Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Young Children and Music: Adults Constructing Meaning through a Performance for Children

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Young Children and Music: Adults Constructing Meaning through a Performance for Children

Article excerpt

Background and introduction

This paper reports on research carried out in an early learning centre for pre-school children where arts programs, delivered by specialist teachers, are included in the centre's program for all children. In this research the children's music sessions were the main focus. The status of music in the early childhood curriculum has become increasingly problematic so in this introduction we discuss music in the early childhood setting to give context to the present study.

Music has a unique position in the suite of arts introduced in the early childhood curriculum in that it does not seem to be as easily accessible to general practitioners as other art forms such as the visual arts and literature (deVries, 2006; McMahon, 1967; Suthers, 2004). In Australian early childhood programs it has been common practice to use generalist staff for all areas of the curriculum. Play, music, visual arts, language and literature have, in the past, featured as curriculum content in most under-graduate training and education programs for early childhood staff. There has been, however, a diminishing emphasis on music skills in under-graduate studies in recent years (Nyland & Ferris, 2007). This has had the effect of undermining the confidence of generalist teachers in the provision of musical experiences, with a resulting disappearance of musical activities in many centres other than the use of pre-recorded music and songs. To try to alleviate this situation some researchers (e.g., deVries, 2006), have even focused on how staff who lack confidence (Suthers, 2004), or musical knowledge (Wiggins & Wiggins, 2008) may use CDs and DVDs to enhance their presentation of music experiences. Pre-service teachers have also researched their own experiences. In one study pre-service teachers reported on being taught about the 'arts' and found the education to be both enabling and constraining (Miller, Nicholas & Lambeth, 2008). Miller et al., (2008) found that their university course did not allow for what they brought with them from their own experience. These pre-service teachers also commented that space for critical reflection of the arts and its place in education was haphazard. Their undergraduate program contained a generic arts subject and they did not mention music as one of the 'arts' covered in their course.

This situation has led to a rise in the number of centres organising specialist music programs for children (e.g., Mini Maestro classes) or employing teachers with expertise in music, as was the case for the early learning centre (ELC) where this investigation took place. The phenomena being explored in this study was a staff singing group that had been established with the aim of integrating the specialist music activities with incidental music being undertaken by generalist teachers in the children's classrooms. The singing group project was designed as practitioner research and the study culminated in a performance by the staff for the children. This performance raised strong emotions from the staff, who recorded their experiences and feelings in interviews after the concert. The children also reacted strongly to the teachers sharing of their music experience through the performance. The children were not used to being identified as the audience in the ELC context. To be informed that this was an adult performance and they were the audience was an unusual situation.

This use of performance was designed to be the end point of the singing project. The main objective of the collaborative singing was to examine the role and impact of the specialist programs within the centre (there were a number consisting of music, sculpture, painting, drama, literature and Italian) and to use the project to focus on the music program. The music program was one where there had been much discussion and there seemed to be less cohesion with events occurring in the everyday. Music sessions took place in a special designated space and therefore were physically separated from the children's other areas of activity. …

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