Why music? – aspiration, awe and wonder, incredulity, resilience, emotion, character, spirit, culture, humanity, civility, inspiration, opportunity, participation, perseverance, confidence education educate ….
“Without music, life would be a blank to me.” – Jane Austen
There has been and I suspect always will be much discussion about music in school, from Ed Sheeran wondering why government does not want it on the curriculum when ‘musicians are “wealthy and pay their tax” ‘ to others like Mylene Klass and Julian Lloyd Webber, famous musicians saddened to see music slipping away from schools.
So here is the reflections of a science teacher and school leader in a comprehensive in Nottingham who for a while as headteacher did a bit of a Newton and stood on the shoulder’s of previous headteacher giants but appreciated the view, the mission, the importance and the priority beyond “a subject”.
Why teach music? What? Why teach anything?
I am a science teacher, 36 years in classrooms doing my bit to inspire my subject: chemistry, science to my pupils and students BUT recognising the bigger picture of what schools do. Contributing to the proper education of children and young people. Sure there is also maths and English and humanities, languages art, design and performance and there is extra curricular in sport and performance. There are the social and character skills of growing up leading to autonomy, independence and ‘mattering’ but leaders, heads CEOs and teaching staff should think big, be ambitious in the curriculum and with the opportunities provided in their school.
BUT 1. We are limited by accountability – progress 8 and attainment 8 and a desire for an EBacc with subjects almost chosen at random it would appear ( why no RE?). Music could wither because it just can.
AND 2. We are limited by resource – notably availability of teachers or costs such as peripatetic staff and frankly music is quite expensive but……read on
in my classroom my pupils did science, usually chemistry some continued to A level and into HE
- Some were exceptionally talented and became > professional scientists
- Some needed chemistry in their work and became > medics, vets, pharmacists even physicists and geologists or physics or science teachers
- Others were good, could have been scientists but frankly could have been anything and are all manner of precessions and roles
- Others were just interested and merely wanted to be scientifically literate.
That’s what I faced in my classroom and taught them to my best ability, trying to get them from group4 to group 1; a challenge I loved.
But aren’t the same arguments true for any subject including music. will become professional musicians, some need the music for their profession but almost all pupils love music, spend ages listening to music and being moved by music, or composing or going to concerts……
So beyond the value of studying music beyond that, there are amazing benefits: teamwork, aspiration, hard work, good mental health, peace, joy, comfort…where to start, if music be the food of love play on…..
At Trinity the curriculum promoted music. Orchestra, singing and instrumental work. Every year 7 learnt a musical instrument, we had music lessons lessons and orchestra on the curriculum. then of course GCSE and Level music, music tech, performance…. we had concerts, lunchtime recitals, liturgies and celebrations with music often at the heart and soul. we brought in our primaries, we visited our primaries, we showcased the school to pupils, to parents and to the community.
In Y9 the whole year gave a concert, yes everyone in year 9 to all of year 7 and 8. 175 pupils, the biggest mix of ability you could imagine from some above and beyond grade 8 on an instrument to those still wondering exactly what those black dots meant. It was a highlight of the school year. It showed everyone, pupils and staff just what aspiration could mean, it showed when you do your bit, you contribute to an amazing event. Your little part alongside everyone else little part adds up to something bigger than the sum, massively so. It gave a message “Do that in music and you can do so in sport (they did) in charity giving (they did) and in lessons.” Yes, in lessons if you contribute, join in, you too can increase the learning of the group which includes you, and includes the teacher. Be confident, be civil, find inspiration, become curious, realise reward and success. Did this contribute to an outstanding judgement? Probably.
Daily Telegraph asked and answered: “Can embracing the Arts help teachers broaden their students’ horizons?” A quick google search shows very many schools that can prove the benefits.
But you don’t build this and our amazing concerts and shows and prize givings overnight. A generation ago (1980s) Trinity school was heading for closure when the head Mr Bonner was appointed. He had a vision, amongst which every pupil would learn music, every pupil play or sing in a concert. One day every pupil in a concert and every every family, friend and relative present to watch. We just about managed it as he retired in 2005. So many pupils over that time headed to conservatoires, or to the royal academy, others became professional musicians others got involved in amateur music or church music or jazz music or music teaching……I can go on. Over that period even I got cross at times, I recall helping him unload some kettle drums, I think they cost a bit less than my entire budget “but john wait until you see the effect on the orchestra” – he was right. It became almost a standing joke that staff were not appointed unless they could teach a bit of music, e.g. an instrument or play in the orchestras. I wondered how I got a job! He appointed genuinely outstanding music staff, hugely dedicated and an incredible music lead. Such incredible talent, creativity and industry alongside the amazing ability to find music to allow a beginner to contribute but a star to shine. Peripatetic staff who could bring young children on, who could encourage them in their instrumental but also to take part in a brass band or a jazz group or a strings group, the chamber orchestra etc. Not only that but singing echoed that – proper choir singing, high standards but also music for the ‘ boys vocal group’.
