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30 Mar 2018
Alla Toropova, Valeri Brainin, Dina Kirnarskaya and Nelly Suslova

From the history of the RussSME

From the very foundation in 1953 of the International Society for Music Education - ISME - Russia, at that time as a part of the USSR, was a member of this organisation. Dmitry Kabalevsky represented the USSR at the UNESCO conference in Belgium in 1953, when ISME was created.

Dmitry Kabalevsky was Vice-President of ISME from 1964 to 1970.

The Soviet representation in ISME was organised on the basis of the Composers’ Union of the USSR and took a very active part in the work of ISME. Thus, up to 1991, the Union of Soviet Composers had INA status, but ceased to exist together with the collapse of the USSR.

The IX World ISME Conference was held in Moscow in 1970. Dmitry Kabalevsky became the Honorary President of ISME in 1972 and retained this title posthumously.

Recreation of Russia’s presence in ISME in 2004 was considered by the initiative group led by Valeri Brainin as an opportunity to restore the interrupted tradition, to return Russia into the international community of music educators.

Here is the information about music education in today’s Russia.

General music education in Russia

Institutional musical education begins as early as in kindergartens. Children visit them from the age of 3 up to 6 years. This level of preschool education is regulated by Federal State Standards, which presuppose children’s stay in kindergarten is 5 days a week for 10-12 hours daily. Groups consist of  15-30 children of the same age (junior, middle, senior groups). There are either complex creative classes or special music lessons lasting from 10 to 30 minutes twice a week in the schedule of each group.

In kindergartens there are special, quite spacious rooms for music lessons. Usually there is a piano in those rooms, some of the simplest noise and percussion instruments (tambourines, ratchets, maracas, etc.), toys, elements of theatrical props. Classes are conducted by a music director with special music education. Lessons are full of such activities as singing, playing noise instruments, elements of rhythm and dance, music games, listening to music. Regularly in kindergartens there are various holidays, matinees, timed to the calendar dates: New Year, March 8, the end of the kindergarten and others. Children speak to their parents - sing songs, perform small dance compositions, read poems.

Pre-school education is not compulsory, and some children do not attend kindergartens. They are educated in the family. Such children often visit special early childhood education groups for creative development or school preparation groups. Here they can also engage in singing, dancing, rhythm and others. Each type of creative activity involves lessons of 25-30 minutes twice a week.

From the age of 7 children are visiting a regular school, where they study for 11 years. The school cycle of education is divided into 3 levels: primary school (grades 1-4), junior school (grades 5-9), and full secondary school (grades 10-11). Music is taught in grades 1-9. In the 10-11 grades of some schools, the subject "World Art Culture" is taught, which is designed to integrate the knowledge of schoolchildren in all kinds of art (music, painting, literature) into a single holistic picture of the aesthetic perception of the world.

There is a special classroom for music classes in most Russian schools. They have a piano, sets of textbooks, a small music library and sets of children's elementary musical instruments. However, the level of material and technical support in small rural schools, of course, lags behind the schools of big cities. So, in the best schools in cities with over one million people there are music classes equipped with choral machines, modern multimedia equipment (projectors, electronic boards, sets of electronic musical instruments, etc.), and in some village schools there may not even be a special music room and lessons are held in the assembly hall and other unsuitable premises. Nevertheless, in the overwhelming majority of schools there is still a piano, a sound reproducing technique, in half of schools there is also a keyboard synthesiser.

Contents of studies and staff of schools as well as other issues of organising the educational process is also regulated by the Federal State Educational Standards of General Education (GEF). This document sets out what is to be taught and learned and how the expected results must be evaluated at all levels of education in general and for each subject in particular. The document was supervised by music teachers, many of whom have a higher special music education. When issuing new teaching booklets, developing programs, control materials for teachers’ accreditation and other important processes in general education usual practice is to follow GEF regulations.

The main part of music education in secondary schools is the subject "Music" as part of the first half of the day - 35-45 minutes 1 time per week from 1 to 8 grade. Music lessons in the first half of the day are, in fact, compulsory and include the widest range of activities, such as singing, listening to music, musical and rhythmic movements and a number of others. Experienced teachers skillfully combine in the musical development of their pupils various forms of lessons and extracurricular activities.

The concept of Dmitry Kabalevsky, who developed and supplemented the main line of Russian musicology with reference to mass school education, is the substantive basis for teaching music in general education. The key idea of ​​this concept is understanding music through genre and intonation as “the art of intoned meaning” (Boris Asafiev). According to the provisions of the GEF, the main goals of music lessons at school are to evoke interest and love for music, develop aesthetic taste, form one’s system of values and personally significant cultural position. These goals are specified in the following areas of teaching and educational work:

  • the formation of singing skills on the basis of accessible and artistically meaningful works of Russian and foreign composers, folk and contemporary songs
  • the formation of students’ interest to serious music based on the perception of highly artistic works of classics and modern composers. At the same time, figurative and semantic perception is combined with the analysis of musical expressive means, with thinking about the relationship between form and content of musical text
  • shaping of  broad cultural context in music perception, the awareness of general and special in the language and expressive meaning of music and literature, music and other arts –  painting, architecture, theater and cinema; development of associative thinking
  • formation of a corresponding outlook and thesaurus (knowledge of composers, styles, genres, works, musical terms, of musical life phenomena, etc.)
  • self-expression through various kinds of creative activity, including figurative intoning and other kinds of musical movement, drawing, composition in various genres, etc.

An important element of aesthetic education in school is related to national holidays and school vacations (September 1, Teacher's Day, New Year, March 8, May 9, Last Bell, etc.). Concerts are usually prepared for these dates, where students of different ages show choral music and dance, musical and literary compositions, small musical performances, etc. The preparation of these events takes place in the format of extracurricular activities. The genre and stylistic appearance of them is extremely wide, and is adjusted to the particularities of a certain school and the capabilities of a school teacher. In some schools this can be predominantly folklore, in others it is pop, jazz or rock stylistics, in the third - academic classics. This diversity is encouraged by a broad system of circles, creative studios and groups. The most common forms of additional creative activities of students are: choral singing; folklore ensemble, musical theatre, individual piano studies, synthesiser, and guitar (duration of lessons from 35 minutes to 1.5 hours, 1-3 times a week).

In recent decades, with the development of digital technology and educational innovations, music education is enriched with various forms of research and project activities of schoolchildren. Contests on the best project presentation have gained wide popularity; Topics of schoolchildren’s studies are various aspects of cultural and musical life of past and present.

A notable trend of the last decade was the growing interest of teachers in the system of elementary music education of K. Orff. For various reasons this system has not received as great popularity in Russia as in other countries of the world. However, now this gap begins to diminish and many programs of musical development in both pre-school and junior school are enriched with "Orphic" forms of elementary practical music-making taking into account national specifics and repertoire.

Additional music education

In parallel with the system of basic general education, a system of additional music education successfully operates. This is not compulsory, but is provided at the choice of the family and the child. In the Children's Music Schools and the Children's Art Schools there are two types of programs: pre-development programs and general development programs. The first ones suggest that the child might later choose musical profession and enter the appropriate secondary special or higher education institution. The second type of programs aim at overall musical development, improving the quality of life of the child and his family.

Both types of programs can be either free or commercialised. The state provides full financial support for a significant number of “budget” places in such educational institutions. They go to the most gifted and highly motivated children. Similar educational services are available on a commercial basis, but the amount of payment does not exceed 10 - 15% of the average salary of one of the parents. The most popular are instrumental (piano) and vocal studies. While learning their major discipline students also master a number of related subjects. Thus, students enrolled in piano studies attend compulsory classes in accompaniment and ensemble; bayan, balalaika and domra students participate in the orchestra of folk instruments; students of violin, cello, flute – play in chamber or symphony orchestras, etc. In many schools there are choral departments, where the main form of singing is choral singing. Less common are schools with folklore and jazz departments.

In addition to the main instrument, choir, ensemble or orchestra, students of music schools attend solfeggio, music literature and music listening lessons. In some music schools, teachers implement various non-conventional programs for electronic musical instruments, attend improvisation courses and participate in musical performances.

