13 August 2013

Zimbabwe: School Syllabi Must Embrace Music Education

BELIEVE it or not, music unites society. It teaches one tolerance and respect for diverse ideas. Therefore, musicians deserve respect and support from society at large. The issue of musicians living in abject poverty has been talked about for a very long time. Last week, I was talking to Bob "The Headmaster" Nyabinde on how the music industry can be improved and he informed me that the industry had taken a step back because the Government had re-introduced import duty on musical instruments for individual musicians.

I sought clarification on this matter from Elvas Mari, the director of National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, and he confirmed this to be true.

As he put it: "There is a slight technicality that needs to be sorted out and I am confident sooner or later this will be sorted out."

It means at the moment, musicians who want to import musical instruments, will have to pay duty until this so-called technicality is sorted out.

The reason why import duty was frozen between 2004 and 2013 for musicians goes back to our fight since 1980 to alleviate poverty among musicians.

In 2004, the Government took heed and gave a big break to those who could afford to import musical instruments. Suddenly, a lot of churches had their congregations filled with musical instruments and some individual musicians had new band equipment of their own. It was no longer difficult to hire a PA System as was the case in the 1980s when music promoters depended on PA systems hired from South Africa.

Musical concerts sprouted in every corner of the country and, of course, this created jobs for otherwise unemployed youths.

This development can be compared to that of Jamaica where when the bauxite and sugar-cane industries collapsed, a lot of youths became unemployed and resorted to music with support from government which built recording studios to support the arts as well as providing recreation and jobs for the youths.

It is therefore sad news to hear that import duty on musical instruments has been re-introduced in Zimbabwe.

In my view, if poverty should be reduced among musicians, no imposition of import duty should be allowed and more funds should be allocated to the arts through the National Arts Council.

At the moment the NACZ is focused on policing what artistes and music promoters should and should not do instead of encouraging creativity. This can be prevented if enough money was poured into its coffers.

The new Government should re-align the Education Act to ensure that arts and culture are given priority for a change in its budget allocation.

Alternatively, a new Ministry of Arts and Culture should be created altogether to ensure the improvement in the standards and quality of music in Zimbabwe. The ministry can also support music by availing funds for music education in this country.

My concern about the current state of music education in Zimbabwean schools is based on the conviction that this specific subject area is of utmost importance in ensuring the holistic development of all learners.

For years, music educators have been engaged in endless struggles to justify the inclusion of music in school curricula.

Even before independence, Alan P. Merriam (1964), a renowned anthropologist and researcher in music education, identified 10 "functions" of music.

These "functions" have been adopted by many protagonists of music education as significant justifications for the inclusion of this subject in the general school curriculum.

Based on Merriam's beliefs, we can summarise the value of music education with regard to learners' involvement by listing the 10 functions of music as follows:

Assists learners in releasing their emotions and expressing their feelings.

Provides aesthetic enjoyment.

Provides entertainment, recreation and amusement.

Is a communicative tool, as it conveys feelings and emotions that are understood by people within a particular culture.

Serves as symbolic representation of a particular culture.

Stimulates physical responses.

Facilitates conformity to social norms.

Validates social institutions and religious rituals.

Contributes to the continuity and stability of culture, and

Contributes to the integration of society.

We are concerned, however, that, in their endeavours to justify the inclusion of music in the general school curriculum, music educationists often tend to draw on rationalisations and societal perceptions.

These may degrade the subject, since it emphasises the value of music education in instrumental terms, subordinating it to so-called "intellectual" subjects, such as mathematics and physical science.

By emphasising these aspects, I do not suggest that the other justifications are inadequate. Given the above, the benefits of music education, not only for each individual learner, but also for society at large, are evident.

Music can contribute to the emotional development of learners in Zimbabwean schools in a manner that other subjects simply cannot do.

It is indisputably clear how important it is to conceive of music as part of mainstream education to the benefit not only of each individual, but also to society at large.

Curriculum planners should seriously consider including music education in every school syllabus.

Although a variety of strategies can and should be applied to foster learners' emotional lives, the potential contributory role of music education is not always recognised.

Music has the ability to go beyond the inadequacies of language. When people communicate, they normally do this linguistically. Moreover, when they share their feelings, this is also done by means of language. We need to remember that language is only one medium of expression.

People frequently misunderstand one another, as a result of linguistic distortions. When we express the content of an emotion in words, we are already, in many cases, performing a translation of thoughts that did not originally take an explicitly verbal form.

Language simply cannot enter an emotion in its most subtle form, as certain forms of brain (cognitive) activity, which represent ideas of salience and urgency, are non-linguistic. Music, on the other hand, can relate to the inner world without being translatable into words.

In this regard, music's access to the depth of emotions is much more direct than words. We believe that music education has the potential to contribute to the fusion of society, not only because it has the ability to penetrate emotions, but also because it is universally shareable.

This sharing goes beyond the cultural manifestations of these unique characteristics. In this regard, one can assume that music education has the potential not only to nurture the emotional development of Zimbabwean learners, but also to enhance harmonious social interaction between these learners.

The interaction is like that of a football team where complete strangers are united by the game to form a team. Many end up being friends for life.

This means that music education can be one of the avenues through which a peaceful society can be achieved.

Should schools thus recognise the importance of music education and utilise the opportunity responsibly, the vision of a united and harmonious

Zimbabwean society does not have to remain a dream.

We do not want the likes of Bob Nyabinde and Friday Mbirimi to consider going back to their headmaster days when they can make a positive contribution to the music industry. The only way to do this is to fuse society with music education.

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