Toward the Unknown Region: how do we impart the skills and knowledge required for students to be successful in careers that currently do not exist?

Future of Jobs 2

Toward the Unknown Region[1] – Mr. Nicholas Sharman, Head of Design & Technology looks at whether integrating STEAM into the heart of a curriculum develops skills required for careers that do not currently exist.

The world of work has always been an evolving environment. However, it has never been more pertinent than now; according to the world economic forum, 65% of students entering primary school today will be working in jobs that do not currently exist[2].

As educators, this makes our job either extremely difficult, pointless or (in my view) one of the most exciting opportunities that we have been faced with for nearly 200 years since the introduction of the Victorian education system. The idea of relying solely on a knowledge-based education system is becoming outdated and will not allow students to integrate into an entirely different world of work. Automation and Artificial Intelligence will make manual and repetitive jobs obsolete, changing the way we work entirely. Ask yourself this: could a robot do your job? The integration of these developments is a conversation all in its own and one for a future post.

So, what is STEAM and why has it become so prominent in the UK education system?

The acronym STEM was (apparently) derived from the American initiative ‘STEM’ developed in 2001 by scientific administrators at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)[3]. The addition of the ‘A’ representing the Arts, ultimately creating Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths. Since the introduction of STEM-based curriculums in the US, the initiative has grown exponentially throughout the globe, with the UK education system adopting the concept.

So why STEAM and what are the benefits? STEAM education is far more than just sticking subject titles together. It is a philosophy of education that embraces teaching skills and subjects in a way that resembles the real world. More importantly, it develops the skills predicted to be required for careers that currently do not exist. What are these skills and why are they so important?

Knowledge vs Skills

When we look at the education systems from around the world there are three that stand out. Japan, Singapore and Finland have all been quoted as countries that have reduced the size of their knowledge curriculum. This has allowed them to make space to develop skills and personal attributes. Comparing this to the PISA rankings, these schools are within the top 5 in the world and in Singapore’s case, ranked No1[4].

I am sure we cannot wholly attribute this to a skills-focused curriculum; however, it does ask the question – what skills are these schools developing and how much knowledge do we need?[5],[6]

  1. Mental Elasticity – having the mental flexibility to think outside of the box, see the big picture and rearrange things to find a solution.
  2. Critical Thinking – the ability to analyse various situations, considering multiple solutions and making decisions quickly through logic and reasoning.
  3. Creativity – robots may be better than you may at calculating and diagnosing problems, however, they are not very good at creating original content, thinking outside the box or being abstract.
  4. People Skills – the ability to learn how to manage and work with people (and robots), having empathy and listening
  5. SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) – learning how to use new technology and how to manage them
  6. Interdisciplinary Knowledge – understanding how to pull information from many different fields to come up with creative solutions to future problems.
Future of Jobs graph
The Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum showing the pace of change in just 5 years

All of the above skills are just predictions. However, the list clearly highlights that employers will be seeking skill-based qualities, with this changing as future jobs develop and materialise. So do we need knowledge?

Well, of course we do – knowledge is the fundamental element required to be successful in using the above skills. However, as educators, we need to consider a balance of how we can make sure our students understand how important these skills will be to them in the future when an exam grade based on knowledge could be irrelevant to employers.

What subjects promote these skills?

As a Technologist, I believe there has never been a more important time in promoting and delivering the Design & Technology curriculum. The subject has for too long been misrepresented and had a stigma hanging around it due to previous specifications and people’s experiences, comments such as ‘so you teach woodwork then?’ really do not give justice to the subject.

With the introduction of the new curriculum, allowing students more opportunity to investigate and build these future skills, the subject has never been more relevant. Looking at the list of promoted skills, I cannot think of another subject that not only promotes these skills but also actively encourages the integration into every lesson. Do not get me wrong, all subjects are as equally important. Design & Technology is a subject that is able to bring them all into real-world scenarios. If we think about the knowledge that is developed in Science for example – where students can look at material properties and their effect on the user’s experience, or Religious Studies and how different signs, symbols or even colours can have different meanings in cultures affecting the design of a fully inclusive product – they can all be related to Design and Technology in one way or another.

Comparing the Design & Technology curriculum to the future skills list, we can break down the different skills it develops. It encourages mental elasticity through challenging student’s ideas and concepts, thinking differently to solve current and real-life problems. It allows students to develop critical thinking, through challenging their knowledge and understanding; ensuring students develop the ability to solve problems through investigation, iteration and failure, ultimately building resilience. It goes without saying that the subject not only encourages creativity but allows students to challenge concepts and ideas through investigating and questioning. Furthermore, it teaches the concept of ‘design thinking’ and collaborative working, allowing students to develop people skills, understanding how people work, interact and think; enhancing empathy and understanding. As technology progresses the subject follows suit, permitting students to implement and understand how new and emerging technologies are embedded, not only into the world of design but the Social, Moral and environmental effects they create. Lastly and probably most importantly, is how the subject teaches interdisciplinary knowledge. I like to describe Design & Technology as a subject that brings knowledge from all areas of the curriculum together, the creativity and aesthetics from Art, the application of Maths when looking at anthropometrics, tolerances or even ratios, how Religious Studies can inform and determine designs, how science informs and allows students to apply theory, or even the environmental impact Geography can show. I could go on and explain how every subject influences Design & Technology in one way or another, although, more importantly, it shows how we need to look at a more cohesive and cross-curricular curriculum; when this happens the future skills are inherently delivered in a real-world application.

