Read the Episode #59 with John Colwill, Part 2

Introduction

Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast – Episode 60. There’s something magical about those big multiples of 10. That zero at the end. I don’t know. It’s exciting, 60. And here is part two of my chat with John Colwill. You’ll hear his nuggets of fabulous.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ll start to question some of the things that you automatically do in your music classroom. I love things that make me think, make me question, we should continually be reflecting and improving upon our practice. We are lifelong learners. And I love that John Colwill is a lifelong learner, and I think we’ve got things to learn from him. So settle back, enjoy part two of my talk with John Colwill.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 060 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.


Continuing a Chat with John Colwill

John Colwill
Okay, guys, like Géza Szilvay is so keen in the world of European music, German music, to abolish the use of the letter H for B natural, and hopefully he can do that. I’m on my hobbyhorse, we should never talk about the treble clef. There is no such thing as the treble clef. And there is no such thing as the bass clef.

Debbie
Oh goodness, okay.


John Colwill
Oh goodness. This is an earthquake and I live in the land of earthquakes. A clef is a key and a key cannot unlock a treble and it cannot unlock a bass. The word clef is the French word C L E F. The English who hate the French have adopted that word in their music as they have crochets and that’s wrong because crochet is actually not a quaver, it’s a quaver with a hook on the end of it, anyway. So a clef is a key and a key has to unlock something.

So unless you’ve locked up your little boys and little girls, you should not be saying treble clef, you should say G clef. And I’ll shoot you a little reference to this from the Oxford Dictionary of Music, the clefs were placed on the staff to show where certain letters were and initially they showed where C was with a letter C, and they showed where F is with a modified C clef with a bar on it, and it showed where bass F is and middle C is for tenors. Then later on when they started to sing in the medieval church in three parts, the boys were singing the top the descant, des is on top of the cant, the song, their part was called the treble part.

And why was it called the treble part because it was tripartite there was the bass, there was the tenor which held the note and then there was the contra tenor, which eventually became the higher boys. The three parts that’s where we get the word treble for, but the clef that they use started off as running writing lowercase g and it unlocked G, you are so confusing kids talking about treble clef if you went it’s a G clef and it unlocks G, you will know exactly on the staff where G is and you can put the G on any line and it will clef and it will be still G because when you look at a score written by Beethoven, for Fidelio, the mezzo soprano part is written with a mezzo soprano clef, which is the G clef on the middle line.

If you go back and play the violin music of Couperin and Lully and Italian composers. They are using violin clefs, G clefs on different lines. The Italian way was to put it on one line and the French way was one was on the bottom line and one was on the second. There’s a baritone clef. There’s an alto clef using a C clef. But if we know it’s the C clef, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a tenor clef, or an alto clef. We just think where C is and work out musicians aren’t very bright. They just have to be able to say they’re musicians alphabet backwards and forwards and all that stuff with mnemonics E,G,B,D,F.

I don’t know how to read the bass clef, look I’ve used that word, bass staff. So I use the word staff now, this is your bass staff, because the F clef is on the second top line. This is your treble staff because the G clef is on the second bottom line, can’t you see some symmetry sitting around middle C? Oh you know and off we go. And so you learn the grand panoply of the grand staff as a symmetrical thing in the certain. I’m so passionate about that.


Debbie
Wow, no, I’m glad you shared, no, that’s fabulous.


John Colwill
Did I just rock the boat?


Debbie
That’s good we like some good old boat rocking, but it’s good. It’s good to consider all of the things that we just do in our work, and why we do them and could we do them better?


John Colwill
And what informed me Debbie is history, history, history, history. If I go back and look at the history of notation, not the history of music. Well, that gave me the idea of what is. So I had one bright little boy one day, I was teaching him the rudiments of music notation, he said. So you know what all these things are? Why is the treble staff called the treble staff? Doesn’t it mean three? And I mean, of course, it means three. If you have a bet on the treble race scores, you’re betting on three horse races? I went, Yes. So umm okay, so I had to look it up. Why is it called treble? Boom, it’s about the three part motets. And off we go, you’ve got to know where all of this came from.


