Music education: experiences in Poland

2010 was a big year for music in Poland. It was the bi-centenary of Fredrick Chopin’s birth. For a country short on recognised national heroes, this was a big event and was celebrated lavishly. A new Chopin centre was built in Warsaw, the Chopin International Airport in Warsaw got a new wing, musical benches appeared in the capital’s main street and, to give the organisers their due, it was hard to escape the image or sounds of Chopin, that is if you lived in a major city or often found yourself in Shanghai. Shanghai? Yes, because Chopin has his place in the tool box of Chinese “soft imperialism.” So, a great success? Yes, so long as you were not a part of the discredited National Institute Fredrick Chopin management or anywhere far from the public gaze. However, if, as I discovered, you went to school in a Warsaw suburb or lived in the rural sticks, the Chopin effect passed you by. I wrote a musical for the Chopin year, a musical intended to be used in schools to engage children in the musical and theatrical creative processes. Of course, we had a plan to train teachers before hand and in this I had enrolled a major educational publisher as a partner. All depended on the NIFC doing the paperwork and assigning the money that had been authorised by the Ministry of Culture. They delayed and delayed, for reasons that have never been made public, the same old bosses of the arts world looking after themselves and their cronies. Luckily for them, but unluckily for the nation, the public has a short memory. The delay became so long that my project looked as if it was going to fail. When the money did arrive it was too late for the teacher training aspect. I thought we should give the money back in protest. Other counsels prevailed. Thus, with six actors and a pianist we set off to eight schools in the Warsaw region to give workshops based on two scenes from the musical, one included a rap. Most of the schools, though not all, were depressing, lifeless places where there seemed to be no celebration of the children, no art work, no music, no theatre, only a few standard Ministry issue sports trophies. The teachers in one school in the middle of nowhere were Dickensian caricatures. Ignorant conceited bullies grinding young minds. How could anyone innovative or creative graduate from such places? To give the head teachers we met their due, they all acknowledged the problem. They all agreed that what we did with their children in the two hours we had them was essential for their intellectual and social growth. Their children needed to be opened but the schools did not have the tools. Where to begin was the question.

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