Looking back at the question at the start of this article, we can start to conclude why having the concept of STEAM at the heart of a school environment is so important. However, it is not good enough to just ‘stick’ subjects together, there has to be a bigger picture where knowledge and skills are stitched together like a finely woven tapestry. Ideally, we would look at the primary education system, where we remove subject-specific lessons, develop co-teaching, learning that takes place through projects bringing elements from all subjects in to cohesive projects; teachers would become facilitators of learning, delivering knowledge not in a classroom but in an environment that allows more autonomous research and investigation. However, until the exam system changes, this is not going to fully happen.

So what could we be doing more? I believe we should be focusing on more cross-curricular planning, developing skills application and using knowledge to enhance learning. By developing a curriculum centred around a STEAM approach, we can start to develop the skills required for our students and the careers of the future.


References: 

[1] See https://whitmanarchive.org/published/LG/1891/poems/245 for the text to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ piece for choir and orchestra entitled ‘Toward the Unknown Region’
[2] https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018
[3] https://www.britannica.com/topic/STEM-education
[4] http://www.oecd.org/pisa/
[5] https://www.weforum.org/focus/skills-for-your-future
[6] https://www.crimsoneducation.org/uk/blog/jobs-of-the-future

The importance of collaborative learning

How can we encourage collaborative learning? Alex Farrer, STEAM Co-ordinator at Wimbledon High, looks at strategies to encourage creative collaboration in the classroom.

Pupils’ ability to work collaboratively in the classroom cannot just be assumed. Pupils develop high levels of teamwork skills in many areas of school life such as being part of a rowing squad or playing in an ensemble. These strengths are also being harnessed in a variety of subject areas but need to be taught and developed within a coherent framework.  Last week we were very pleased to learn that Wimbledon High was shortlisted for the TES Independent Schools Creativity Award 2019. This recognises the development of STEAM skills such as teamwork, problem solving, creativity and curiosity across the curriculum. Wimbledon High pupils are enjoying tackling intriguing STEAM activities in a variety of subject areas. One important question to ask is what sort of progression should we expect as pupils develop these skills?

The Science National Curriculum for England (D of E gov.uk 2015) outlines the “working scientifically” skills expected of pupils from year 1 upwards. Pupils are expected to answer scientific questions in a range of different ways such as in an investigation where variables can be identified and controlled and a fair test type of enquiry is possible.

However, this is not the only way of “working scientifically”. Pupils also need to use different approaches such as identifying and classifying, pattern seeking, researching and observing over time to answer scientific questions. In the excellent resource “It’s not Fair -or is it?” (Turner, Keogh, Naylor and Lawrence) useful progression grids are provided to help teachers identify the progression that might be expected as pupils develop these skills. For example, when using research skills younger pupils use books and electronic media to find things out and talk about whether an information source is useful. Older pupils can use relevant information from a range of secondary sources and evaluate how well their research has answered their questions.

The skills that are used in our STEAM lessons at Wimbledon High in both the Senior and Junior Schools utilise many of these “working scientifically” skills and skill progression grids can be very useful when planning and pitching lessons. However, our STEAM lessons happen in all subject areas and develop a range of other skills including:

  • problem solving
  • teamwork
  • creativity
  • curiosity

Carefully planned cross-curricular links allow subjects that might at first glance be considered to be very different from each other to complement each other. An example of this is a recent year 10 art lesson where STEAM was injected into the lesson in the form of chemistry knowledge and skills. Pupils greatly benefited from the opportunity to put some chemistry into art and some art into chemistry as they studied the colour blue. Curiosity was piqued and many links were made. Many questions were asked and answered as pupils worked together to learn about Egyptian Blue through the ages and recent developments in the use of the pigment for biomedical imaging.

There are many other examples of how subjects are being combined to enhance both. The physiological responses to listening to different types of music made for an interesting investigation with groups of year 7. In this STEAM Music lesson pupils with emerging teamwork skills simply shared tasks between members of the group. Pupils with more developed teamwork skills organised and negotiated different roles in the group depending on identified skills. They also checked progress and adjusted how the group was working in a supportive manner. A skill that often takes considerable practise for many of us!

Professor Roger Kneebone from Imperial College promotes the benefits of collaborating outside of your own discipline. He recently made the headlines when he discussed the dexterity skills of medical students. He talks about the ways students taking part in an artistic pursuit, playing a musical instrument or a sport develop these skills. He believes that surgeons are better at their job if they have learned those skills that being in an orchestra or a team demand.  High levels of teamwork and communication are essential to success in all of those fields, including surgery!

Ensuring that we give pupils many opportunities to develop these collaborative skills both inside and outside of lessons is key. We must have high expectations of progression in the way that pupils are developing these skills. Regular opportunities to extend and consolidate these important skills is also important. It is essential to make it clear to pupils at the start of the activity what the skill objective is and what the skill success criteria is. It is hard to develop a skill if it is not taught explicitly, so modelling key steps is helpful as is highlighting the following to pupils:

  • Why are we doing this activity?
  • Why is it important?
  • How does it link to the subject area?
  • How does it link to the real life applications?
  • What skills are we building?
  • Why are these skills important?
  • What sort of problems might be encountered?
  • How might we deal with these problems?

Teacher support during the lesson is formative and needs to turn a spotlight on successes, hitches, failures, resilience, problems and solutions. For example, the teacher might interrupt learning briefly to point out that some groups have had a problem but after some frustrations, one pupil’s bright idea changed their fortunes. The other groups are then encouraged to refocus and to try to also find a good way to solve a specific problem. There might be a reason why problems are happening. Some groups may need some scaffolding or targeted questioning to help them think their way through hitches.

STEAM lessons at Wimbledon High are providing extra opportunities for pupils to build their confidence, and to be flexible, creative and collaborative when faced with novel contexts. These skills need to be modelled and developed and progression needs to be planned carefully. STEAM is great fun, but serious fun, as the concentration seen on faces in the STEAM space show!

Twitter: @STEAM_WHS
Blog: http://www.whs-blogs.co.uk/steam-blog/

Artificial Intelligence & Art: A Provocation – 14/09/18

Rachel Evans, Director of Digital Learning and Innovation at WHS, looks at the links between Art and Artificial Intelligence, investigating how new technology is innovating the discipline.

What is art? We might have trouble answering that question: asking whether a machine can create art takes the discussion in a new direction.

Memo Akten is an artist based at Goldsmith’s, University of London where much exciting work is taking place around the intersection of artificial intelligence and creative arts.

Akten’s work Learning to see was created by first showing a neutral network tens of thousands of images of works of art from the Google Arts Project.  The machine then ‘watches’ a webcam, under which objects or other images are placed, and uses its ‘knowledge’ to create new images of its own. This still is from the film Gloomy Sunday. Was it ‘thinking’ of Strindberg’s seascape?

I have been fascinated by this artwork since I first saw it and have watched it many times. The changing image is mesmerising as the machine presents, develops and alters its output in response to the input. It draws me in, not only as a visual experience, but for the complex response it provokes as I think about what I am seeing.

Akten describes the work as:

An artificial neural network making predictions on live webcam input, trying to make sense of what it sees, in context of what it’s seen before.

It can see only what it already knows, just like us.

In 1972 the critic John Berger used the exciting medium of colour television to present a radical approach to art criticism, Ways of Seeing, which was then published as an affordable Penguin paperback. In the opening essay of the book he wrote “Every image embodies a way of seeing. […] The photographer’s way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject. […] Yet, although every image embodies a way of seeing, our perception or appreciation of an image also depends on our own way of seeing.” When Akten writes that the machine “can see only what it already knows, just like us he approaches the idea that the response of the neural network is human-like in its desire to find meaning and context, just as we attempt to find an image which we can recognise in the work it creates.

If the artist is choosing the subject, but the machine transforms what it sees into ‘art’, is the machine ‘seeing’? Or are we wholly creating the work in our response to it and the work is close to random – a machine-generated response to a stimulus not unlike a human splattering paint?

Jackson Pollock wrote “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.” Is the neural network performing this role here for the artist, of distancing during the creative process, of letting the ideas flow, to be considered afterwards?

Is the artist the sole creator, in that he has created the machine? That might be the case at the moment, with the current technology, but interestingly Akten refers to himself as “exploring collaborative co-creativity between humans and machines”.

I find this fascinating and it raises more questions than I can answer: it leaves me wanting to know more. It has prompted me to delve back into my own knowledge and understanding of art history and criticism to make connections that will help me respond. In short – encountering this work has caused me to think and learn.

In the current discussions in the media and in education around artificial intelligence we tend to focus on the extremes of the debate in a non-specific way – with the alarmist ‘the robots will take our jobs’ at one end and the utopian ‘AI will solve healthcare’ at the other. A focus for innovation at WHS this year is to open up a discussion about artificial intelligence, but this discussion needs to be detailed and rich in content if it’s going to lead to understanding. We want the students to understand this technology which will impact on their lives: as staff, we want to contribute to the landscape of knowledge and action around AI in education to ensure that the solutions which will arrive on the market will be fair, free of bias and promote equality. Although a work of art may seem an unusual place to start, the complex ideas it prompts may set us on the right path to discuss the topic in a way which is rigorous and thoughtful.

So – let the discussion begin.

