The Power of Music to Change Lives?

Dr Anna Mariguddi

On Saturday 25th June 2022, the much anticipated (second) National Plan for Music Education (NPME) was published entitled; ‘The power of music to change lives’.

The (non-statutory) document represents political ideology (as does the Model Music Curriculum and Ofsted Research review series: music). Despite leaning towards traditional Western Art values, the NPME’s recognition of music as an ‘essential part of a broad and ambitious curriculum for all pupils’ (NPME, p.2) as a pledge is welcome and one on which we should hold this, and future governments to account.

Earlier in the year, headlines were grabbed by the Incorporated Society for Musicians’ (ISM) education report that questioned whether music was a subject in peril. Moreover, it highlighted an uncertain time for music education and brought to attention many concerns about inequality and a lack of inclusivity and uneven support for activity.

Certainly, there is still a long way to go to ensure that school music is truly valued in policy and practice for all young people; which brings us back to the fundamental question about the purpose of music education, and who should decide.

Does music have the power to change lives? Or is it more to do with the meaning that music holds for us as human beings? What power does music have as an agent of change both individually and within our communities? Can young people change their own lives through music?

Music has certainly impacted on my own life – socially, emotionally, and academically  – even down to the small minute (but precious) moments when singing nursery rhymes in time with pushing my daughter on a swing.

Musical opportunity opened up to me aged eight, when my parents agreed to pay for me to rent a flute from our local music shop. But what if I hadn’t had parents willing and able to nurture my interest in music? Would a document like the NPME have sufficed instead? The optimist within me thinks that this is a possibility, but we will have to wait to find out how this plan plays out in practice – not just in select case studies, but for all young people across all schools.

Right now my Twitter feed is alive with activity linked to the hashtag #NPME2 – highlighting perceived good bits, potential areas for concern, and even spelling mistakes! You too can join that conversation!

Dr Anna Mariguddi is a Lecturer in Education, with a focus on music, at Edge Hill University.

A Snail Carries its Bunker on its Back: Researching Nuclear Anxiety through Creative Writing

Dr Philippa Holloway

Creative Writing often embraces other disciplines. While academic research within this field focuses on research in Creative Writing (the theories and practices of creative expression), essentially writers must also research for their writing. They must learn about and consider psychology, geography, science, history, sociology, geology, ethnography, and philosophy as well as develop methodologies from other practitioners and arts. Creative Writing brings these disciplines together through narratives that question and explain.

I am, as a writer, curious and determined. I knew that if I wanted to write about nuclear anxiety, about complex responses, I needed to face my fears head-on. I booked a trip to Ukraine shortly after the Euro Maidan Revolution and headed alone to Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone to engage with the landscape and people.

While limited to a few days, it allowed me to experience the irradiated and varied landscapes, to hear first-hand of the legacy of nuclear accident, to capture the feel of the place. Most importantly, I was able to talk to some Samosely, the self-settlers who returned to their homes after evacuation, refusing to leave again, because their connection to home was stronger than their fears of radiation.

These themes – accident, human error, anxiety, hope, homesickness and determination to protect territory and self – are entangled and often intangible, and form the core of my novel. Yet it isn’t a story about me. Fiction is a medium that both condenses and expands simultaneously. Characters and situations can be stretched, pushed imaginatively to extremes, or beyond realism into speculation as a means of discovering clarity on certain issues. Much is discovered by asking ‘what if?’ over and over. Ideas, issues, themes and concerns are then compressed into a manageable, accessible and dynamic form, a narrative that engages the reader in the depths and nuances of the topic.

As a brief example of this expansion and compression from my own novel, I will focus here on the title of the book. It is a title that plays with the issues at hand: Half-lives are both a scientific concept, measuring radioactive decay, and a metaphor for times passing, things deteriorating, and change. Snails carry their bunkers on their backs, are able to shelter until danger passes. In the novel, these two ideas come together in the child’s interactions with his pet snails, which are marked out in the narrative as changing over time and responding to the deterioration of the situation around him. It’s representative. Distilled and yet stretched to encompass multiple interpretations.

Considering the complex nature and conflicting emotions ignited by nuclear power, especially now as the pressure to replace gas and oil becomes critical, storytelling is perhaps an ever more vital means of engaging with these issues.  Fiction allows room for questions to be asked and answered by both writer and reader, and while the words may be fixed on the page, each reading ignites new responses and engagements. This novel is therefore not the culmination of an investigation of anxiety, but part of a wider debate and collective exploration of the issues, a collaborative interrogation of our relationship with nuclear energy that will not end anytime soon, considering the half-life of the materials in question…

Dr Philippa Holloway is a writer and academic, teaching Creative Writing at Staffordshire University and former Graduate Teaching Assistant at Edge Hill University. Her debut novel, The Half-life of Snails, is out now with Parthian Books.

Watch Philippa read from her book via the ISR Playlist.

Creative Resilience and going OFFLine during Lockdown

As part of Voluntary Arts’ Creative Network, I was recently invited to talk with Nick Ewbank, Chair of ISR’s External Advisory Group, about everyday creativity in the context of the response to COVID-19. In particular, we were looking at David Gauntlett’s definition and how he emphasises the idea of ‘making is connecting’, and advocates the importance of the internet for creative people.

Nick subsequently published his own compelling, and more nuanced, understanding of everyday creativity and its potentially vital role in helping to heal the damage done by the lockdown, in an article last week for Arts Professional. In calling for a paradigm shift, Nick argues that the ‘initial goal should be to reach a shared, science-based understanding of the central importance of everyday creativity in our lives’.

Certainly, the cultural sector has done much to try to support people through what has been a distressing period, if we consider the ways in which theatres, museums, dance companies and musicians inter alia have made their work available for free online. However, the way people have applied themselves to creative challenges at home, supported by various initiatives such as Voluntary Arts’ Get Creative at Home or Fun Palace’s Tiny Revolutions of Connection, is potentially more significant, most especially because not everyone has access to the internet or smart technology. If nothing else, what the pandemic has laid bare is the stark digital divide that pertains in the UK; wherein large swathes of the population remain isolated, unable to benefit from these online cultural resources and opportunities.

In my own recent article with Tristi Brownett, we argued that community cultural festivals can be important generators of wellbeing through their ‘collective effervescence’. Even if physical distancing means festival spaces are not open to us at the moment, community initiatives are heartwarmingly proving that people are not socially distanced. They remain collectively effervescent, and creative in their resilience. The Leigh Film Society volunteers, for example, have been busy delivering orange bags containing DVDs to families who do not have access to online streaming services. Meanwhile, in Leeds, Mini Playbox is a community partnership project between artists distributing boxes of creativity, activities and fun during lockdown. The emphasis here is on OFFline activities for families and individuals within communities, and this is happening within communities all over the UK.

The value of everyday creativity, both online and off, should be at the heart of a resilient, sustainable, caring society that supports, protects and nurtures the health and wellbeing of all its citizens.

Prof Owen Evans is a Professor of Film in the Department of Media at Edge Hill University.

Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels