Music is often referred to as a skills-based subject and the actual musical content unimportant. I would disagree with this approach strongly. The idea that the skill influences the chosen repertoire is widely agreed upon by music educationalists. However, what can happen is that songs and pieces that should be commonly known can end up not being taught. For example, the first time I ever heard the song “My Favourite Things” from the Sound of Music was when I was twenty years old in University. People were amazed I had never heard this song, in fact the first version I ever heard was the fantastic saxophone interpretation by John Coltrane. Why did I not know it? There was no music in my home – my grandparents who raised me only listened to Radio 4. Any music I heard had to come from school or recommended from friends. Was it important that I did not know this song? Well it made me feel a bit stupid at the time and I did wish that I had come across it before. No one likes to be on the fringe of a conversation because they don’t have the prior knowledge to engage with it. It also explains why I had no idea what “blue satin sashes” were until my twenties, while my EAL children in Year 2 are fully aware of what satin is and what it looks like because of the reference from the song and the pictures I showed them as a result of learning the lyrics. This is the argument that ED Hirsch gives for “Cultural Literacy” – things that you really should know so you can read a broadsheet newspaper, or have meaningful conversations where you are not having to blag your way through as you have no idea what the other people are talking about. It really gets to the root of what it means to be an educated person.
So I would argue that we ought to have some common repertoire that students all over British schools can engage with. I am making my own list but there is one that already exists here: at the Core Knowledge Curriculum for years 1-6.