Printmaking and the Teaching of Art and Design – 06/07/18

Rebecca Owens, Head of Art at Wimbledon High School

Printmaking has always been one of the things I enjoyed the most when I studied at Camberwell School of Art. So, when I started at Wimbledon High School I decided to introduce as many of the techniques as possible. There is something magical about the processes as the results are always a bit unexpected. Rather like a good gardener will learn some strategies to help achieve the results she wants, and tame nature in the garden, she will inevitably have moments of surprise. The same is true of printmaking. Whilst you can learn the techniques and become more familiar with the results, there is often a WOW moment, and an unexpected outcome. As the German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig-Kirchner said:

‘The technical procedures doubtless release energies in the artist that remain unused in the much more lightweight processes of drawing or painting’ (remark on printmaking).

In this article I have outlined why I think printmaking is important, what the different types of printmaking are and how we use printmaking at Wimbledon High School.

Printmaking

Printmaking revolutionised how images were disseminated, with the first publication of books and the subsequent development of printed images in the mid fourteenth century enabling more people to own images, and for these images to be moved around. The letter press or moveable type, first mentioned in 1439, was designed by Johannes Gutenberg. The increased production of books over the next few decades meant that the price of paper dropped, and as a result, that artists had cheaper access to the media. Artists started to work in different ways, with woodcuts, wood engravings or engravings on metal often used to create the printed images found in books. In this respect, printmaking allowed the artist to be more egalitarian, and reach a much wider audience, as each print could be sold for less money than the original.

Why use printmaking in school

The process of printmaking allows students to work and think in a completely different way, as printed outcomes often have unexpected results. This characteristic of the process allows students to experiment liberally with the further development of their images. Indeed, the disconnection between a student’s expected outcome, and the physical reality of their print is part of the pleasure of printing, it liberates the artist and helps them to investigate unexpected and exciting ways of working. Once the screen or block has been created, the student can explore overprinting onto different surfaces, try differing colours schemes or experiment with making the two-dimensional print into a three-dimensional piece. Some students thrive and gain in confidence when they are constrained by some conventions to react against, or rules to break, as David Hockney states “limitations in art have never been a hindrance. I think they are a stimulant”.

There are many advantages to introducing the different skill set required for Printmaking, but one important reason to me is that it allows Art to be rewarding to a greater range of people. The boundaries in the technique encourage creativity.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” 
― Pablo Picasso

Types of printmaking

Drypoint

A drypoint needle is used to scratch into the plate, which may be metal or plastic. Ink is then rubbed into the plate. The paper is dampened before printing, so that as it passes between the two rollers, the ink is lifted out from the scratches.

These prints are based on portrait images that the students took of themselves, their friends and family. The theme was reflections and distortions, where the students explored different reflective surfaces and other ways of distorting their images. The prints were created using an etching needle and a plastic plate. Professionals would use metal plates as they are more durable and so a bigger edition can be created.

Ruby (Year 10)

Zara (Year 10)

Issie (Year 13) 

Using a combination of etchings, rubbings of textured surfaces Issie created the laminates from which this installation was created. The images explored the contrasting shapes found in Kew gardens.

Etching

Plates are coated with different grounds, and the ground is then removed using the etching needles. The plates are placed in acid, where the acid etches into the metal, creating areas which will hold the ink during the printing process. This process is often combined with aquatint which achieves the graduated tones, as evident in the work of Norman Ackroyd.  The artists’ beguiling, monochromatic works of the British Isles achieve a soft, seemingly watercolour-like effect through a combination of etching and aquatint processes. Explore his work here.

Woodcut printing

This technique uses blocks of wood where the grain is parallel to the printing surface. This allows for working on a bigger scale than wood engraving, and as the cuts follow the grain there can be some slipping as the design is cut. The grain of the wood is also evident in the print, with artists like Nash Gill using this characteristic of the process to add texture and interest to their compositions. Ink is applied using rollers and the lines cut remain the colour of the paper. The work of Kathe Kollwitz shows how the simplicity of a print can be used to create images which elicit an emotional response. She used her work to comment on society at the time focussing on poverty and loneliness. See her work here.

Wood engraving

This uses the end grain of wood, often box or lemon wood, as the grain is fine and consistent. As these woods are slow growing, the blocks available are smaller. The cutting process is very hard, requiring sharp tools, but there is less slipping as the tools are cutting across even grain. Ink is applied using rollers and the lines cut remain the colour of the paper. John Lawrence delicate and fine wood engravings have been used as illustrations in numerous fine art publications and books. See his work here.

Lino printing

Using linoleum to create the block. Lino is hessian backed and made from cork. It is easier to cut than wood prints, but has a similar bold effect. The lines cut do not hold the ink as the ink is applied using rollers to the surface of the block. Grayson Perry uses large scale lino prints to create his exciting images which present his critique and commentary on contemporary life. View his work here.

Year 7 Lino prints

Lino prints, akin to wood engravings, require the artist to work in reverse as the areas which are cut away do not hold the ink. Whereas lines are normally drawn in a dark colour on a light background, when working on a lino design it is necessary to reverse that process. For that reason, it is helpful when designing a lino print to make a plan using white chalk on black paper. As an introduction to lino printing Year 7 are shown how to work in this way. It has the additional benefit that white chalk is relatively tricky to create very fine marks with, so it encourages everyone to be bolder. Indeed this is also beneficial as it is difficult to cut out shapes which are too intricate.