Debbie
That, wow. Okay, that is very interesting. And it makes me yeah, it just makes me think about what the words that I use and how I teach children about that. But you know, a lot of what you’ve said, going back to a little bit before you hopped right on the horse, the philosophy of hearing first, that’s, to me central to my philosophy and Kodaly’s philosophy, it’s always here first.


John Colwill
Sounds before symbol.


Debbie
Absolutely, definitely. So I think that what you’re saying about the sound coming first, we all know that’s just good practice. But it’s not the way that’s often done when you’re learning piano. Like I know when I learnt piano, which I know is when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Yes, it was there’s a black on a page and that means you put that finger there.

And, you know, I had no connection to the aural stuff at all when I was a child. And then when I was an adult, at 25, I went I’ve ended up being a music teacher, oh, my goodness, I might just start, oh it was maybe a bit earlier than 25, but it was in my 20s. I thought I might just do some piano exams or something. And I went back to piano because I didn’t do exams. It was like, two weeks before the exam and I opted to do Trinity exams at the time, I was advised by someone to do. And I was told two weeks before Oh, there’s an aural component by the way.


John Colwill
No training, no preparation.


Debbie
You have to identify, you know, and I think I started with grade five, because I had been learning but never done an exam. Oh you’ll need to know all this stuff you’ll be, you need to sing back these melodies. You need to know major, minor, augmented diminished chords, you need to know blah blah blah. This is like, two weeks before the test. But I had been doing musicianship with Judy Johnson, every Tuesday night for years, because I’d found this Kodály approach and gone this makes sense. This makes sense. I want to learn how to do this.

So luckily, that could pop in my head when the examiner went, What’s this cord? I could go (sung) “do mi so mi do One”, it’s a major. So sound has to come first, you can’t just assume the sound is done. And the way that piano is traditionally taught is about I think the way you talk about it, that it’s skipping your ear. It’s going straight from your eyes, through your brain somehow and into your fingers.


John Colwill
Absolutely, yes and then there are these clever kids who make innate connections for some reason. This is what I’m still trying to find out, how these clever kids get this information that I missed out on. So this very (me) very clever man who just blitzed school because it was easy for me with my dad, found himself going. Oh, actually, I said to myself, studying medicine is too easy. I want to go and do something that’s way harder and it was something I couldn’t easily do, which was aurally define my love of music and go from my ear to my page or whatever, you know it was, this is my lifes quest to crack the code that some people would just do spontaneously.


Debbie
Oh, it’s so fascinating and I’m not dismissing your hobbyhorse. I’m still thinking in the back of my mind.


John Colwill
That’s true, you don’t have to dismiss it, please digest it.


Debbie
Digest. That’s fabulous.


John Colwill
There are years of teaching but often that teaching is about shortcuts. We teach E,G,B,D,F as a shortcut without knowing that it’s actually the letters the first seven letters of the alphabet and who used the alphabet to define notes, pitches. That goes back to the Greeks a long time before that, and so we use ut re mi fa so la, do ri me fa so la and then later on see who devised that Pierre Galin, No, no, sorry, a Guido of Arezzo.

And then we know about ta and titi or ta and teffer teffer and who devised that Pierre Galin in France early on after the French Revolution. And so there are these Paris Chevra time names, that we all just go Oh, yes, ta, teffer, teffer, tika tika, tiri tiri . You know, there’s so many variations on them they’re all just tools. Yes. (sung) red, blue, red gold, red, blue is just a tool. It’s just a tool. Somehow then some people come along and go, I need to examine this.

We should never have piano exams. We should never have music exams. You can’t examine an artform, it’s far too individual. That’s another hobby horse. But then there are. you have to define these things and it’s just all blows out of perspective. My perspective anyway.


Debbie
You are so interesting to listen to Mr. John, but I’m going to pull you back to my little outline, because I want to get to the nuggets of fabulous.


John Colwill
Okay.


