John Paynter

John Frederick Paynter OBE (17 July 1931 – 1 July 2010) was a British composer and music educator known for his advocacy of the cause of creative music making and his emphasis on the importance of music as a subject in the general education of all children. He was Professor of Music at The University of York from 1982 to 1994, serving as Emeritus Professor after his retirement. Paynter‘s compositions included chamber music, choral works and two children‘s operas, The Space Dragon of Galata (1978) and The Voyage of St Brendan (1979). Both works involved large forces, combining professional musicians and children in performance. Among teachers, Paynter’s best-known short piece is Autumn, a setting of a Japanese haiku for classroom performance. As an educator, Paynter‘s publication in 1970 of Sound and Silence had a seminal influence of the practice of classroom music teachers. Paynter was passionate in his conviction that music was exciting for children to explore independently and that the subject could be approached in a multitude of different ways. While the public face of music education in schools tended to concentrate on instrumental learning and teacher-directed performances by choirs and orchestras, the book introduced teachers to ways of helping pupils to explore and make their own interpretive decisions about sounds through working at composing projects. Paynter’s ideas influenced the development of music in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in the 1980s and in the British National Curriculum in the 1990s. Composing became a core musical activity in both of these programmes of study.

Before 1970, practical music-making in class most often consisted of precise instructions, such as learning to play the recorder en masse. Paynter encouraged students to explore the gamut of sounds, not just musical notes. He encouraged children to think and reason as composers. Pupils could use their imaginations to create a piece of music that meant something special to them. It could be programmatic, such as a „stormy day“, or musically abstract, such as a gradual crescendo followed by a gradual diminuendo. If pupils had instrumental or vocal skills they would use them, but they might find their inspiration in knocking a desk with a ruler. Borrowing an idea developed by drama teachers in the 1960s, he encouraged group work. He organised pupils into groups of four or five to bounce ideas off each other and to improvise. Paynter‘s chief concern was to find out how far students of all ages could find expression and joy through musical experimentation, composition and improvisation, and how the outcomes might be evaluated. This work led to the publication of Sound and Silence (1970), co-written with Peter Aston. This remarkable book gave starting points and examples to teachers for how they might encourage students to explore the styles and concepts of 20th-century music and the relationship of music to other areas of the curriculum such as language and mathematics.