Shanalia (Year 7)

Tulip 1 by Rebecca Owens

 

I made this piece using Linocut prints on white tissue paper, collaged together. The rhythmic patterns in organic forms have always inspired my work. ‘Tulips 2’ aims to contrast the fluid shapes found in tulip flowers and leaves, with the geometric composition of the collage. I am fascinated by the delicacy and semi-transparent nature of the thin paper. The way the overlaying of the bold Lino prints creates unexpected focal points and a subtle range of colours, is also intriguing.

Monotype printing

 

Kate (Year 9)

On the theme of Text in the Environment students in Year 9 took some amazing reference photographs from which to develop their ideas. They used these to create their monotype prints. As the name would suggest, these are one off prints, where the ink is rolled out or laid onto a board, paper or other flat surface and a second sheet of paper is laid onto the inked area. By drawing on the back of the paper the ink is transferred. It has the same wonderful sense of excitement and often gives an exciting moment in lessons, when students reveal their prints.

Eryngium – Monotype print by Rebecca Owens

Silk screen printing

Using a silk or synthetic mesh stretched over a screen. The ink is then pressed through the screen using squeegees. Stencils can by created for the screen using papercuts, by photographically transferring images onto the screen using light sensitive materials or by blocking the screen using stoppers. This media was used by artists such as Rauschenberg and Warhol in contrasting ways. Recently Ciara Phillips immersive installations created with prints engaged and intrigued the viewers, through her exploration of the process of printmaking. See her discuss her work here.

Year 11 and 13 mixed media work including prints.

These images demonstrate the exciting ways in which the students have experimented with these techniques.

Ava (created when she was in year 11)

Her screen prints on the theme of natural forms were folded to create this sculpture.

Lucy (Year 11)

In this piece she has combined pen drawing with screen printing.

Imogen (Year 13)

This large scale mixed- media piece contains etchings and screen prints which she used to create this sculptural piece.

Lithography

Using a stone or metal plate which has been sensitised to any greasy material, drawing is added using wax or chinagraph pencils. The plate is then brushed with liquid etch and coated with gum Arabic. The second stage of the process sees the black disappearing and leaving a waxy shadow. These will be the areas that hold the ink when printing. With lithography the plate has to be wet before ink is applied and kept damp.

Conclusion

Printmaking allows students flexibility and freedom to experiment. The contemporary artists included earlier in this article use printmaking to tackle important and universal themes through their printmaking. They are evidence that printmaking today is used by artists in increasingly diverse ways, to create artworks relevant to contemporary society.

Creativity allows students to develop different ways of thinking and as Art never has a right or wrong answer, there is a different thought process involved in solving a visual conundrum. Printmaking feeds into student’s visual vocabulary, allowing them the ability to express their ideas in a range of sophisticated ways, and helping them to express their thoughts and ideas..

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Pablo Picasso

Bibliography

A History of pictures by David Hockney and Martin Gayford –  Thames and Hudson

Art The definitive visual guide by Andrew Graham-Dixon – Dorling Kindersley

The Encyclopaedia of Printmaking Techniques by Judy Martin – Quarto publishing

Making a living as a composer in the 21st Century – 29/06/18

Miss Katie Butler, Performing Arts Assistant at WHS and professional composer, looks at the important role of being a composer in the 21st Century.

Introduction

The role of the composer in society has changed a great deal over the centuries. Before the invention of writing and printing, music would have been passed down through oral tradition since time immemorial, but the first musical notation systems can be traced back to Ancient Greece. From there, the ability to notate music made it easier to create longer-form, more complex works, and through the centuries the process developed, from plainsong and early polyphony to the more defined periods of Western art music that we learn about in GCSE and A Level music (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic, up to the present day).

From pen to screen: how has technology changed the composition process?

With the explosion of technology and readily accessible media that has happened in more recent decades, there are more ways to be a composer than ever before – meaning the competition is much greater, but at the same time, so are the opportunities available. Now that we have composing software like Cubase and Logic, and sample libraries (that is, plugins of pre-recorded instruments that allow you to recreate a realistic orchestral sound from your computer), composing is no longer exclusively for those with formal musical education and the ability to read music, or a big budget to record live musicians in studios, and the lines between composer, orchestrator, sound designer and producer are becoming increasingly blurred.

In an age where anyone with a laptop can be a composer, how does this affect the opportunities open to us, and how do we take the step from composing for ourselves to making a living from it?

A little history

Going back through the centuries, many of the great Classical composers were financially able to compose the volume of work they did because of aristocratic patronage. Rich families would appoint composers to write music for private performance in their homes, providing them with a regular income and guaranteed performance opportunities, in return for entertainment and improvement of their own social standing and influence. This Classic FM article will introduce you to some of the major patrons through history. The process was similar for performers and writers; actors and musicians would be affiliated to specific families, and without patronage, we would not have the majority of Shakespeare’s work. Musicians have been making a more sustainable living from composing ever since copyright was introduced (in its earliest form in the late 18th century, and in its present since the early 20th). With rights and royalties, the great composers of previous eras would be earning a great deal more today than they would have done when they were alive.