Debbie
Because I know there are people out there listening to you going, Oh, I wonder what his nuggets of fabulous are. Mind you. I reckon we’ve already shared one with our alphabet song. Because that nugget of fabulous is just, it’s just amazing. It makes the kids laugh. It makes them just know, oh, we only go up to G in the music alphabet, you know, and it’s fun.


John Colwill
And it is a nugget of fabulous. Because it’s all over the piano and then you start manipulating that and it comes from the alphabet, what you know, Whereas every piano tutor starts with C and you go well two black notes C. Where did that come from? Well and if you’ve got (sung) green gold, A is in between green and gold doesn’t work in New Zealand but the green and gold are the Olympic colours for the Aussie team. And so A for Australia lives in between green and gold and off you go.


Debbie
I think it was you who I got D in the doghouse from.


John Colwill
Oh yes. That’s one of my favourites. D in the doghouse.


Debbie
I love it? And I told you the other one and my kids I don’t do a lot of keyboard stuff because you know I’ve just got the piano there but we relate things to keyboard sometimes. So D in the doghouse. Can you find all the D’s in the doghouse? And I use the hand staff a lot these days, which is just so powerful. I’ve just done dangly D.


John Colwill
(laughs) nice, the doggies doo.


Debbie
They never forget dangly D.


John Colwill
I like dangly D. Oh good I’ve got something to play with today?

Who lives outside the doghouse? C for cat. Why does E for elephant live where it is because it’s far too big for the doghouse. I don’t stop. I don’t stop Debbie, it’s crazy.


Debbie
We need to get all this goodness out of your head so we can share it with more people. Ok, nuggets of fabulous, let’s go back. Nuggets.


John Colwill
Nuggets of fabulous. For me working out that scale degrees are much more powerful than finger numbers. Finger numbers as I refer to there, they just hold you back. The other recent nugget of fabulous for me is only of interest to piano players I think I’ve freed up a locked up technique that came from independent figures and lots of piano methods and I found the work of Dorothy Taubman, courtesy of Therese Milanovic who came to the first workshop that I presented for Judy at summer school.

Therese was so locked in her arms back in 2004 and now 20 years later she’s a renowned expert, renowned teacher in the Taubman approach to playing piano, it’s a bit like the Kodaly approach to playing piano. It’s not a method, it’s an approach. And as Koti Forrai said back in 1982 or 1983 there’s not such thing as the Kodaly method there’s an approach. There’s a concept and the implementation of that concept, those precepts depends upon the integrity of the musician presenting. So we always have a responsibility to keep on improving those skills and keep on being aware that we don’t know everything, there is so much more to learn.

The other nugget of fabulous applies to piano teaching and it’s like, for years/centuries we’ve taught figured bass but it’s sort of an add-on but if you figure from the bass note in the music that you’re playing the intervalic relationships in the chord that you’re playing. All of a sudden my brain goes Ooh, I understand this beyond what I did when I understood it as a C major triad in second inversion. If I thinks it’s a G with a 6 and a 4 over it and then distribute that over the piano. That’s been a recent nugget of fabulous.

Another nugget of fabulous is Murray Perahia, great, great concert pianist saying most piano players are really lazy. They don’t understand what they’re playing or the context or concepts of what they’re playing. Jazz musicians know it’s a mixolydian scale over a G7 chord. Jazz musicians are defining all the time. So then I asked myself well so where Schubert and Chopin and all these people know their stuff.

Schubert and Beethoven and all those guys they were all singing in church and in those days there weren’t any xerox machines, they had to write it all out. They had to copy by hand what they were singing and they were learning the singers treble seven years old, alongside experienced boys thirteen year old trebles or however old because boys voices didn’t change to much later on. And they were learning figured bass and it was part of the process and we’ve thrown it out. Except when we get to university and we go Oh I don’t need to study that anymore. We need all of these things that historically informed the musicians that we look, well I look up to, and go Yes there’s a blend between all of these things.


Debbie
Love it. They are definitely nuggets of fabulous John, that’s amazing.


