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Brass for Africa Blog: No 1
Music Education Musings: First impressions and instincts

In the first of a new series of blogs in her Brass Development Fellowship role with the Brass for Africa Charity, Dr. Taylor Hughey talks about her first impressions and instincts on taking up her post in Kampala in Uganda.

Dr Tyalor Huey
The Brass for Africa blogger: Dr Taylor Hughey

The most dangerous phrase in any language is: “We’ve always done it this way.” 

Think about it. How often do we hear this phrase spoken in our work lives when talking about projects, yearly reports, etc.? If you were to break this phrase down to what it literally means, some would say that it means complacency and sometimes even a disregard for the ever-changing societal cloud that swirls around us all the time.

Enhancing the wheel

The converse believers would say in response, “Let’s not re-invent the wheel.” But what about the idea of taking the wheel we already have and enhancing it? Why not, in the case of Brass for Africa, take a proven UK system of brass band teaching and performance and enhance it to allow for social development?

Those of us who spend time looking at communities of practice in regards to music education organisations notice that the successful ones are the ones that include a social curriculum in every rehearsal regardless of what that day’s musical goal may be. Every single day, the most important thing on the music teacher’s radar should be making sure he’s doing everything possible to let the students know that he is there for them and only for them. 

It’s easy as a musician to fall into the trap of, “...well I play an instrument so I guess that means I should probably teach as well.”Dr Taylor Hughey

It’s easy as a musician to fall into the trap of, “...well I play an instrument so I guess that means I should probably teach as well.” And there is even the stigma of if a performer isn’t ‘good enough’ by someone else’s subjective standards to play in a professional ensemble that they will have to ‘fall back on’ teaching. 

How many times have professional musicians and music educators alike heard that? But what about using music education ideals mixed with music performance ideals to create a well-rounded and intelligent human being who will contribute to society?

Only refuge

Especially with programmes like Brass for Africa where the musicians’ home lives are often incredibly broken, their only refuge is in that time spent making music with their teacher. We all know that kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. 

Thus, with a rehearsal setting like the one found in Kampala, or even in poverty-stricken inner city children, introducing a social curriculum that gives students something to connect with is vital. Key points within this curriculum could even be one-word ideas like ‘Self-Reliance’ or ‘Resilience’.

Brass for Africa
Standing proud

In other words, words or phrases that point to strength and courage in day-to-day living that will connect students and teachers on a level that isn’t often reached in your everyday high school band program in suburban America - simply because many suburban children in America can hardly relate to the extreme poverty levels and true horrors that some of the street children of Kampala face every day.

Fascinating

That’s not to say that there aren’t similarities, however. In my short time here, without going into too much detail, I’ve found the prevalence of behavioral issues, basic etiquette inconsistencies, qualities of respect and other issues that come with teaching a group of children and young adults. It’s quite fascinating how, regardless of the backgrounds of the students, much the same behaviour pops up in classrooms set in Kampala as in America and even China.

“We’ve always done it this way.”

Need for change

Music education needs to change to become a true global practice. Music education needs to find a way to not only engage students, but to engage their parents, other teachers, community leaders, you name it, in moving a system out of the stone ages and into this constantly-shifting world of ours. 

Brass for Africa
Making an immediate impression

There has been a huge documented push from music educators in America in the last few years of teachers jumping onto this moving train and bringing their communities along for the ride.

But it’s time to stop riding and to start driving the train - to literally become the “conductors” we were trained to be. Because only then will the system truly change for the better.

Three weeks in

But, perhaps all of that was just a long way of getting to the point. As I examine my life after three weeks of living in Kampala and working every day with Brass for Africa, I find myself contemplating how I can get as much out of my time with this organization as possible in regards to becoming a better music educator. 

And of course with that, I am remembering back to the gobs of articles and books I have read in regards to arts entrepreneurism, community engagement, psychology and communities of practice, to name a few topics. 

Further, that any given community where social learning takes place has certain guidelines that have been passed through the history of the group, and the members have experienced the same basic structure on a weekly basis, making them experts in that particular community. 

Brass for Africa
An estabished Brass for Africa team

With Brass for Africa, I find myself entering into a situation where they have already established a community of practice and even a family. 

In my short time here the team has decided to do a revamp of the existing music education system in order to plan for longevity for the programme. As I pour over drafted forms and observation points, I find myself musing on how we can pull in aspects from both the UK brass band education system as well as the American system of K-12 music education.

There is definitely a cultural difference between the American/UK educational system and the Ugandan educational system. Not to say that one is better than the other necessarily, but just that we need to work on compromising as a team to implement these changesDr Taylor Hughey

However, I fear that unless we don’t sit down with our team of teachers and outline step-for-step why we are implementing these new changes, there will be resistance to change every step of the way.

There is definitely a cultural difference between the American/UK educational system and the Ugandan educational system. Not to say that one is better than the other necessarily, but just that we need to work on compromising as a team to implement these changes. 

One of the goals I’ve seen here at Brass for Africa is help our children develop into mature young adults who can then contribute to society in a productive and successful way.

Unto the breach

So when we sit with our teachers and explain why we are making these changes and they come back at us with, “We’ve always done it this way,” I feel that my involvement at Brass for Africa is going to hopefully mean something both for the way these young teachers are evolving their critical thinking skills and for the way I will inevitably evolve.

Brass for Africa has developed a community that includes both music and a social curriculum. I am extremely excited to play a part in this organisation.

As I dig into my tenure here, I say to myself... “Unto the breach!” 



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Conductor, adjudicator, tutor, tuba specialist