France Musique: The Bac Spécialité candidates passed the first stage – written – in mid-May, and are preparing to take the oral exam at the beginning of June. The music major, along with other disciplines, is part of the Grand Oral. What are the most important changes brought about by the reform?
Anne Claire Skibalt: What has changed the most in the reform is speaking. In contrast to the previously reformed baccalaureate option test, in which students performed a piece of music, it now requires students to present creativity as a group. What is interesting about this idea is exactly the way the student participates in a music project: how he will mobilize different languages, different techniques… It is an exam that aims to liberate the student as a musician, from the student as an artist and the student as an enlightened amateur. Especially since in the context of his oral speech, the student will be asked to describe the progress of the project on which he has worked throughout the last year: what did he put together with his group, and what references did he use? This approach creates a situation that is reflective of all functions of music: that of listener, performer and composer. An approach to musical practice is more interesting and is a real complement, including for example for students who have chosen a music major while continuing their studies at the Conservatory.
Another novelty is the importance of collectivism in production. Students present a project with at least one, or even several classmates and high school friends, which is very interesting not only for our teaching, but also for education in general. There are very few group events: in sports, you have to beat another team, for example. While here, it’s the group working together on the music project. This develops skills that, in my opinion, go beyond the school’s framework: collaboration, collaboration, teamwork, the ability to find consensus around a project and assignment of tasks, and cross-cutting skills so much needed in the business world.
Music of France: The baccalaureate exams begin this year with specialized written exams. To what extent has the written test for music specialization been modified?
Anne-Claire Scébalt: In addition to listening commentary, analysis and comparative commentary based on the work of the limited program studied during the year, the students had to prepare a third part: a commentary on a text bearing witness to contemporary musical life.
What is interesting in this exercise is the candidate’s reflection on the musical phenomenon from different angles: economic, social, health-related, etc. For us as educators, it is about getting students to think of music not just as an art or a form of artistic technique, but in context, with all the issues that may arise: the place of the artist, the composer, the creator in society, the form of the concert, listening and its problems… Flexibility of the programmes, we can lead students to very different paths and as close as possible to their reality and desires. At the end of the major, the student will, if desired, be able to move towards different career paths, sound engineering, cultural mediation, and journalism, with a strong enough musical background to fuel his or her career thereafter.
France Musique: The greatest novelty in this reform is the Grand Oral, and majors participate in this test. What does this mean concretely for a music major?
Anne Claire Skibalt: Actually, for the Great Oral, the student is obligated to fill in two majors in the two questions he chooses for the test. But with the programs we have in music there is a great deal of consistency, and then we, the music teachers, have the experience, because it has been so many years since we have been talking only about music in progress, but we consider it with different illuminations: with regard to economics and philosophy.. Courses, it is impossible for us to organize work in transverse with other disciplines. There is no time for discussions with colleagues and students. In my opinion, it will take several years to consider patterns of organization for this. And it will take several years of practice to somehow break the support of students in this ordeal.
The problem of civic education is that it assumes that the student, since he is gifted with speech, then big speech is not a problem. However, at any given time, in college or high school, the teacher is required to work on the oral in its implementation: from the point of view of breathing, standing, vocal skills, all these aspects are necessary for the development of speaking skills. Except for the music teacher. Therefore, if institutions really bet on music, they will have everything to win, including at the event, whatever the system.
France Musique: Has the reform of exams significantly modified the work in the classroom for teachers?
Anne Claire Skibalt: There are a lot of things that are changing and it will definitely increase objective thinking, that’s for sure. Especially since with the cancellation of the series, student profiles in the music major are more heterogeneous than before. We are in almost single sessions. Children who have learned music at the conservatory, others sing or play guitar, others don’t play any instrument, others have already improvised… they have a unique musical background to them. Anyway, we are forced to build individual courses from scratch. The idea is to support them as much as possible in their needs, in their expectations regarding the post-baccalaureate orientation course.
But the biggest problem for teachers is the deadline. This year’s events were postponed due to Covid in May and June, but were originally scheduled for March. In fact, it is assumed that the student has chosen the specialties strictly according to his orientation after the baccalaureate, and for Parcoursup to be able to take into account the observation of the specialties, the examinations must be taken well in advance. However, the March deadline is very difficult to meet, moreover, it is not in line with the way we work. Working on musical skills and gestures to prepare for the passage, including the student’s musical project, is not possible during this short period. There is something lopsided about the allotted setup time and skills that the various events mobilize.
France Musique: Specifically, by removing the series (L, S, ES), the reform opened the music major to a more diverse profile of students. Have you noticed a decrease in interest or, conversely, an increase in the number of candidates for a music major?
Anne-Claire Scébalt: We don’t have any numbers at the moment, but according to our initial comments, the fact of being able to combine very different disciplines is of great interest to students. And this is new, because before the student made a literary series to get to the music. In the end, this made no sense with respect to post-baccalaureate because it is clear that post-baccalaureate careers are not just limited to combinations of disciplines from the social sciences or humanities. For example, an audio engineer would need music and physics, and now this is possible. It is an opportunity presented to the students which is not only closely related to their orientation, but also in terms of their desire to combine disciplines that could not have been linked before the reform.
And then, according to the first returns and contrary to what we feared, it is not the artistic disciplines that are being abandoned, but rather a minority. But many of us find this abandonment of a major in the last year [l’élève choisit 3 spécialités en première, deux en terminale, op.a.]it is too early because we are still in a course that should remain a generic one which sometimes forces students to make difficult choices that could be detrimental to the future.
What stands out to the contrary is when students choose an art major, they often have a mentoring project behind it. In this context, what poses a problem is the second. The music option is far from being offered everywhere, and it’s not derogatory. What we see emerging from this reform are students arriving with real mentoring projects in music at the end of the third. If they’re not in a high school in the area that serves music, it’s not really. So they could do the second in a high school in the sector without music and join a high school that offered a music major (as a result, contempt) at first, which never happened. In our discussions with the Ministry, we would like to make it clear that it is necessary to facilitate the access of pupils to secondary schools that offer music by way of restriction, because the choice of artistic specialization is not just an extra spirit or ice. On the cake, but for many students, a real career choice.
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