John Colwill
Thank you, they don’t necessarily work in a beginner’s piano lesson but they inform lots of things that I do beyond there.


Debbie
Couple more things. Before we go. This has been an amazing chat.


John Colwill
Thank you.


Debbie
But I would like to, first of all, maybe talk to you about if it’s easy for you to maybe give our listeners a small list of some of the books and resources you’ve talked about, because some people might like to go and search some of those. So that would be lovely, if you could.


John Colwill
Ok can I compile that and send it to you?


Debbie
Yes.


John Colwill
And then you can include it as a chat, and I’ll do all the footnoting and the referencing and there’s so many excerpts that I would like to share with you. My mind’s racing.


Debbie
So let’s put something in the show notes. That’s what I’m thinking. People can find notes, go to crescendo.com.au/podcasts, find this episode. And we’ll just put in a couple of readings if people want to go and read further on some of these.


John Colwill
Sure.


Debbie
I just think that would be lovely. And I also think we should book in another podcast time. And you can tell us all about your published piano method called, is it just called Piano Play?


John Colwill
It is just called Piano Play. And it’s called Piano Play because we play the piano, we don’t study the piano, we play piano. When I used to lecture at University of Queensland, I’d do workshops there and I say so what do you do when you pick up your violin? I play? It takes them ages to work out it’s play. Some very clever kids worked out it’s play but they practice, practicing, sit exams. It’s play. It’s all about playing. Debbie, you’re a great player.


Debbie
I like turning things into little rhymes and stuff to help kids remember, it’s just those things I have a little thing that I say, to our instrumental kids at school. And it’s just the Mrs. O’Shea quote, which is “have a little play every single day”. That’s my little quote.


John Colwill
Have a piano play every single day.


Debbie
Every single day. Because it’s about playing. I’m not saying don’t use the word practice, but I’m just saying the word play just has nicer connotations doesn’t it.


John Colwill
So when the kids come in. I’ll say to them, what did you play this week? Or what did you work on? And the parents go, Oh, Johnny didn’t do much practice. I said no practice is a dirty word. We don’t talk about practice. It becomes a wedge between parent and child.


Debbie
Yes, it can can’t it. So yes, let’s use the word play I love it.


John Colwill
Not can it does.


Debbie
Let’s have a podcast about Piano Play soon. But there’s two more things I’d like to ask you about. Now, at a time, when we as music educators have to fight even harder for the existence of our profession. Some places it’s worse than others. I know. But we are all having to be advocates for what we do. What advice would you give us, any of our listeners around advocacy, whether they’re classroom, teachers, studio, teachers, high school primary, any general advice around advocacy?


John Colwill
Be passionate, pick a target. And your best target is your parents, or the parents of the children when you can access them, and that’s easy for me and make sure that they understand your approach. So that the way we teach, the way I teach through Kodaly concepts is not the way that they necessarily understood at school, but they should come and sit in the classroom sometime. Or they should be the five year old and see how clever your class of five year olds is Debbie. And so many times the biggest difficulty I have as a studio piano teacher is with the parents. I don’t have difficulty with the children. I have difficulty with the parents who don’t understand that it’s called play.


Debbie
Yes, yes. And I think that many teachers listening to you right now are nodding their heads going. Yes, yes. Sometimes the parents are the biggest problem. And I recall when I had my little Do Re Mi classes, my little kids classes, a parent coming up to me after a year, say, I really like coming and you know, we love coming here, but like, when are we actually going to learn some music? And I thought, I actually rethought things then.

I remember speaking to my husband about it, who was very logical. Thank you, Kelvin, he was great. But I realised I had a purpose for every single thing I did. And I know, I’m doing what’s appropriate for them. But the parents who were in the room didn’t. So I tried to add little bits while we’re making the circle, or whatever, I would just say something to the parents about why we’re doing it, you know, so I would slip in little bits of information, because they just thought this is fun. Yes. But they didn’t realise we’re actually learning or why we were doing things.