The power of the internet

Fast-forward five-hundred years or so, and it’s a concept that’s still present today. Now that music is so widely accessible, the modern day “patron” is just a customer that downloads an album, goes to a gig or concert or buys sheet music. Websites like Patreon and Kickstarter allow freelancers invite their followers and fans to fund their work, providing exclusive and personalised content for those that subscribe. The internet is also a brilliant platform for performers to advertise their talents, as we have seen with the explosion of the “Youtuber” and Vine artists – for example, Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Charlie Puth, who were all catapulted to stardom having been first spotted on their Youtube channels.

The same goes for composers. We can now market our work online with a website, and for all the Youtube videos, bloggers and adverts, there is music that get used in them, with many composers gaining a sizeable portion of their income from writing “library music”: individual tracks that could be used for all sorts of media, from adverts, corporate and educational videos to television and film. Library music companies will invite submissions from composers, where they will be professionally recorded and labelled for production companies to browse online, and composers are normally paid a one-off fee for the unlimited use of their music. One of the leading library music sites is Audio Network – take a look around the website to see the multitude of different styles that are available. Does it take the soul out of the process? Perhaps, but what it lacks in soul, it makes up for in flexibility, freedom and creative control, without the tight deadlines and clashing egos of film and television. Learn more from some composers who are making a living from library music here.

Film and television

Another strand of composing is for film and television, which has had a huge increase in popularity in recent years. It’s a career that relies almost entirely on building relationships with directors, writers and producers, and slowly working your way up. Film music has to fit a picture exactly, mirroring the movements onscreen, conveying emotion, and is very collaborative. It also involves working with directors who don’t necessarily know what they want, and requires such a broad knowledge and understanding of so many different genres of music that many people come to film composing later in their careers. While potentially hugely lucrative and undoubtedly one of the most exciting, rewarding composing careers, it is perhaps the most difficult one to break into.

Musical theatre

From the days of classical patronage to today, in order to earn a living as a composer our output is largely controlled by whoever is paying us – be this a patron, an advertising executive or a film director – but an area that allows more creative control than usual is musical theatre. Having monopolised the West End for decades, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s more recent original productions have been relative commercial flops (for example, the Phantom sequel Love Never Dies (2010), and the bizarre Stephen Ward (2013) that closed after three months), and he is now channelling his focus into helping the next generation of musical theatre writers and composers.

Love Never Dies – a musical failure? Or the catalyst for promoting young composers?

In 2017, he purchased the St James Theatre and renamed it The Other Palace, with the main purpose of bolstering new musicals, and they host regular open mic nights as well as workshops and showcases of new work. Off the back of this, composers can then earn money from licensing shows for amateur performance, or from a transfer of a show to a bigger theatre. Because the process from page to stage takes a great deal of time, other forms of income are still vital. Commercial song-writing allows this freedom to an extent, and there is a faster turnover of projects, but there is still the pressure from record labels to write hits that will sell and the competition is greater than for any other medium.

What can I do now?

As for where to get started while at school or university: GCSE and A Level Music courses will introduce you to the techniques used for composing and give you a chance to try it out, before specialising in university and postgraduate study, where you have the creative freedom to explore your own personal style without worrying about the mark schemes and hoop-jumping that comes with passing exams. You can also come along to our various composition clubs that take place during the week, where you have the freedom to work on your music. Early composition assignments can feel like creativity by numbers, but as they say, you have to learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist…

It’s harder to get started making an income composing than in a lot of careers, but once established, there is essentially no cap on how far it is possible to go. It’s about finding your niche and a way of making it work for you, and new music (particularly by female composers) is being championed more now than ever. Here are some links specific to young female musicians:

PRS Women Make Music

Women In Music

Glyndebourne: Balancing the Score

If you think composing might be your thing then immerse yourself in learning more about your craft – go to gigs and concerts, see films in the cinema with the high-quality speakers and surround sound, explore both the West End and Off-West End theatre scenes (many shows have cheaper ticket lotteries or day tickets, and seats at the back for as little as £20). Seeing how others do it is the best way to learn how to do it yourself, and as Wimbledon residents with central London practically on our doorsteps, there really is no excuse not to! Most importantly, be brave and put your music out there so that people can see what you can do.

Happy writing!

The creative-academic problem: why we should value the creative curriculum.

Richard Bristow, Director of Music at WHS, looks at recent developments in the creative curriculum.

News report:

‘Creative industries worth almost £10 million an hour to economy’

Dept. of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, January 2016

 

‘Creative industries grow twice as fast as UK economy in 2015-16, making up 5.3% of the economy’

Economic Estimates for 2016 Report

 

‘The government is aiming for 90% of Year 10 pupils to be studying the EBacc…by 2025’

Telegraph April 2018

 

 ‘Arts education should be the entitlement of every child’

Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, April 2018

 

 

‘Music could “face extinction” in secondary schools in England, researchers have warned’

BBC, March 2017

 

“A combination of cuts to school budgets and the consequential loss of specialist teachers has created a skills loss”

Prof Colin Lawson, Director of RCM, March 2018

 

‘How to improve the school results: not extra maths but music, and loads of it’

Guardian, October 2017

 

‘Axe looms for county music service: 7000 school instrumental lessons impacted’

Sussex Express, April 2018

 

The creative-academic problem:

The news reports above pose a dilemma. On one hand, Creative Industries in the UK have had a celebrated few years, adding significant value to the UK economy; on the other, cuts to creative (and specifically Music) education in secondary schools in England paint a bleak picture of an emerging skills gap, threatening this very success.

A recent BBC survey with data collected from over 1200 schools – some 40% of all secondary schools in England – revealed a damming 90% of schools have made cuts to staffing, resourcing or facilities to at least one creative arts subject over the last year. Music, Drama, Art and Design and Technology all find themselves squeezed because of a growing need to teach ‘academic’ subjects – a key feature of the new English Baccalaureate (or EBacc for short), which has become a compulsory part of state education in England. This division of academic and creative is a central problem in education. After all, we want creative solutions to scientific problems, and an academic approach to art allows for increased understanding. Yes, the Theory of Relativity is complex, but so is Schenkerian musical analysis. Why do we have to choose? Why can we not value both?

90% of schools have made cuts to the creative arts over the last year

BBC Survey

The EBacc

Introduced from 2010, the EBacc seeks to counter the fall in numbers of pupils studying foreign languages and sciences (see here) by measuring pupil progress in English, maths, the sciences, a language and either history or geography.

EBacc Subjects:
  • English Literature
  • English Language
  • Maths
  • Combined or Triple Science
  • History or Geography
  • A Language – ancient or modern

The Government originally set a target of 90% of Year 10 pupils studying the EBacc to be achieved by 2025. This however has recently been reduced to 75% in the latest Conservative manifesto – not to allow for a broadening of the EBacc subjects, but because there are not enough Modern Foreign Language teachers to allow the original target to be met. The cuts to language teaching are a little more established than the more recent cuts to creative subjects, showing the ‘boom and bust’ approach to education in the UK in the 21st Century (see here for more information on MFL provision).

 

However, despite the significant press coverage of schools closing their music departments (see here) and some schools even charging pupils to study Music at GCSE (see here) the data seems to show a mismatch. A New Schools Network report (which can be viewed here) analysing data for all state school GCSE entries between 2011/12 and 2015/16 actually shows a rise in the number of pupils sitting at least one creative subject at GCSE over the period and confirms that pupils who achieve the very best EBacc grades are likely to have also achieved well in a creative arts subject. However, it also shows other issues:

  • A reduction in the funding in the creative arts in secondary schools, suggesting state schools have ‘misunderstood’ the requirements of the EBacc to prioritise named subjects at the expense of non-named subjects
  • The impact of this funding reduction has not yet impacted achievement, but it may well do so in the future
  • That the Government can be more enthusiastic about the value of the creative arts
  • That the biggest decline in the take up of creative subjects was in the Independent Sector, who are not required to follow the EBacc, recording a 12.9% fall in take up of at least one creative arts subject at GCSE from 2011/12 to 2015/16
  • That the independent sector has seen a 30% fall in total GCSE and IGCSE entries over the 2011/12 to 2015/16 period

These points add to the confusion. If the picture is as positive as this report suggests, why are we seeing reports suggesting the ‘extinction’ of subjects like Music in state schools? If the picture is one where the evidence shows the EBacc has not declined the provision of arts education, why are Music departments and Music hubs closing? How can pupils access an arts curriculum if the department is not physically there?

Perhaps the biggest problem with the report is that it does not give data for individual subjects. It might show a rise for the pupils studying the creative arts, but it does not show a rise in all creative subjects. So whilst the numbers studying Art or Design and Technology (part of the STEAM initiative) might have risen sharply, this might be at the expense of Music or Drama, who might have seen a strong decline in education provision. This data is needed to truly understand the impact of the EBacc on individual creative subjects.

Partnerships

The NSN Arts Report also calls upon Art Providers to be more active in helping to engage pupils in the creative arts (see Kendall et al, The Longer-Term Impact of Creative Partnerships on the Attainment of Young People). This might be via art organisations setting up free schools, or more likely to encourage art organisations to engage with a cultural education programme with school pupils.

One such example is the Philharmonia Orchestra who have recently completed their Universe of Sound and 360 Experience Project. This exciting project uses virtual reality to film the Philharmonia Orchestra performing Holst’s The Planets allowing people to experience and learn more about the symphony orchestra. They have also commissioned new music by Joby Talbot to give a contemporary interpretation to writing music to represent time and space. I have been lucky enough to do some work on the education resources for this programme over the Easter break, and it is hoped that this experience can offer pupils, parents and teachers a way into linking Music to other STEAM subjects, rising cultural engagement and musical understanding. If you would like to learn more about the project, please visit here for more information.