There is no simple magic this is a long term project and the lessons were incredible but results proved so much QED was never so true. Music needs dedication and hard work (great our pupils learnt about dedication and hard work). The rewards are somewhat unmeasurable, but not unforgettable, pupils part of and integral to, the events many pupils remember – concerts, shows, special prize evening (dominated by musicians). Admiration of friends and family, yes the school s a community and as a Church community fulfilling its ethos, mission and and ambition. I believe music wiped away much bullying (yes we did still have some). After Sheku Kanneh Mason won the BBC young musician of the year in 2016 he returned to school on the Wednesday and as he walked through the gate almost the whole of lower school ran to the fence to cheer and applaud him. One night on bus duty I asked a sixth former how her day had been, incredible sir I’ve been getting into Shostakovich thanks to Sheku.
We need music in schools, the decisions are for school leaders and governors but also for government to ensure adequate funding and a sense of value and worth, music can’t be ‘the extra’ but it is expensive – staffing costs, peripatetic costs, instrumental costs.
Otherwise our secondaries will drop down to having a few part timers and a small music GCSE, group as few chose it in Y8 ( as more and more schools push options into year 8).
Did my subject benefit from music and performance? It’s a resounding YES from me.
….and here is another school in Bradford which has put music centre stage with amazing results, highlighted in the educational press recently (2018).
As John Rutter says
“It shames us in the UK as a nation. Music education isn’t a frill to be left to the private sector and open only to those who can pay, it’s at the heart of what makes us human and civilised. Any politicians reading this?
Some of our ex students – from groups 1 to 4, professional ones to those who just appreciated the opportunities have commented below. You may not see them without scrolling down especially on a mobile phone. They are well worth a read.
32 thoughts on “If music be the food of love – it should be at the heart and soul of a school.”
As a teenager, school was pointless and dull. Yet my Music and English teachers’ determination in me drove me to attend school every day and to be a member of the school community. I owe them and music a lot. As a teacher, the music and especially the choir, are what picks me up if everything else feels futile. Music stops the days and weeks from becoming ordinary; music lifts the soul to somewhere beyond the repetitions of learning and routine. It feels like it is this lift from the ordinary that gives pupils the ability to really fulfil their true potential, not simply the potential expected of them. 🙂
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Thank you- I love that “lift from the ordinary”
Having attended trinity music was my life in that school. I learnt so many things and gained so many opportunities. Playing in so many bands, my love of jazz came from playing in the swing band. Having a love for music I joined the school marching band and lasted 15+ years seeing it from its conception and growing to become 2 x British champions. I hope for the sake of my children music will be taught in schools throughout the country for many years to come. I learnt so many life skills in my musical years.
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Like a lot of pupils Ben it had a big impact on you. Or should I say Elvis? Good times
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Excellent blog John.
When I started Trinity I had no musical background and never imagined how important it could be. With such passionate music teachers and so many options, choices and variations it quickly became central to my development and education both as a pupil and a person. I can safely say that without it I would not be the person I am today, it gave me so many life skills – teamwork, dedication, perseverance just to name a few. I really hope my children get to have even a small amount of the experiences that I did through music
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Perseverance is a favourite of mine and I left it out! Better edit. Thanks Dan – recall many musical events important to you…and us
I loved being a student at Trinity; the main reason being that music was at the heart of the school and fuelled my passion for the subject. I’m so grateful for the enthusiasm of music, it’s got me to where I want to be today.
Being able to do my music teacher training at Trinity taught me to have the highest expectations of all students and realise every student of any ability can do the subject in some way. Now as Head of Performing Arts in my school I always base my decisions and next goal to be what I know worked amazingly well at Trinity and how the staff were.
Happy memories that will always stay with me! Forever grateful x
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Inspired to do the music as a teacher too but you are a talented lady Lauren
Coming from a school where every pupil sang in the choir unless you were terrible (I was!) I only really started to appreciate music when I joined Trinity. A genuinely inspirational place – but then again I may be biased!