John Colwill
So that’s why the Bluey TV series is so successful. And there was an article on ABC News, I can’t get out of Australia, ABC is so great. And the creators of Bluey are saying, we always make sure we are targeting the adults with jokes and asides and comments that are adult appropriate, and at the same time that kids get hooked in. It’s the way to go.


Debbie
I could not agree more. And when I think back to when I used to watch Playschool with my two children. Oh, there were often little things said for adults. In fact, sometimes I think, Oh, wow. How did they get away with that one? And who was it, was it John? Maybe Noni Hazlehurst? Yes. Exactly. They know you’re stuck there with them.


John Colwill
And it’s about the parent child relationship. If you don’t have the parents on board. You’re really struggling and there’s a lot of struggle out there at present.


Debbie
Yes, great advice. Thank you. And we’re going to finish, now this is actually going to be interesting what you’re going to say here because you obviously feel very passionate about what you do. You have done a lot of research and learning in your career. So I’m not sure exactly, I think I know, where you’re going to go for your soapbox. Because I like to finish with you telling the world something that’s really important, something that’s important for you to say. So I’d love you to get on your soapbox and give a message to the world. And then we will say farewell for this lovely episode.


John Colwill
Oh, yeah, my soapbox. Make sure you look after your physicality. Make sure that as a teacher, you are feeding your soul. It’s not just about your kids, if as a parent and if as a teacher, you can’t give yourself refreshment time. You are struggling to work towards burnout. And I’m my other soapbox is I’m gonna be very controversial here is that all of the repertoire that we get the kids to sing in their child’s voice is actually damaging our adults voice, and we should pitch it all lower.

Oh, okay. Well, we’re going to have to explore that further. We’ll have to do another episode on that.

We are Debbie. Because I think and I hear so many teachers with corrupted voices and larynxes that don’t function efficiently because we have this misguided concept about the child’s force.


Debbie
Oh, okay. You have left us with controversy. Look, Mr. John.


John Colwill
Sorry darling.


Debbie
No, that’s okay.


John Colwill
It’s been a soapbox of mine for ages. But nobody wants to hear that one.


Debbie
Oh, well, we need to hear more about that. And I should explain to the listeners too. I call you Mr. John sometimes because you tend to get your kids to call you Mr. John don’t you?


John Colwill
And the reason that I’m Mr. John is my dad was Mr. Colwill at school for all my childhood so I can’t be Mr. Colwill, I have to be Mr. John. And Mr. Colwill is such a mouthful for little children. So Mr. John is a great way to keep an honourific and Mr is nice. I’m often Miss John. Little kids, lower primary call me Miss John, like I said, I don’t mind.


Debbie
Be whatever you want. Yes.


John Colwill
Absolutely, especially these days. Gender is totally fluid.


Debbie
Yes exactly.


John Colwill
There you go.


Debbie
Oh, yes.


John Colwill
Thank you Debbie.


Debbie
This has been a complete delight, John,


John Colwill
Happy editing.


Debbie
Well, we’re not gonna do much editing. That’s the joy of the Crescendo Music Education podcast, you’re gonna get it raw and real.


John Colwill
It’s raw and real. At the coalface, well done Debbie. Congratulations to you, and everybody who worked so hard, I salute you. Honour you. Thank you..


Debbie
Thank you, John.

Until next time, bye. I appreciate you and all of my colleagues, and hope this episode has been enjoyable and useful. Don’t forget, you’ll find the show notes on crescendo.com.au. I’d love a share rate or review to help other music educators find this podcast. All I can be is the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you. Until next time, bye.

As we know, laughter relieve stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life. I’m in need of advice. If you can help me here. I’ve been offered eight legs of venison for $40. Is that too dear?



Sign-Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education connecting supporting and inspiring music educators. In the show notes you’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member, for a low annual fee you can access hundreds of files worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops and webinars and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.


Just for Laughs

As we know, laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

What’s the difference between a poorly dressed man on a unicycle and a well-dressed man on a bicycle?

Attire.


Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Keyboard Approach to Harmony by Margaret Lowry

Where to find me:

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