Final thoughts

If we are to view subjects by their perceived academic worth, then it can be useful to view how the subject has been taught through history. Whilst many would view Music as now being a creative (and not academic subject), it is important to remember that Music as an academic and theoretical subject was one of the Ancient Greek seven liberal arts and a part of the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) which was taught after the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric). Rather than being marginalised as a non-academic subject, we should relish the fact that Music can and has informed scientific understanding throughout history. Practical study of Music is obviously a useful skill, but it is the academic and theoretical knowledge that comes from advanced study of the subject that can really inspire the very best musicians. Perhaps we should redefine STEAM to STEAMM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Maths and Music.

Or maybe we should lose the hierarchy altogether; perhaps, instead of putting subjects against each other in some fruitless competition, we should value passion, enjoyment and the love of learning, seeing the subjects as having equal worth. As Ian McEwan states:

“Science, the humanities and the arts are all forms of investigation,

driven by curiosity and delight in discovery.

The child who flourishes in one should flourish in the others.

The best, the liveliest education, would nourish all three.”

Richard Bristow, 21st April 2018

Follow @Music_WHS on Twitter

Hearing in colour – Synesthesia and musical composition

What if we heard music and at the same time could see colours? What if we composed music to create colours? Louisa (Year 12) investigates synesthesia and musical composition.

Synesthesia is the neurological condition where the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in another. There are many different types, however common examples include grapheme-colour synesthesia where letters and numbers are seen as clearly coloured and chromesthesia where different musical keys, notes and timbres elicit specific colours and textures in one’s minds’ eye. For example, some synesthetes may clearly see the musical note F as blue or Wednesday as dark green or the number 6 as tasting of strawberries.

How some synesthetes may experience letters and numbers

Whilst some synesthetic associations are more common than others, it is possible for them to occur between any number of senses or cognitive pathways.

The definitive cause of synesthesia is not yet known, however most neuroscientists agree it is caused by excess interconnectivity between the visual cortex of the brain and the different sensory regions. It is estimated that around 1 in 2000 people experience true synesthesia and it is more common in women than men, however it may be more common as many who have it may not consider it a condition and leave it unreported.

One area in which there is a large concentration of synesthetes is in the arts; notable synasthetes include composers Olivier Messiaen, Franz Liszt and Jean Sibelius, Russian author Vladimir Nabokov, artists Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney, jazz legend Duke Ellington and actress Marilyn Monroe.

Composers who experienced chromesthesia (the type of synesthesia where musical keys and notes and sometimes intervals are associated with colours) often actively incorporated it into their works and in some cases made it central to their compositions.

How musical keys may be seen by people with chromesthesia

French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was quoted as saying “I see colours when I hear sounds but I don’t see colours with my eyes. I see colours intellectually, in my head.” He said that if a particular sound complex was repeated an octave higher, the colour he saw persisted, but grew paler. If the octave was lowered the colour darkened. Only if the sound complex was transposed into a different pitch did the colour inside his head radically change.

For Messiaen, it was vital that performers and listeners of his music understood the colours he was portraying in his compositions and he did this by writing instructions in his scores. For example, pianists in the second movement (Vocalise) of his Quartet for the End of Time, written in a prisoner of war camp in 1940, are told to aim for “blue-orange” chords. Similarly, musicians playing ‘Couleurs de la cité céleste’ are instructed to conjure “yellow topaz” for one chord cluster and “bright green” for the next as well as many more examples.

Another composer who actively made use of his synesthesia is Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Sibelius wrote that “music is for me like a beautiful mosaic which God has put together”. He said if he heard a violin playing a certain piece of music, he would see a corresponding colour such as colour of the sky at sunset in the summer. The colour would be uniquely specific and would only be triggered by a particular sound. This means many of his compositions have strong links to imagery experienced by Sibelius which may account for the strong emotional pulse that can be heard throughout his compositions.

Similarly, Franz Lizst (1811-1886) was known to use his synesthesia in his orchestral compositions, saying “O please, gentlemen, a little bluer, if you please! This tone type requires it!” or “That is a deep violet, please, depend on it! Not so rose!” Initially the orchestra believed Liszt was just joking before realising Lizst did in fact see colours for each tone and key.

It can be difficult to understand the experiences of true synesthetes when not having the condition oneself, however this can be made easier by looking at the works of synesthetic artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), the first abstract painter. Instead of using his synesthesia to compose new music, he would create artwork based on the music he heard.

Kandinsky discovered his synesthesia at a performance of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin in Moscow. He said “I saw all my colours in spirit, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.” In 1911, after studying and settling in Germany, he was similarly moved by a Schoenberg concert of 3 Klavierstücke Op. 11 and finished painting Impression III (Konzert) two days later.

Impression III (Konzert) – Kandinsky

When studying the music of known synesthetic composers, it’s important we bear in mind what the composers were experiencing when writing it as it adds another dimension to the music and can change the overall interpretation. It also offers a fascinating link between music and art, adding increased complexity to the process of musical composition.

Twitter: @Music_WHS