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But like me your job is teaching Maths not music and yet we experienced the benefits to the pupils, and staff and school.
I came to Trinity with next to no musical knowledge. By the time I left I was a decent guitarist and had achieved a fair bit in the orchestra groups.
But show band was the place I found my passion. I marched for 4 years whilst at Trinity then after a few years rekindled my passion with another group. I’m proud to say that I have achieved great things with this group and look foreword to carrying on the legacy of those that I marched with at Trinity.
Through music I found my second home and my passion for the marching arts.
I also found a confidence that I may have never found which helps me every day when talking to patients at work.
In the words of ABBA “Thank you for the music”
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Lovely response Sam and interesting your sense in which the big part of your world – music and marching has so helped your professional life too. TY
It only took me a month after starting Trinty to gain a bug for music. October 93′ (Year 7), I remember picking up this weird instrument that I was expected to play under my chin. My fingers hurt and it would squeek. The task? To learn “I like traffic lights”. By Christmas I’d cracked it. Santa purchased a shiny new Violin and I took it school. Miss Salt asked me to join Orchestra and I began weekly lessons. First concert in the summer, playing Violin Part 3 “Chariots of Fire”. My parents were in the audience. I remember my dad’s beeming smile of pride I was surrounded by such talent, 80+ students strong. The following year school hired the Albert Hall…..bit much I thought but hey they knew what they were doing I went on to join Gospel choir, Steel band, String band and take part in big school shows and left Sixth form with a Grade 5. Music made me different. Neighbours would call me a geek and weird, I wasn’t bothered as it set me apart from them. I learned discipline, success and built strong friendships. 25 years after that first encounter and I now play in a school band with students. As a member of staff I get to witness their talents and travel with them abroad and have performed in some outstanding spaces. Music was and still is an important part of who I am and I’m grateful that staff at Trinity had the vision to install it in me.
Thank you Kelly you describe quite a journey – wonderful.
Happy memories of learning to play the cornet, violin, recorder (badly) and of course to use my voice as part of a huge school choir and gospel choir who’s songs and harmonies were so pitch perfect I hear and sing them still today. Mrs Guthrie stalking a near empty playground for anyone not yet firmly in her choir and Freddie Kofi teaching us kids charisma, rhythm and pride.
Performing at huge annual prize giving ceremonies instilled a confidence in me I later relied on when taking to the witness box as an expert witness in court during my career as a forensic scientist. I may no longer play the cornet but the life lessons music taught cant be forgotten. Thankyou Trinity.
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Thanks Jenny – special memories of that Gospel choir
Being a non-academic and struggling with dyslexia music was a break for me, it was something I enjoyed and knew I could accomplish. The shear amount of musical opportunity at Trinity really inspired me to get involved. All the way from year 7; auditioning for the girls’ choir, then through to year 9; joining the Show Band and picking up a saxophone for the first time. My dedication and joy for music grew from then on. I joined many other groups giving me the opportunity to build new friendships, not just from my year but all years. I rekindled my flute tuition and found a love in this instrument that would take me forward into pursuing higher education. 4 years on and I am happy to say that I have graduated with a degree in Music with Teaching. I have Trinity school to thank for this, showing me where my true passion lied. For people like me, I would hate to see music abolished in schools, and with it the wonderful opportunities music brings.
Thanks Sarah, and I think there are numbers of people like you who found a value and worth in something rather special. And now you will take that discovery to the next generation.
Great blog post!
I can’t thank Trinity enough for the musical opportunities it provided me as a student there from until 2014. From joining the mass choir in my first prizegiving concert in the Albert Hall (hoping that I didn’t sway the wrong way!) to volunteering for outreach concerts with our local schools (the one time of year you could play ABBA and Disney unashamedly) and participating in the annual piano competition (I’ll never forget that spotlight!) music at Trinity inspired confidence in me and was key in shaping my experiences at university and beyond. Lunchtime and after-school rehearsals for chamber orchestra, concert band and the choir were also the perfect chance to take a step back from my studies and view everything in perspective, especially during the stressful sixth form years when you often have the overwhelming sense that work is piling up! The Trinity music staff consistently went above and beyond to ensure all students had access to musical resources, not to mention the enthusiasm of the peripatetic staff.
