides.’ Delve further into the Trunk catalogue and you’ll discover collections which are less about capturing the nature of education, than enhancing what takes place in the classroom. What better way to learn about gravitational forces, for instance, than with The Ballad of Sir Isaac Newton? I don’t know much about the Astrophysics curriculum however I imagine that the Space Songs album by Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans has got it all covered. That's your revision reimagined. Trust me.
While the Trunk catalogue captures some of what might be fun and strange about school education, different emotions are captured in Innocence and Despair, The Langley Schools Music Project. The story of this 1976 Canadian school project was described in a recent BBC Radio 4 documentary by rock critic Pete Paphides which sensitively and joyously featured insights from some of the individuals whose voices-as-children can be heard on 300 vinyl LPs that were originally pressed to accompany the exercise.
The BBC documentary is well worth a listen, as is this VH1 documentary. That said, the charm of the story can be appreciated in itself by listening to the album, which was re-released in 2001. If the children's voices and instrumentation aren't always in tune or on time, there's a sense of perfection in the way that their teacher Hans Feger abandoned conventional teaching practice, and defied the School Board, to let young people experience and express the joy of music. It would take a cold hard heart not to warm to the sound of 300 troubled teenagers recreating the angst of Phil Spector’s To Know Him Is To Love Him, or Brian Wilson’s In My Room. In contrast to the nature of our conversations and collections on Elektronisches Lernen Muzik, where enthusiastic learners have accounted for the way that music enhances their scholarly endeavours, the Langley Schools Music Project reminds us that songs can be an escape or inspiration for those who might not otherwise experience contentment or confidence within the classroom.
So sit back and listen to the some of the interesting and inspiring sounds of Belbury Poly, Trunk Records and the Langley School Music Project: there won’t be a test at the end.
James Lamb has contributed as a tutor in Digital Environments and Online Assessment on the MSc in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh