Music as 'Education'

We all know that children love music. From a few months old, babies visibly respond to a simple tune hummed by a parent. We acquire the secret of how to get the baby’s attention, delighting in the little staring eyes and when we see there is an engagement, we repeat the tune that got the smile!

Fast forward a year or two and no sooner can they walk than they can dance. “Dancing is poetry with arms and legs,” wrote Charles Baudelaire. It is no wonder that this lethal combination of melody and rhythm has captivated humankind for as long as we can recall. We have it in our musical bones before we can even speak!

Music touches us all because we are innately wired to connect with it. In other words - ‘there’s something inside so strong.’ It is at the very core of who we are and what it means to be human. Plato went so far as to say that ‘music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe.’ Such is the profound impact that music has had on the human race that it deserves to be continually explored and studied in every generation.

Music education is more than ‘just music!’ It is about communication and creativity, language and listening, pleasure and perseverance, counting and confidence. In the world of early learning, it is about phonics, sounds eye-hand co-ordination, spatial-awareness rhythm, patterns and above all the sheer emotion of happiness.

At one time before the Millenium year, high school students had the option to study an O’Level subject ‘Appreciation of Music.’ This specific emphasize on musical ‘appreciation’ was to help increase our knowledge, understanding and experience of all styles of music in its historical and cultural context.

Even if we were never to learn music per se or play an instrument, the greater understanding of the powers of music can inform us of how it can be used for the benefit of individuals, societies, and those in need.

In recent years, music as a class subject has fought for its survival in a number of schools as it tended to be ‘cut’ when educational budgets were tightened. It is fair to ask if such a decision has this been somewhat short-sighted? Have we failed to comprehend the importance of music in schools?

Music and communication have always been closely linked. Research supports the view that exposure to music from an early age strengthens communication development both in terms of literacy skills and spoken language. Because music stimulates the whole of the brain and is multi-sensory, fun and engaging, children learn many new skills without even realizing it.

Concerns that children in primary schools from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle academically because of their limited vocabulary, led the Department of Education to issue advice to parents on the learning of language through nursery rhymes in pre-school years.

A report from Oxford University Press earlier found that almost half of children aged five and six could potentially under perform in school due to what teachers call the ‘word-gap’.

Two programmes costing £13.5m and designed to offer extra support to parents were launched early 2018 in an effort to improve parent communication skills at home. One of these programmes stressed that ‘nursery rhymes’ have always been an important part of a child’s early learning. Through singing or being sung to as children, we learn about concentration, anticipation and prediction, eye-contact, creativity, memory, pitch, rhythm, phonics, sentences and sequencing. Rhyming words and phonetical sounds have always been at the beginning of sound recognition and speech development.

We all remember learning our ABC’s with a simple sung melody. When teachers encouraged us to sing these letters with rhyming line endings, we were simultaneously acknowledging power of communication through music.

All of these attributes of communication are enhanced when we play a musical instrument and learn music as a subject or for personal interest. Parents often the question - At what age should a child begin to learn how to play an Instrument?

Many primary or elementary schools offer the chance for pupils to learn how to play a musical Instrument. Children as young as three years of age have learned to play violin or piano via the Suzuki method, a system that teaches children to play by relying on their musical ear and so learn music as if they were learning a language.

Once a child has acquired the ability to read, count and understand instruction, formal music lessons are the next step. These call for daily practice times and a discipline generally expected from children aged six and above.

Whilst the opportunity for private lessons is usually the preserve of those who can afford to pay for musical tuition it in early years, most children will have their first experience of music at school in the classroom or the school choir. While music touches the lives of all young people, the disadvantaged can benefit most.

One centuries-old method of learning that is created to develop the aural capacity and song sight-reading of a child is the tonic-sol-fa system. Widely used in Victorian England, this method found more frequent use in the schools of Europe and Canada over the last hundred years and was seen as a worthy introduction to learning music stave-notation. Many who were taught who and mastered the sol-fa system testify that it remained with them for evermore as a crucial asset in their musical careers.

To the amazement of a live audience in a recent production on Ireland’s RTE Paddy Moloney a piper from the Irish traditional music group ‘The Chieftains’ effortlessly and spontaneously sang the sol-fa associations to two well- known pieces along with a fellow Irish violinist (fiddler) John Sheahan from the group ‘The Dubliners.’

While the Sol-fa system can be taught a in classroom situation, it is even more appropriate for the school choir, especially in situations where not everyone can read music.

In the UK and Ireland, the profile of the school choir has been raised in recent years with the broadcasting of popular school choir competitions on TV. According to a ‘Chorus Impact Study’ published in 2011 by ‘Chorus America,’ theirs is a different story.

  • More than 1 in 4 educators say there is no choral program in their schools
  • Of those who said that their school has no choir program today, 31% said their school used to have choirs
  • The Nation’s Report Card on Music & Visual Arts reports only 17% of eighth graders sing in choir.

Choirs differ in size and kinds of voices that are available but whatever the circumstance, the choir offers a wonderful learning opportunity for students and is an integral part of arts education. Singing in choir provides a sense of real belonging, discipline and achievement. It has been well documented that singing in a choir helps students succeed in school, in work and in life developing thinking and social skills, self-confidence, imagination, reasoning and motivation to learn.

When the Young Voices Concerts at the Manchester Arena and London’s O2 brought together an amalgamation of school choirs to raise the roof with up to 8000 singing children. The performance precision, energy and vitality at each of the concerts left everyone in the audience elated. Teachers who felt ‘left out’ were asking about what is entailed in and how to go about setting up a choir in school. It is always possible to build a choir wherever a group of people exist. There is room for all voices. If a singer has found his or her voice in the shower, then the next step is to share the gift and making music is its own reward.

The Beatles’ sang that famous opening verse from the Joe Cocker song ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ and no doubt they echo in the minds of those who are too fearful to take the risk of joining the choir.

‘What would you do if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song,
I will try not to sing out of key.’

As the song says, you’ll get by with a little help from your friends. The choir is about togetherness, a blend of voices rather than one and unless the aim is to perform at the highest competitive level, the real achievement is to do one’s best and be happy just singing let that be in unison or harmony.

The choir is often called upon to sing at special events in the academic year and is usually the centre-piece of the school concert. The chance to showcase their musical and other talents in the school show or concert is one that pupils actively enjoy. It allows them to express themselves, work together towards a common goal and gain some experience in the whole process of stage production.

While there are many things to take account of when planning the concert to ensure the smooth running of the event, it allows others to come aboard. It takes the commitment and involvement of a large number of people, from those dealing with stage management, ticketing and production to the artists providing the actual content material. Then there is the programming and positioning of acts, an important part of the process in deciding what fits best in terms of the overall effect and order.

The whole is made up of many parts and the end result is the expression of ourselves. St Paul called it ‘music in your heart,’ a music already deep inside us that will always beg to be released and burst forth into joy. It can begin in the home but must be continued in the classroom.

Don´t stop the music, 
The world will keep turning if you use it,

Get out there and don´t stop the music, 
People keep on dancing - You can do it! (Rihanna)

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