Musical perspectives

Yesterday was difficult. Some children have become feral in lockdown. Perhaps it only exacerbated an indiscipline that was already there. Managing behaviour of the disengaged who are indifferent to sanctions is difficult. Lessons become occasions of containment, getting through material in the hope that some have gained something from the hour. Already low aspirations among some students have been superseded by a mood of complete indifference. “Why did you disrupt the lesson?” The reply is blunt, “because I couldn’t be arsed with it, sir.”

Driving the M5 motorway on a damp grey evening, there was time to ponder the previous day. There seemed little that could be done other than to continue to try to teach and to hope that things would improve.

Turning on the radio, the sound of Classic FM provided diversion from the pedagogical drowning. The music put into perspective the petty annoyances of school teaching.

An hour of music began with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The commemoration of the Russian campaign against Napoleon’s Grand Army is a piece that lingers in the memory of even people like me who knows nothing about classical music, someone who would be hard-pressed to differentiate between a crotchet and a quaver. Of course, the Napoleonic campaigns were covered in history lectures, but it was only a reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace that captured a sense of the horror of the war. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in the futile attempt to defeat Russia.

The overture was followed by John Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List. As part of a unit on anti-Semitism, at a Year 9 lesson yesterday, which had gone very well, we had watched the closing sequences of the film. In the whole of human history, there are few periods as bleak as 1933-1945.

The third piece that filled the hour was Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Was this a third piece associated with the horror of war? Struggling to remember the word, it was not until the first notes of Nimrod were played that I remembered the name of the piece. It is the music that fills Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday, the music that evokes ranks of veterans standing in silence, music that evokes countless stories of conflict.

There was a moment of contentment as the programme drew to an end. The music created a sense of proper perspective. The challenges of daily school life were trivial and entirely inconsequential when compared with the real stuff.

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