The highest level of instrumental skills is demonstrated by students of special music schools functioning at the largest conservatories of the country (Central Music School under the Moscow Conservatory, Special Music School at the Gnesin’s Academy of Music, similar schools in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg). However, in other music schools highly qualified teachers also exist, and they successfully prepare their students for competitions of various levels. Students of music schools participate in dozens of city, republican and all-Russian competitions on a regular basis. The most prestigious is the annual television contest "The Nutcracker", which is held every year with the support of the "Culture" TV-channel for piano nominations, stringed instruments, wind and percussion instruments. The final concert from the Moscow Philharmonic Hall is broadcast throughout the country and has a very high rating. In a more closed format, there are also various other competitions in theoretical disciplines. Winners of such competitions have advantages for the admission to professional secondary and higher educational institutions specialising in classical, folk, pop and jazz music.

The project "Music for All"

Awareness of the new challenges to music education as a source for creative and intellectual development of each child led to the emergence of the "Music for Everyone" project in Russia, and the first region where this project is fully implemented is the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). Musicians and scholars invested their skills and knowledge into the project together with heads of the ministries of education and culture of Yakutia under the patronage of the project’s “father”, the first president of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) Mikhail Nikolaev. Teams of musicians, scholars and teachers as well as state officials are created for the project’s development.  Number one and two are the programs under the leadership of Eduard Abdullin and Nina Berger. Nina Berger mostly promotes the idea of universal music literacy, while  Eduard Abdullin with his supporters (Elena Nikolaeva, Boris Iofis, Maryna Osenneva, Alla Toropova, etc.) is oriented towards mastering the patterns of musical art by the students via different musical activities including active music making on the simplest musical instruments (block flutes and traditional regional instruments - khomus in Yakutia), figurative intonation and theatrical elements living together with the music. For this purpose, 3 hours of music lessons per week have been introduced in the experimental secondary schools of Yakutia.

The first results of Eduard Abdullin’s program within the project «Music for All (Everyone)» that have been received during its duration from 2014 to 2018 will be presented on the margins of the  ISME – 2018 conference in Baku by music teachers from Yakutia (RF).

Modern internet technologies are actively introduced into the system of school education. So, in 2017-2018 years considerable efforts have been made by the state to implement the NES project - "Russian Electronic School". The heart of it is the creation of electronic lessons in all subjects of the basic general education school program. At present this work is underway and includes 68 music lessons (17 lessons for each of the 5, 6, 7, 8 grades). Free access to them is supposed to be open on a special Internet portal. Every child who is unable to attend a school lesson will be able to distantly use these training materials. A slightly different approach belongs to the MES project – the Moscow Electronic School. In fact, this hub is meant to be a public collection of methodological materials – texts, tables, tests, tasks, audio and video files: any teacher can use those for preparation to her lessons.

Considerable contribution into the development of younger generation’s musical culture is made by various concert organizations. In each major city of Russia philharmonic societies necessarily offer special concert programs and whole subscription series for youngsters. Mostly they are accompanied with lectures designed to help young listeners to better understand classical music, composers' work, musical genres, styles and instruments. Educationally oriented philharmonic programs often addressed to young adults become more and more popular. Moscow and Yekaterinburg Philharmonic, Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters also provide free on-line broadcasting of their concerts and performances on the Internet.

Professional musical education in Russia

Professional music education in Russia dates back to the mid-19th century marked by the birth of conservatories in St. Petersburg and Moscow. From the very beginning they were focused on professional musicians’ training – composers, conductors, orchestra and choir artists, instrumentalists and singers. Graduates of conservatories both from Moscow and St.Petersburg followed by many others formed the body of professional music groups, leading orchestras and opera houses. A significant part of the graduates were music teachers – the majority of them were highly educated girls, both generally and musically, mostly pianists, taking teachers’ vacancies in schools of different levels.

