“An hour of teaching can change a life.” This powerful and imaginative phrase from Massimo Recalcati captures the potential and the extraordinary nature of the world of school. Assuming the role of teacher means confronting a very real challenge; one which is instantly doubled if the subject in question is music.
For music teachers to be able to make a meaningful and lasting difference, a long list of conditio sine qua non must first be satisfied. First of all, the crucial conflict between artistry and teaching must be overcome, with every teacher having to fully develop their professional dignity in teaching practice. Then there are the necessary legislative and organisational decisions; the brave and long-sighted choices which give positive direction to teachers’ work with students and validate the path being laid. It is moreover necessary to create a culture of support around teacher training programs which focus on the development of musical practice.
Many forces are working to bring this complex astral conjunction into alignment. Among these forces is one particularly influential and authoritative voice; one which acts as a bridge between the Italian government and music teachers at all levels. This is the Comitato nazionale per l’apprendimento pratico della musica per tutti gli studenti: the National Committee for Applied Music for All Students. Formed in 2006 and re-ratified by all serving Ministers from 2006 through to the present, it officially came into effect with the passing of Decreto Ministrale 110 (Ministerial Decree n.110) on 17 February 2018. This practical, complex organisation comprises technical experts, teachers, educationalists, academics, school principals, renowned artists and representatives from all divisions of the Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca (Ministry of Education, Universities and Research). Its role is to provide support, advice, planning, coordination, oversight and recommendations to the Italian government.
The Committee’s work has produced real results which are relevant to the work of all music teachers. The Concorso Indicibili (In)canti (an instrumental, choral and composition competition for primary and lower secondary schools), the Premio Abbado: Far Musica Insieme (Abbado Prize for Making Music Together), the Premio Abbiati per la Scuola (Abbiati Prize for Schools), the Rossini va a scuola (Rossini Goes to School) and Il Jazz va a scuola (Jazz Goes to School, or IVJAS) projects, and the National Week for Music in Schools are only some of the initiatives which the Committee has designed and organised specifically to target and develop the study of music in all Italian schools.
The coordinator of the Committee’s technical operations team within the Ministry of Education is Annalisa Spadolini, a musician and teacher who has a polyphonic appreciation of music in Italian schools: while her eyes and hands are busy working on the relevant legislation, her ears are open to the practical problems faced by teachers, and her heart beats in time with the music made by school orchestras and choirs. I ask her for an interview fully expecting, having known and worked with her for some time, that she will already be very busy and completely immersed in her work. But as I suspected, she makes herself available and is happy to share what she has learned from her role as coordinator.
“The various national and regional projects of the National Committee for Applied Music for All Students,” explains Annalisa Spadolini, “have involved all the Italian provinces, the institutions which provide teacher training, Italian schools of music, and the secondary schools which specialise in music and dance. The majority of the Italian conservatories of music and around 200 organisations accredited by the UUSSRR (Uffici Scolastici Regionali, the local school boards) and MIUR (the Ministry for Education, Universities and Research) have collaborated on these projects. We estimate that around 8,000 teachers have participated in training workshops at the local level, and that around 500,000 children have been involved.”
The Committee’s many activities are testament to the 360° approach being taken to enhance the learning of music in schools. Further information on these projects is available via the Ministry’s website: www.miur.gov.it/web/guest/comitato-musica.
“At the moment,” Annalisa Spadolini continues, “at the national level we have 18 educational institutions which have been selected by the UUSSRR to promote artistic and musical activities. Some of these institutions represent a single regional centre, others represent a network. At the local level, these institutions have organised activities to promote music in schools, workshops for students at all levels of schooling, and conventions and seminars designed to provide information about Legislative Decree 60, which was passed on April 13, 2017. They have also worked to disseminate knowledge of best teaching practice and the best Italian and international methodologies, organised teacher training courses and staged concerts of all kinds – musical works, musicals, school performances – which have actively involved students and have been put together in collaboration with musicians, artists, actors and directors.”
And there’s more: for some time now, the Committee has enjoyed a productive relationship with INDIRE (Istituto Nazionale di Documentazione, Innovazione e Ricerca Educativa, the National Institute for Documentation, Innovation and Educational Research), an agency which for more than 90 years has been the point of reference for educational research in Italy. This partnership has allowed it to drive the promotion and sharing of the great musical practices already in place in schools.
“The collaboration with INDIRE,” explains Annalisa Spadolini, “arose from the question that the Committee often asks itself: what’s something innovative that we could do for music in schools?” For years, the Committee has centred itself around innovation and research. It has communicated the need to keep archives, to maintain an organised record of the hard work already undertaken, so that those things which have been achieved to date (workshops, professional development courses etc.) can continue to be a resource for all teachers in Italy long into the future. It was immediately obvious from the needs analysis that it is necessary to provide ongoing professional development for music teachers. Here, we were a step ahead of the requirements later laid down by Law 107: we imagined a “place” where you could go to find all the best practices of everyday teaching, a repository that would show what these practices actually look like, and provide great ideas that could be replicated in classrooms.”
www.musicascuola.indire.it is the website that every music teacher can and should visit. Here, you will find more than 100 videos on music teaching strategies, tested and presented by teacher researchers (many of whom are also choral conductors) selected by INDIRE-CNAPM. Expertly bringing together experience, competence and creativity, these music teachers demonstrate best practice ideas for use in the primary and early secondary school years.
Another wonderful initiative being promoted by INDIRE in collaboration with the National Committee of Applied Music for All Students is the national showcase entitled La Musica Unisce la Scuola (“Music unites schools”) which is organised annually during Music Week. In response to the unprecedented situation presented by the coronavirus, the 2020 showcase has been organised rather differently, taking the form of numerous webinars, submissions and experiences; a virtual showcase created by a scholastic community which has recently had to experience music under the restrictions imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Watching the 3400 or so videos come in from every school at every level in every part of Italy, planning the webinars, getting the artists involved, witnessing the soul and the level of commitment that Italian schools invested into finding their way with distance learning: I found it all very touching,” Ms Spadolini confesses.
All of the works brought to life by the XXXI Music Week National Showcase are still available to view at www.lamusicaunisce.indire.it: these include students’ instrumental and vocal work, performances and messages sent in by great Italian musical artists, and a wide range of useful webinars covering the teaching, organisation and governance of music in schools. Browsing them is like experiencing the magic of a performance consisting of the collective efforts of individuals comprising a large orchestra.
Above all, innovation and research are about two things: sharing and development. And who knows? Maybe our music lessons will truly change our students’ lives; and perhaps even our own.
Translated from the Italian by Karen Bradberry
Elisa Gastaldon holds degrees in Piano, Organ and Composition for Organ, and Music Teaching from the C. Pollini Conservatory in Padova. She studied Choral Music and Choral Conducting at the A. Steffani Conservatory in Castelfranco Veneto, where she specialised in Choral Teaching. She is the resident organist at the Chiesa di San Giacomo in Montebelluna (Treviso). She developed her knowledge of choral teaching through participation in numerous training courses both in Italy and abroad, principally conducting boys’ and school choirs. She is a music teacher at a lower secondary school, where she also facilitates music training courses for teachers. Since 2017, she has collaborated with MIUR on behalf of INDIRE as an expert music teacher and described her experiences of planning for music teaching in primary and secondary schools as a presenter in the webinar series for Music Week 2020, which was organised by INDIRE. A composer of exercises for choral teaching, she is also the author of a variety of texts produced in collaboration with various Italian choral composers, including pieces for male, female, mixed, young and boys’ voices. Many of these pieces have been awarded prizes in both national and international composition competitions and have been included in collections of choral works and recorded by highly regarded labels.