Intermusicality and Embedded Lifelong Learning: Interview With Jaco van den Dool (School of Performing Arts Kathmandu)

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Intermusicality and Embedded Lifelong Learning: Interview With Jaco van den Dool (School of Performing Arts Kathmandu)


1)    In pedagogical terms, what are some of the essential principles of music education?


I argue that learning music is, above all, fun and a wonderful skill to obtain in order to make grey days a little lighter. Furthermore (and now I’m getting serious), the central mission of music education should be: the education of expressions and emotions. I emphasize that it should be. Since the implementation of Arts education in the curriculum of schools and the rise of music – and dance institutes in many parts of the world, the arts have sought for recognition and to be taken as seriously as academic courses. On the one hand, arts education seems to defend its claim for existence by seeking evidence for causal relationships between studying the arts and academic achievement. On the other hand, it seeks for relationships between arts education and the development of artistic skills, creativity and social skills. Schools in Western Europe, but also in Nepal, predominantly focus on the cognitive development of students, inevitably ignoring emotion and expression. Unfortunately, music education has sought to find a legitimate place of existence in the cognitive school system by highlighting the value of music by referring to its cognitive contributions. Some studies, for example, claim that listening to Mozart enhances your IQ. Using this false notion as an argument for music education totally misses the point. Coming back to your question, the essential principles of music education should not be the enhancement of IQ, but the education of expressing one’s feelings. 


2)    How does education at SPAK translate, methodologically and practically, onto the class and to the student?


If music education is about expression of emotions then it can’t succeed without the input of the body. Where science subjects utilize mere cognitive abilities to learn, music connects the mind with the body as a unity. The base of learning artistic skills is inextricably rooted in bodily movement. This already starts from day one. Therefore, we provide baby music classes in order to stimulate bodily expression. Babies are extremely sensitive to sound and movement. We need to nurture and stimulate that, so babies can develop into healthy balanced human beings.


At SPAK we teach dance, theatre, and music for all ages, bridging all layers of society. Teaching dance at an orphanage, baby music, musical theatre at the British school, or individual piano classes have one thing in common: the education of expression and emotion. Practically this means that music notation and theory is just a means to an end. During the music class we should not shove uninspiring finger exercises through our students’ throats, but stimulate their innate musical abilities. We let our students decide what they want to learn. From there, our teachers only need to ignite the spark and guide the students to a higher level of learning. In addition, many of our courses have a group setting, which stimulates peer-to-peer learning. Teachers don’t like to hear this, but in the end students learn better and faster from their peers than from us educators.

3)    Can you tell us about your doctoral research in blended modes of learning?


In 2012 I conducted research on musical learning processes in Kathmandu. I studied 3 bands over a period of 5 months at two different music schools in the valley. I examined the acquisition of popular music by young musicians for whom local traditional music holds a prominent place in the musical learning process. You could say that these musicians are in a state of in-betweenness. On the one hand they are immersed in Nepali traditional music, mostly by listening to it during festivals, and in some cases by active participation. On the other hand, youngsters are exploratory and actively search for new musical genres to learn. For example, the last decade jazz music became extremely popular in Kathmandu. The question rises: how do you learn jazz music if music education is (for most people) inaccessible? In order to understand unfamiliar musics, like jazz, Nepali youths tap into local music learning strategies. After absorbing local music through audible learning and observation, they utilize those techniques in the immersion process of unfamiliar musics, crosscutting both music systems. The immersion process starts with listening to tapes from older brothers and friends, and later with copying musical practices from teachers or YouTube tutorial videos.


Observation and imitation alone do not necessarily lead to mastering jazz music. Central to this study is the transfer of learning strategies and the blending process of learning tools from local music into unfamiliar musics. In order to obtain unfamiliar musics Nepali musicians blend their local way of learning with new learning techniques, resulting in three degrees of intermusical learning. First, the young Nepali musicians start with little theoretical knowledge and intuitively use musical material. Additionally, they incorporate this knowledge with specific Nepali musical traits, transferring them into unfamiliar musics, and knowing intuitively when and how to use them. In the second degree they start blending local learning strategies such as audible learning and observation with theoretical knowledge. As a result they start reflecting on their musical decisions. In the final degree young musicians are able to reflect on specific genre particularities. They are able to flawlessly play bebop jazz and analyze style specific sounds, copy these sounds, and, more importantly, reflect on their musical decisions.


From this doctoral research, in a nutshell, we can learn that despite the constraints in Nepali society to learn music, young musicians actively blend their local learning strategies with novel ones. This intermusical strategy enables them to acquire unfamiliar musics. Young musicians are very resourceful. Maybe they don’t need us educators….


4)    How does musicality and music appreciation inform SPAK’s learning process?

Let me be brief. Every human being is inherently musical, no exception! We only need to nurture it and actively develop our skills. It’s like running. We can all run a few meters (ok this is a bad example. Some people can’t), but we can only run the marathon if we practice. If we immerse ourselves in musical or artistic activities, skills will grow. It is inevitable that when you practice you start to understand music. From there the appreciation will grow.


5)    Is there a critical learning curve for music education?


 On a macro level, learning already starts when the fetus is only 4 months old. The mother’s voice or other external musical sounds create a bodily response to the fetus. At the end of our life cycle when our bodies are old and our minds astray, we still respond to musical stimuli. To put it stronger, music can evoke emotions from fetus to the end of our life. It is an essential ingredient to make our bodies move and enjoy life to the fullest. It is our goal with SPAK to contribute to that element of life, poor and rich alike.




Position: Writer

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