I’ve been giving considerable thought recently to something that I hear said a lot nowadays, which runs something like:
The kids are all singing, which is an inherently creative activity…
This made me post a tweet asking the question: ‘is singing inherently creative?’. There were a number of responses to this, and as I write they are still coming in. Interestingly a number mis-interpreted the question, and talked about how singing was a worthwhile activity – which I hadn’t asked! So let me worry away at creativity and singing for a bit longer.
First of all, let me be really clear, I am not asking ‘is singing worthwhile?’. That’s a very, very different question, and not what I am thinking about here.
So, to start with, let us think about creativity entails. In many ways this reminds me of a critique I received when I had been writing about neoliberalism, which was ‘so are you using neoliberalism to mean everything you don’t like?’. Fair point, and I need to be more concise on that issue. But are we doing the opposite with creativity? Are we saying, in effect, ‘creativity=a good thing’, and then doing a sort of equation:
Creativity = a good thing
Singing = a good thing
Therefore singing = creativity
Which could be problematic. Let me use another example:
Creativity = a good thing
Health & Safety = a good thing
Therefore Health & Safety = creativity
I’m less convinced by that!
What I think muddies the waters here is that, as some respondents noted, some aspects of singing are creative. I think, maybe, as a music education community it might be helpful to work out what these are, rather than bundling all singing in the ‘creativity’ bracket, perhaps?
I also hear, not as often as I used to, fortunately, of instances where kids have been reduced to tears by insensitive comments of the ‘not good enough’ lines, by over-zealous musical directors, especially when a big performance event looms. Is those kids’ creativity valued? Are their tears?
Allied to this are two elephants in the room at the same time:
Elephant 1: Genre
Elephant 2: (A relative of Elephant 1) Hegemony and Cultural Capital
In some of the twitter singing responses some commentators asked if musical style matters? In other words, are kids singing folk songs/opera/art music/etc automatically more ok than singer-songwriters, urban artists, rappers? Sometimes people say “I’ll ask the local opera company what they think”, has anyone asked the local grime artists? Are Youth Music funded projects seen in a different league to ‘high art’? Or, to be blunt, are some sorts of singing valued more than others? How do we feel if we rephrase that, some sorts of kids are valued more than others? Now I’m very uncomfortable! The 2 elephants are well and truly mixed up here. Does contemporary hegemony value choirs more than rappers? Does it value the kids in choirs more than the kids who rap?
Which brings me back to the question, is singing inherently creative? Well, I haven’t even tried to define creativity yet, so maybe I’ll just end with a definition of creativity from the NACCCE report:
Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value.
I think I think I need to think a bit more, but I also think that we in music education, or as twitter would have it, #musiceducation, also need to do some thinking, as if we are challenged thoughtfully, and with examples on this, we could come a cropper. And for want of a nail, and all that…