Primary school teachers in the United Kingdom now have a powerful tool to ignite the love of classical music in their pupils—a new Web-based application, Classical 100, launched on Nov. 2.
Classical 100 is a carefully chosen and free-to-use selection of 100 classical music pieces spanning 10 centuries—from the medieval choral music of Hildegard von Bingen to works by contemporary composers like Graham Fitkin and John Adams.
So far, 1,000 primary schools have signed up for the application, as revealed via an email by Triona Doherty, the social media and press executive at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), the largest music education body in the United Kingdom.
Classical 100 is a joint initiative of ABRSM, Classic FM radio, and the Decca Classics record company, supported by the Department for Education, the education ministry in the United Kingdom.
St. Charles Catholic Primary School in London is one of the first to deploy the application, and the feedback from both teachers and pupils has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The Classical 100 app is a fantastic resource for primary schools” wrote Yvonne Sebuyira, the music coordinator at the school.
“For me as a music teacher, it is wonderful to have 100 pieces ready to be used as starters for discussion and which inspire and support our instrumental and vocal work.”
In addition to being able to replay the pieces, teachers can filter them by genre, mood, country of origin, and time of creation.
“The ability to ‘shuffle’ and organize the 100 pieces according to different criteria is a brilliant idea and particularly helpful!” she said.
For example, if teachers want to raise the energy level in the class, they can select Bernstein’s “Mambo” from “West Side Story,” or encourage a moment of quiet reflection with Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, according to ABRSM’s press release.
It also states: “If a teacher wanted to exemplify the Romantic period, it would lead them to a list including Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture,’ or if they were exploring choral music they could discover Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus from ‘Messiah.'”
“Class teachers are thoroughly enjoying the ‘mood changer,'” said Sebuyira, adding that it also saves time for additional preparation and invites exploration of history, art, and literature from the same time period.
And yet another treat provided by Classical 100 is that each selection is accompanied by a curious story around its creation and author.
For example, with Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” is the text:
“The Russian composer was commissioned in 1936 to write a new musical symphony for the young, to cultivate ‘musical tastes in children from the first years of school.’ He completed Peter and the Wolf in just four days. While initial reception to the work was poor, it has gone on to be one of the most enduring and popular pieces of 20th century music, narrated by every imaginable celebrity from Sean Connery to Eleanor Roosevelt, from Phillip Schofield to David Bowie. Each character is represented by a different instrument, while Peter’s theme is taken up by the stringed instruments.”
The music coordinator applauded the storytelling idea and said it even spurs children’s creativity.
“Children are really enjoying learning more about certain pieces.”
“They have responded to the stories and produced some lovely written work, art, and musical accompaniments! Many wish they could access the app at home and indeed asked on the day of the launch if that might happen one day!”
‘Paper Over the Cracks’
In the U.K.’s educational system, music is an obligatory subject in the first three key stages (ages 5–14) but is often considered a “soft” discipline, given little budget and taught by generalists as supplements to other subjects.
“School music provision is often weak and poorly led,” states a report by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills from 2013. It explains the root of the problem is “in a lack of understanding, and low expectations in music, among the schools’ senior leaders and their consequent inability to challenge their own staff.”
Classical 100 is the latest initiative striving to improve the quality of music education in the United Kingdom. But while some laud the new app, others have voiced criticism that it cannot replace real music instruction.
“This is an attempt to paper over the cracks … It’s like showing kids videos of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and saying they know how to cook,” said classical pianist James Rhodes in an interview for the Daily Mail.
In response to the criticism, education minister Nick Gibb vowed last month to bring “excellent, well-rounded music education” to all pupils without reserving it for a “privileged few” and announced the investment of $560 million (£390 million) between 2012 and 2016.
But critics remind us that real improvement will not come with just money, but with reconsideration of the importance of music as a school subject.