CXC Music: the New Kid on the Block

Published in EUREKA magazine at St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain, in 1999

The Caribbean education system has often been criticised for not providing a well-rounded range of subjects which can be studied at the Ordinary level. Over time, it has come to encompass a wide variety of subjects from Visual Arts and Clothing and Textiles, to Woodwork and Electronics, to the conventional History and Geography. But what has been exempt from this line-up until now has been Music. However, as of May, 1999, all of this will change.

The background to how Music has finally found its place on the CXC syllabus is not a long one. The Association of Caribbean Music Educators (ACME) was formed in July, 1995, with an objective to “service the needs of teachers of music in the school system (in contrast to private lessons) at all levels from Primary to Teacher Education”, in the words of one of the principal people involved, Dr. Anne Osborne. The Association is comprised of members from Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and, of course, Trinidad & Tobago. The first meeting with the CXC representatives was last year, with another conference scheduled for later this year. In essence, The Association was instrumental in making it possible for the Music exam being held this year, as all the members of the Syllabus Panel were and still are members of ACME.

The syllabus was developed between June 1996 and May 1997, the panel of which consisted of one representative each from Guyana, Trinidad&Tobago, Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominica and Jamaica. The syllabus requirements were a collaborative effort from the panel members, but the main headings were adopted and modified from that of the GCSE (London and Cambridge Boards).

The exam consists of three papers. Paper 1 is the written paper, and is weighted the most heavily. It is categorised as “Listening and Appraising” (LIAP), which is subdivided into Musical Perception, Music Literacy and Set Works, hence, this is the most challenging aspect of the paper. The Paper 2 consists of Performing and Composing. This component of the exam comprises a practical examination, forty minutes in length, in which the various requirements are tested – solo and ensemble performing (either vocally, or with an instrument), sight reading or improvisation, and a Viva Voce (which engages the student’s understanding of the music). The compositions have to be notated, performed live and tapes previously submitted. The examiner conducts a viva voce on the compositions submitted – both the one performed, and the one submitted prior to the examination – but the actual compositions are marked in July along with the LIAP paper. The Paper 3 is the School-Based Assessment, quite similar to those of other subjects. Ultimately the syllabus demands that the students have a firm grasp on the theoretical, practical, and social aspects and implications of music, from varying cultures and eras. This, however, is the pilot syllabus, which is being revised in May after which the examination will be opened to the public (that is, private candidates will then have the opportunity to sit the exam).

The pilot date for the Music Exam is May 1999 (at the General level only), for which around 200 candidates have registered. They represent Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados, St. Lucia, British Virgin Islands and Jamaica. In Trinidad the 70 candidates come from Bishops Anstey High School, Diego Martin Secondary School, North Eastern College, Gasparillo Composite, Barataria Secondary Comprehensive, Carapichaima Senior Comprehensive and Chaguanas Senior Comprehensive Schools. Officially, the syllabus is effective from September 1999, when it will be offered to Form 4 students, an endeavour spear-headed by Mrs. Cox-Neaves. Like Art, it will not be associated specifically with any particular class, like Modern Studies & Languages, or Natural Sciences, but will be an option in most, if not all, subject groupings.

The establishment of the subject as a CXC one has already prompted the revision of many music curricula in schools throughout the Caribbean, including our own, in an attempt to ready the students for the possibility of pursuing it at the CXC level. Music is already a subject which is studied as a matter of course, and considered a major part of a young adult’s development, in almost all advanced countries throughout the world, including the United States and Europe.

The success that the subject will have is impossible to determine at the moment. It is too premature to gauge how popular a subject choice it will be, probably with most of the candidates opting for the subject being those who already study music as an extra-curricular activity. It has, however, begun to gain recognition and importance as an academic subject from school principals and Ministers of Education throughout the region.

The long-term effects of gaining Music as an O Level subject are varied, and promising. Apart from it providing basic and fundamental knowledge of the working and value of music, enabling the student to relate to and appreciate music of different ethnic origins and eras, it can provide the base upon which students can choose to pursue a career in the Performing Arts, especially vocal/instrumental careers, or careers in Musical Theatre.

Ultimately, music appreciation is a phenomenal gift. It sensitises us to the value of all forms of music, from the most classical, to the most contemporary, all of which are musical mediums. It is a wonderful opportunity to the students of our region, as well as our school. Best of luck to those who choose to embrace it!

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