• Tim Palmer, Head of Music Education at Trinity Laban
News & Views
The value of authenticity
Date posted: 17 September 2018
Sound Sense board member Tim Palmer explores the common ground between diverse musical contexts
I was elected to the Board of Sound Sense earlier this year and have enjoyed getting to grips with the complexities of the organisation. My day job is as Head of Music Education at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance. We are a relatively large institution of over 1000 students from Foundation to PhD level, and I look after our suite of music education programmes, and feed into the design of other programmes, alongside teaching on various modules, and developing partnerships and new programmes. We have a substantial music education offer, from a new undergraduate programme to our flagship professional development ‘Teaching Musician’ programme. We even have a new MOOC, and a nationally recognised Learning & Participation programme.

We take a broad view of what music education is, and I come from a community music background, having worked as Music Director of the Sound Futures YMAZ, and as musician-in-residence in two museums. Education has many dimensions and separating the ‘knowledge’ outcomes from the personal and social seems a false dichotomy. Classroom and instrumental music teachers and community musicians more and more share roles, from whole-class instrumental teaching through to after-school clubs and orchestral outreach, and so we train musicians to be able to work across multiple contexts with multiple pedagogies, holding in tension different intentions for any action.

I also have a career as an orchestral timpanist/percussionist and see this work as related to my academic role. Music performance, formal music teaching and community music are for me stages along a continuum of musical behaviours, and orchestral life can display varied types of learning and knowledge just as much as any workshop. A professional rehearsal can move from tacit learning, through to peer-peer transfer and direct instruction in a moment and the most vibrant performers tend to also have many ways of sharing their craft and involving others in it.

At the moment I am on tour with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique – a British period instrument ensemble, despite the name! I have been having interesting conversations with a member of the orchestra who has recently completed a doctorate in the economic, personal and social results of historically informed performance. One of her core arguments is that authenticity carries a high economic value – musicians interrogating every aspect of their work and referring it back to the context that it emerged from in order to understand more about its original meaning. I think that this idea of authenticity relates equally well to community music: authentic and communicative musicianship, authentic relationships with participants, and authentic positioning of work within communities and contexts.