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On the 20th Nov, I attended the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading. I was excitedly nervous to go to my first EFDSS meeting and was intrigued by the meeting’s theme: Heritage and Creativity; Intangible Cultural Heritage.

First we were taken on a whistle-stop guided tour of the Museum to see all that it had to offer. I learnt about the grass beds which were used for mothers giving birth or those who were dying. These were burnt after use so it was intriguing to learn that the Museum had one which was found in the walls of an old house as insulation! Another significant point of interest was the costume of Jim Hindle, who was involved in the protest of Newbury Bypass in 1996; a road I use weekly.

Then, we were taken to a conference called Musicians in Museums. The National Maritime Museum, National Coal Mining Museum and Museum of English Rural Life all have musicians in residence.

We listened to the stories, findings and music from Joe Dank’s and Aimee Leonard’s experiences at the National Maritime Museum which was incredibly inspiring. I got to sing a bit of Inuktitut (native Inuit language) and learn about John Rae’s incredible travels around the Arctic Coast. I managed to scribble down a fabulous quote from Aimee Leonard: “Using music you can go under the radar of academia.”

Representatives of the National Coal Mining Museum told us about how audiences are changing. The newer generations don’t know so much about their heritage. We watched a film made by the artists in residence and listened to the stories of the men who used you to work in the mines, who now work at the museum.

I particularly liked Jackie Oate’s presentation from the Museum of English Rural Life. She talked about how important training through songs was for not only men in mines but also women who were churning butter, knitting and trying to calm cows for milking. These women used songs that told them what to do if they dropped a stitch, how to make lace etc etc. It was truly fascinating.

At lunch, members of the EFDSS came together to play their instruments and dance as much as they liked! It was fantastic to see, I wish I had my harp with me.

After lunch we had presentations from Phillippa Heath, Dr Ollie Douglas and Dr Rhianedd Smith which were mind boggling and fascinating. I listened to Douglas’ views on intangible cultural heritage, what falls through the gaps? What makes something intangible?

Finally, we all chipped in to speak about music education in the UK for Key Stage 3 upwards. I was shocked to see that the National Curriculum for Music in KS3 was only 2 pages long. It’s so incredibly vague that I’m surprised music teachers even manage to teach! We looked at the curriculum’s subject content and were told to link it to folk music as best we could.

Yes. That is it.

Here’s what we came up with:

  • Use folk tunes from the student’s local area. This is how I started thanks to Luke Daniels from Gael Music.
  • Explain the purpose of folk tunes (e.g. for knitting)
  • Learning by ear
  • Changing accessibility
  • Playing a question then having to improvise the answer
  • Experiencing history through music
  • Illustrating the connection between dance and music
  • Playing for a purpose

This was by far my favourite bit of the day. It gave me the opportunity to give my views on how to teach folk music, listen to the leaders of the National Youth Folk Orchestra’s ideas and collaborate with everyone that was there. I don’t think there was one person I didn’t get to talk to.

If you’ve read all of that you’re probably wondering what I’ve taken away from my experience at the EFDSS meeting.

  • Folk music/dance is an important and necessary learning tool
  • Intangible cultural heritage is a wormhole like topic which I’d like to know more about
  • Songs that have a purpose are amazing. I’ve started using this more, especially teaching Little Donkey to some of my younger students. I changed the lyrics to tell them where to go next in the melody: EEGE, FFAF, going down to D. EEGE, FFAF, going up to C.
  • Taking away the academia of music education makes it more fun!
  • Having a flexible teaching and learning approach is significant to making progress
  • Making cross curricular links challenges both the teacher and student, making everything way more interesting. E.g. learning about the life of John Rae from Aimee Leonard’s song Tullimentan Night.
  • Too many people in that room with me got lower than a C in their music education and are now music educators and performers who do this for a living…including me!
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