What is art meant to be?
Music-Europe, in short: MUS-E. An international network, an arts-education program, created twenty-five years ago by world-famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin. The purpose of the initiative is to make children become more sensitive, confident, and more receptive by offering them classes with artists within the framework of school education. Hungary has been involved in this program from the beginning. It is currently present in six towns and nine schools, and employs nearly thirty artists. We have interviewed the president of the MUS-E Hungary Association, trainer-coach Andor Tímár.
“Menuhin was well aware of Kodály’s theories regarding music education. If I were to highlight just one thought, I would mention ‘music should belong to everyone’. Kodály knew full well that listening to music, singing together, playing music, or playing music-related games all contributed to the sophistication of the right brain of children, as well as strengthening their social sensibility, their commitment to each other and their community. Expanding this theory, Menuhin formulated from the outset a guideline that not only music is capable of achieving such results, but all artistic activities,” says Andor Tímár.
Isn’t it amazing that a musician has said that?
He has always considered it important for children to be able to represent themselves through the power of the arts and creativity. In support of this idea, he identified four main areas: music, theater, dance and fine arts.
What about literature?
The production of a story or any other text is closely linked to theater, just as photography and video are essential companions to the visual arts and vice versa. Creative activities in communities are much more conducive to self-expression, as well as the acceptance and understanding of others. Artistic activity is a vast universe where differences are not seen as a source of tension, but as a resource. Once you have the capacity for expression and reception, it is easy to work together. Countless recently published studies and research findings prove that developing creativity is a great contributor to how we can collaborate and live together more effectively, and, moreover, prosper in life. The current school system must become accustomed to competency-based education rather than knowledge-based education. Information or specific content can be easily accessed in the digital space, but that is not equivalent to practical, applied knowledge. Where can we gain knowledge and experience? How do we acquire it? What do we do with it? How do we use it? These are all competencies.
How does this work in your practice?
When they are about five to seven years of age, children are inexorably thirsty for knowledge. MUS-E is an elementary school program targeting six to ten-year-olds, so exactly that age group. Our activities are integrated into their schedule, with the same regularity as math or physical education. This does not impose any financial burden on the partner schools. They provide only the “raw material” to be shaped, the children, and we “deliver” the artists.
So in the MUS-E program, artists become teachers. Even if you are an excellent artist, it doesn’t instantly mean that you are equally as good at teaching.
Exactly. We prepare the artists for the task when they join the program. We work according to certain principles and systems, but at the same time, artists find what they can pass on to the children in their own artistic activity and toolkit. This is not an artist training, rather a joint creative process.
Give us a concrete example.
At the beginning of the school year, the artist, let’s say, an actor consults with the teacher about the topics and competencies to be addressed in the given class, whether it is managerial competences or the ability of self-knowledge and self-esteem. Throughout the school year, we develop these through acting and theater games and shared processing. There are no grades, no stakes, so children can express the emotions and thoughts that are important to them without embarrassment. Their teacher can use these as a base very well in the future. As a result of their activities as a group, they usually produce a concert, a theater performance, a group painting or an exhibition. The audience is made up of parents and other students in the school.
Doesn’t performing produce unnecessary pressure?
Whether we are thinking in the short or long term, it is definitely good to have a result of creative work. Children get feedback and they can enjoy their success. But there cannot be a production constraint, it cannot be a stress factor. A very important element is not to grade children. Artworks cannot be classified as an A or a C.
You are holding classes for children from first to fourth grade. I was wondering how great it would be if all this could go on and it wouldn’t stop there.
You are absolutely right. But everything that is developed in this age, continues to function at the instinct level and as a skill later, so there is continuity. Once embedded, the child can carry the value system, the worldview, and outlook into any area of life, which does not necessarily have to be art.
Obviously, the method is somewhat different in every country. It is constantly shaping and changing. But what are the fundamentals you started with?
Let's see. Firstly, MUS-E is an art program with social utility that takes place in a school environment. Secondly, the program is committed to everything that promotes self-expression, inclusion and collaboration. Thirdly, the teacher, the artist and the children always work together. They get to recognize different qualities in each other. The teacher sees that it is possible to work with children in a different way. The child sees how and in how many ways one can become an adult. The artist learns how to effectively convey their messages; they find that a team of kids gives them a much more direct and honest feedback on their work than adults. The original twenty-something-page guide, created over three decades ago, is regularly updated. Representatives of the international network meet twice a year to do “maintenance” on the program. We learn a lot from each other. We are often asked about the exact method, the metrics, the statistical results, the effects of the program. Back then, I did not understand Menuhin when he spoke at one of our gatherings that art was not meant to be that way. What matters is not the guaranteed end result. A business, a factory, a campaign, or a school all operate with the intent to know the outcome of things in advance. According to Menuhin, the end result is not necessarily the most interesting thing about art. The point is that we are doing it. Then it can only end well… (smiling)
You primarily deal with disadvantaged children coming from difficult backgrounds. Is it because they have fewer opportunities to experience art?
If we start from the fact that art belongs to everyone but we cannot go everywhere at once, then we should go to those who, due to their position, have less access to the arts. In this way we can give children tools and values, and we have a much better chance of reaching a family or a community of a housing estate. In this sense, family and community are especially important. Be part of it, understand it – and feel it! The 25-year-old MUS-E is a movement whose members (nearly a thousand artists, six hundred teachers and forty thousand children every year in Europe) know exactly what their fellow participants’ values and thoughts are. Although they do not necessarily understand each other’s words, they still speak one language. They belong to a family, to a community. To MUS-E.
How do you get funding for your activities?
We find philanthropic partners who also believe that there must be a world in which art will play a vital role in social existence. Those who see that this is also connected to whether we can create a livable, sustainable world for ourselves. We have some supporters from the NGO sphere, but it is primarily business leaders from the private sector who can identify with our goals. Together with Menuhin, they believe that our activities can only lead to good things.