At present the highest musical educational institutions – conservatories, academies and institutes of music – are very unevenly distributed throughout the country. In both capitals, Moscow and St. Petersburg, there are ten of them, on the Volga river every major city hosts a conservatory – Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Saratov and Astrakhan. Samara and Volgograd also offer higher musical education – an extremely high concentration in one region, causing serious competition between all institutions ... At the same time, there are very few conservatories in Siberia on the other part of the Urals border between Europe and Asia: only Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Vladivostok offer higher music education. Music teachers for secondary schools are trained by other educational institutions: they are pedagogical universities teaching music along with children’s psychology, didactics and other subjects critical for any teacher.  

Russian professional music education is famous for its three-stage structure: school, college and university. Due to this structure thousands of music teachers with pre-university special education could fall into labor market in the XX-th century, especially in 20-s and 30-s. Those teachers happened to be a necessary part of  the so-called "cultural revolution", and now in small towns and villages a significant part of  music schools’ staff are educated at “pre-bachelor” level that is in Russia considerably high. The system «Sh-U-V» (that is in Russian “school-college-university” abbreviation) could be a route to higher music education for people with quite average musical abilities: the long way to “her Majesty Music” starts from 7 years old and is finishing only in their mid-twenties where each stage has its own goals and teaching methods. This unique system proved to be very effective: its graduates, both practicing musicians and music educators, are really very professional and well-trained. Highly acclaimed “Russian music school” is a living embodiment of the Sh-U-V system, since special music schools for gifted children also presuppose  a very long and careful period of study: the pre-university stage lasts from 6 to 18 years, after which graduates of these schools enter conservatories and academies of music.

At present professional music education in Russia is focused on the preservation of its generally very high level of performance and yet at the same time it strives to fit into the modern labour market. In recent years, since the 1980s, jazz vocal and instrumental departments, music management and sound producers’ departments have opened at many conservatories. They also offer folk singing and folk instrumental performance branches where those who master domra, balalaika, bayan and gusli have access to higher music education. Most recently ethnomusicology and music journalism have joined the list of new musical specialties.

In contrast to the West, future musicologists in Russia are not educated at universities: they join musical institutions studying side by side with practicing musicians. Thus, the spectrum of professional music education in Russia is very wide, and now the goal of the national music community is to create adequate infrastructure for the graduates of higher educational institutions in order to mutually adapt the needs of young professionals and the opportunities of their potential labor market.  It’s necessary to transform Russian music education in the direction of “fitting the reality” through being more flexible and modernized. In this sense cooperation with CEPROM as a division of ISME, RussSME and Russian music community is extremely valuable and really priceless.

Prospects for the activities of the RussSME

Music education strives to remain one of the important public realms that require and receive state support. Scientific research in music psychology and education, new data on the positive influence of music on the brain and child development let Russian music educators increase the authorities’ awareness of music education’s importance. New research data and new concepts supporting the indispensable role of music in the society are discussed at round tables and conferences, in particular those organized by the UNESCO Chair "Musical Art and Education throughout Life" at the Moscow State Pedagogical University.

UNESCO Chair "Musical Art and Education for Life" together with RussSME is planning to host a conference where problems and prospects for the development of music education are to be discussed. Its major issues are:

  • General music education
  • Professional and pre-professional music education
  • Early musical development
  • Music therapy and musical rehabilitation in medical and social practice
  • Music culture, education and the media
  • Ethnic music education
  • Musical development and education in the "third age"
  • Professional health of musicians.

RussSME aims to establish partnerships with other music organisations in Russia - the oldest Russian Music Society (RMS, operating since 1868), the Russian Choral Society (active since 1878 and revived in 2013), the Russian Music Union (the young organisation) and others by public associations.

The history of Russian music education is rich and diverse, but the present is meant to provide fertile ground for the sprouts of the future which are not yet known. To bring it nearer is necessary not only to teach but also to learn from children and students, to teach with advanced intellectual adaptation having in mind our students’ future needs.  Such approach aimed at accepting changes and giving way to progress and transformation yet preserving our best traditions will definitely let musical education in both traditional and new forms just be and flourish. Only a living professional community can give adequate responses to the challenges of the time and remain one of the driving forces of sustainable development.

Material prepared:

President of the RussSME – Alla Toropova

Honorary President of the RussSME – Valeri Brainin

Member of the RussSME Board of Directors – Dina Kirnarskaya

Member of the RussSME Board of Directors – Nelly Suslova