Issue 64: When it is impossible to teach

There are times when it is totally impossible to deliver a music lesson.

Like this week:

I was just starting a series of lessons on musical form, and in particular sonata form, with a bright and eager class of year 5 and 6 children. I was using book 3 of the excellent AC Black “Listening to Music, Elements” series. They have an engaging way of teaching the topic using the Haydn “Hen” symphony.

We were all sitting in a circle in the hall, and I was trying to instigate a discussion leading into the idea of how  “rules” govern the form – eg games (the difference between rugby and football), poetry (haikus and limericks) when the lesson was entirely derailed by the appearance of a dozy wasp, erratically buzzing round at head level and randomly dive bombing the children.

Gender stereotyping was immediately apparent: the girls squeaked, gasped, twitched, ducked, the boys offered responses such as “kill it”, “squish it”, “I’ll get it for you”.

We all watched the wasp with complete attention until it finally settled on the windows at ceiling level. I was very impressed that the children remained seated, roughly in their place, while under threat. The discipline at this school is very good.

Once we agreed that we were no longer in danger, I was able to get going with the lesson again. Luckily, the fun of learning the chants, based on the rhythms of the first and second subject of the movement eclipsed all memory of the wasp. Using changes in dynamics (loud and soft) and changes in timbre (funny voices) compltely occupied the rest of the lesson and all ended well.

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