By Andy | September 9, 2018 | 0 Comment
School’s offer a broad range of opportunities and activities to engage and enrich the experience of their students. Each has there place and provide important development opportunities. That’s not to say you can’t develop these skills through different activities (I actually think there’s a huge amount of similarity between the educational value of music as there is for sport — but maybe that’s a post for another day!) but I think there’s something particularly special and important about what music brings to the educational experience of students.
Musical experiences in schools come in many different shapes and forms, from the intense and majestic choral singing for those involved in choirs for cathedrals, churches and college chapels, through the orchestral experiences of top school orchestras, to those beginner recorder and guitar groups where so many budding musicians start their journeys. However I think there are various aspects of the musical experience which are common to most, if not all, and which are worthy of further reflection.
No musician ever picked up an instrument for the first time, and was instantly a proficient and beautiful sounding musician. We all understand this, and understand that the journey towards being good at whatever instrument we choose is paved with countless hours of practice. Something which isn’t always understood when it comes to other areas of school life…
Asking students who have studied an instrument to a high level but are finding another aspect of their school life difficult:
What would you do if you were struggling with an issue like this on your instrument?
can often help them unlock the link between practice and success in other areas…
There are many essential things in the lead up to a good performance. We’ve already talked about the importance of practice, but as well as practice it is also important to make sure you are ready to perform. This means getting all your equipment in order, tuning your instrument, getting your music stand at the right hight, adjusting your strap, making sure your instrument is warmed up etc. All of this is key as without getting these fundamentals ready there’s a good chance it will all go horribly wrong at some point in the performance!
The sentiment here is often summed up in words (almost certainly apocryphally) attributed to Benjamin Franklin as:
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Understanding the value of preparation is a key attribute for students to develop if they are going to be really successful in later life.
Most musical performance is really a team sport. Whilst much of the training and preparation happens individually, the real magic happens when a group of musicians come together to perform – whether this is as part of a full symphony orchestra or as part of a rock band! It is here that the students learn to listen to each other, to understand that we all have different parts to play in achieving success, and that what they can achieve together is much greater than the sum of their parts.
This is such a crucial lesson for all students to learn, either through music, drama or sport in schools. Too much of school life is about individual performances – whereas nearly all of life beyond the school gates is about working with and as part of a team towards shared goals.
Attention to detail is essential when playing as part of an ensemble. As a solo performer you have more scope to hide imperfections in terms of timing and tuning as you don’t have an immediate reference point. But when performing as part of a group, if you are half a beat behind, play a sharp instead of a flat, or go to the wrong repeat bar it will be very obvious and will spoil the overall effect.
Like many of these features there are other ways of achieving this in schools, and some subjects (such as my own – Mathematics) lend themselves to emphasising attention to detail, but music offers a real sense of immediate feedback if things aren’t quite right that you don’t get easily in other places.
Music offers space for students to be truly creative an original. This might be through writing and composing their own music, but could equally well come through the individual style they bring to a performance. Over the years I’ve heard many different performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto and whilst they all play the same notes on the same instrument the experience can be incredibly different depending on their ability to convey the emotion of the piece as well as the technical precision.
Music provides a platform for students to experiment with sound, and take other people’s ideas and reinterpret them as their own.
We talk a lot about the importance of creativity in the curriculum, and the essential role this will play in a future where artificial intelligence begins to take over greater swathes of non-creative work – but how are we ensure our students leave school with experience of creativity?
Finally for some students music provides them with a sense of identity, something they can take pride in. In many schools if you are not ‘smart’ or ‘sporty’ you can end up vanishing into the background as the so called forgotten middle. For some music gives them something they can, even if only temporarily, hang they hat on in terms of identity during those difficult teenage years.
There are many other reasons why music should be an essential part of every school’s provision, but I hope you can see from the above why we choose at Wells Cathedral School to make music one of the central tenants on which we build our school’s programme. There is something for everyone in music whether a student is learning an instrument for the first time, or performing the piano solo for the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto as part of full symphony orchestra: