Why I Love the Great British Baking Show: A Quasi-Diversion from Music Education

I’ve been watching a lot of the Great British Baking Show lately, so much so that I’ve even been trying my hand at making some treats of my own for the first time (i.e., the pic of my proudest macaron below). It’s been fun to try and develop a new hobby in the blips of free time available this Fall semester. Beyond the potentially delicious outcomes, I can’t help but think about why I seem to like the show so much and why I so easily fell into a habit of what probably amounts to “binge watching” it.

One reason that seems fairly obvious to me is that watching the show and spending time on baking has been a nice respite from what amounts to “the daily news”. On the surface, the general emotional calm of the show is appealing when juxtaposed with the chaos of so much else happening in the world from moment to moment. Overall, I appreciate how the producers portray the humanity of the participants and the drama of the contest with what feels like a sense of sincerity. They do this without resorting to too much of the topsy-turvy camera work, canned conflict, yelling, and insane overhyping that is present in most other reality shows.

Also – for better or worse – I know that, personally, I can be persuaded to indulge in escapist behaviors (e.g., my love of all things sci-fi… books, TV, movies…), and watching TV certainly fits that bill. There are undoubtedly lots of great reasons for enjoying the show. After all, it’s a popular show and I’m definitely not the only one who has been transfixed by it. But, when I think about it for a bit, I believe there are probably some music education-related analogies “baked” in to my attraction to the show that might be interesting to consider. As a result, I wrote this post to try and extract some professional lessons that perhaps could be gained from the time I spent escaping with the Brits into their baking tent…

Why do they do it?

Considering the motivation of the folks who participate in this show is fascinating. The participants appear to do what they do for what in education we would probably consider to be “ideal” motivational reasons. Nearly every baker stresses the importance of two things (1) the intrinsic joy of their work and (2) how it benefits some broader community. They bake because they want to feed their family and friends nice things and because they find it satisfying and exciting to expand their skill and develop a “signature” style replete with personal choices for flavors and techniques. While they’ll usually express a desire to “win”, when they talk about winning or losing, they typically describe an appreciation for getting recognition that their work results in good food or a regret that they didn’t live up to a personal standard, respectively. Their motivational dispositions rarely if ever lead them to focus on comparative standards. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the prize is a glass plate… …not money, some exotic trip, or a business deal, etc. Beyond that, the silly glass plate is eventually bestowed amidst a large family gathering where all the bakers from the whole season return and celebrate each other’s work. Ultimately, their motive seems to rest largely on personal development and being a contributor to their community of family, friends, and fellow bakers.

In my view, this seems to be a pretty ideal model for some of the ways a music educator could be energized to develop as a professional and do good work with their students and communities. 

How do they get along?

The collegiality expressed among the bakers is equally fascinating. In fact, there seems to be an inherent lesson apparent in the make-up of the participant pools themselves. The groups of bakers who are gathered for any particular season seem to be purposively designed to be quite diverse in regard to a number of compelling characteristics. At the risk of making too much of a TV show, I think it can be inspiring to see how their diversity appears in their work and – more importantly – the consistent expression of acknowledgment, appreciation, and respect they have for their differences. In regard to more mundane matters of week-to-week baking, the participants seem not to possess any real sense of a “cut-throat” competitive urge. While they all clearly want to do their best, there are almost no instances in which the bakers appear to be working in a “for me to win, you must lose” mindset. In contrast, most episodes show examples of how bakers help each other. It’s pretty common to see those who have finished their work helping the others who are in danger of running out of time for any given challenge. Ultimately, they are more often depicted celebrating their triumphs together and empathizing with each other when things don’t go well.

Again, this seems to be a great model for how teams of music educators could come together and work through kindness for the mutual benefit and gain of all.

Well, if you read all this – thanks for indulging with me in this escape. If you feel like sharing, I’d be curious to know your take on these simple metaphors. If you haven’t seen it, check out the show, I think it’s a pretty cool diversion.