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Britain's ‘Armies of Trained Listeners’: Building a Nation of ‘Intelligent Hearers’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2011

Catherine Dale
University of Hull


‘Are you musical?’, asks Gustav Kobbé of some imaginary interlocutor in the introduction to How to Appreciate Music (1906). ‘No’, comes the reply, ‘I neither play nor sing’. ‘But, if you can read and listen’, Kobbé continues, ‘there is no reason why you should not be more musical … than many of those whose musicianship lies merely in their fingers or vocal cords’. Kobbé's response epitomizes the shift in emphasis that had begun to occur in music education at the turn of the century from the acquisition of technical proficiency on an instrument or the voice to the cultivation of an appreciative, aesthetic understanding of music. The acquisition of performing skill had been perpetuated by the hegemony of the singing class in British music education throughout the nineteenth century. Initially, such teaching took the form of the government-sponsored continental system of ‘fixed’ sol-fa devised by Guillaume Wilhem for use in the public singing classes and commune schools of Paris and, from 1840, adapted by John Hullah for use in the teacher-training institution founded by James Kay-Shuttleworth at Battersea. Subsequently, there was the tonic sol-fa system with its movable doh devised by John Curwen; this system came to replace the Hullah–Wilhem method after the Education Act of 1870, which introduced compulsory schooling in Britain and established school boards to implement local policy.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2005

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