Sunday, June 5, 2011

Knowledge per se....

Recently my husband and I had a fascinating conversation about music.  He loves music, and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music from about the last 50 years.  He is one of those people who can "name the song and band" after hearing just a bar or two of a song.  He can also tell who is singing a cover version.  On the other hand, I am often surprised to discover that music from an advertisement is actually from a real song....I really am hopeless when it comes to contemporary music.  I enjoy listening to it when he turns on the stereo, but I wouldn't think to do it myself.

I love listening to classical music, and foreign and indigenous singers whose lyrics I know I can't understand, so there's no need trying.  I played the french horn in our school orchestra - I am not naturally musical, but had a fabulous teacher. (French horn is a good instrument to play if you are not in fact very musical - you sit near the trumpets and trombones, who are usually quite musical or at least very confident and cocky, and they either drown you out or blend you in, so no one notices your mistakes). I loved playing in orchestras and bands.  Creating music with others is very fulfilling; a real pleasure.

As I was saying, I love classical music.  I loved learning about musical theory, history and the lives of the great composers.  It is a source of great sadness to me that I am not actually musical. I was one of only three students banned from our primary school choir membership of which was compulsory!

To cut a long story short, I know a lot about music, but can't actually 'do' music very well.  Nevertheless I am very grateful to all those who helped me learn, and who patiently covered for me in various bands and orchestras over the years.  And the fascinating conversation I had with my husband made it all worth while.

He asked me about scales, and how you can tell if a piece of music is in a particular key, and what the difference is between major and minor keys, and why we need sharps and flats. In other words, about three years of music theory condensed into a half hour conversation.  So I sat him down at the keyboard of our (digital) piano and showed him.  It was a really special feeling, firstly to actually know more about something than he does, but also to be able to teach him a little more about something he loves.  It was so refreshing (and sadly, unusual) to be having an in depth conversation that didn't revolve aroung the children or the household or work or finances.  Eventually our discussion led us to the internet, where we found sites that got right into the maths and physics of music and harmony, where we both learnt something new together.  And while we'll never have to rely on our understanding of musical theory for a crust, that time spent talking and sharing was for me so precious.

How often, at school or uni, have we sat in class thinking (or saying...) "Why do I have to do this? This is sooo totally irrelevant to me. I'm no good at this, why do I have to learn it?"  The fact is, we can never know when something we have learnt may come in handy, when we may be grateful to those who made us learn a language or an instrument or a sport or a skill. Even learning something at which we are hopeless gives us at least a greater appreciation of the efforts of those who excel.

For which of education's 'irrelevancies' are you grateful?


  1. I am so grateful for what some see as the irrelevancy of homework.... it tuned me in to the idea that work/learning is an all-day/lifelong experience, not something that stops at the school gate. Not that I always DID my homework, but still....

  2.'s the thought that counts! The conceptual lesson learnt may be more valid than those tasks you chose not to do. It's funny what we are still learning from school long after we left! A method in the madness is slowly appearing - like one of those strange 3D fuzzy pictures that were popular in the 90s.