This valuable grounding inspired me to continue my musical journey at university where I joined the Merton College Choir in Oxford. During my time with Merton I’ve had the opportunity to sing in incredible venues (Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame Cathedral) as well as participate in live broadcasts on national radio and form lasting friendships with individuals from a variety of backgrounds. Perhaps the most valuable belief that being a student a Trinity taught me however is the importance of providing all students with the access to musical experiences, regardless of their background and privilege, a belief which has stuck with me through my access and outreach work at university.
None of this could have happened without the tireless effort of Trinity music teachers throughout my time there and I am eternally grateful for their support. Allowing music and arts to dwindle in our schools is simply not an option.
Thank you Bridget. You are right to point out the commitment and dedication from diligent, talented teachers.
As I type this I’m accompanying auditions for the University musical that I’m playing in- all thanks to the opportunities I was given at Trinity. So many opportunities for anyone, regardless of previous musical experience or not before coming to the school!
Thanks Lucy and good luck for the audition
Music teaches us so many things we need in any career path we choose. Self discipline, time management, social skills, team work and many, many more.
I always struggled socialising with others but music brings us together. I made friendships through music and still do now through groups I play in.
Through my own teaching I have seen the benefit to children with social difficulties, behaviour difficulties and for those who are not so academic and struggle to succeed in school. I have seen children develop self confidence with the sense that they are good at something when other subjects are a struggle. Children of all abilities can take part and achieve in music.
Music brings a real sense of community to a school which was clearly seen at Trinity. It bought together children from all year groups.
All of us enjoy music through life. It’s around us everywhere we go. It’s an important part of life and it was and should always be an important part of school life.
Thank you Alicia that’s a lovely summary of the importance of music to you and more widely for schools.
Great blog post – thank you for sharing.
It’s so difficult to know where to start in response to a post such as this one. Reading through the comments I find personal truths in so many of the things people have shared, people fortunate to have experienced what Trinity offered to so many students.
Yes, I did music GCSE, yes I did A level music, and yes, I went on to further that study at University with a music degree, and then onto secondary music teacher training…but alongside all this I had the pleasure of having you, John, teach me A level Chemistry.
John, alongside so many teachers at Trinity, you truly understood the value of music – an insight into this is given in the post…so thank you.
Yes, students will miss a few lessons for rehearsals, but it’s a genuine joy to see a teacher who’s lesson you have missed at the concert that evening, applauding (or even better, playing/singing in one of the groups alongside you!)…they understand the bigger picture (and you understand the need to catch up the work missed!)
As a music teacher in inner city London, financial poverty is a very real problem, but poverty of aspiration is a very real thing, and doesn’t always seem to be linked to economics…Every day in the classroom I have the absolute pleasure of seeing that confidence build, that personal aspiration raised, that smile as they go to their next lesson.
There’s a beauty in music (and in the arts generally) in that you can always do more. One of the phrases tacitly banned in my classroom is ‘I’m done’…no, there’s always more you can add to it, work on your phrasing, articulation, clarity of expression…can you develop it further (always, yes!).
And it’s that approach of constant improvement, self-evaluation, critique, which you take from the music room into all other aspects of your life…whichever group 1-4 you find yourself in.
50% of students enrolled in an extra-curricular music provision is, by many school’s standards, remarkably high…but for those of us that know the power and impact of music on even just one life (starting from our own), we’ll struggle to sleep easy until it’s 100% of our students.
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Thanks Bill, all the more special a response from you. Your point about aspiration is so important. As a classroom teacher I never really thought too much about what held people back just tried to encourage them onwards and the world of music does this in such a powerful way. You are a great asset to the cause and an advocate with a vision- keep up the good work.
A great blog about the power and benefits of music.
We spend so much time working pupils to ‘perform well’ in tests etc from a very young age, often making youngsters feel they are ‘failing’.
It’s time we looked more at the whole child, enriching their lives, although it seems your school is doing just that.
Music is a tool that is all too often discarded in the interest of finances and test results….. even though those of us that teach (music) know the positive impact on so many aspects of a child.
If only everywhere was able to follow your school’s example
Thank you Anne. I have left the school at Easter 2017 and don’t want to claim any great credit – in some way I feel privileged to have seen music add such a dimension to a school ( and wider) community.
As a parent of a child recently attending Trinity School, I believe it was the various music opportunities and committed teachers, that have given my son the confidence to pursue his career in Musical Theatre. The music is the glue in the school which binds everyone together, staff and pupils and is a joy to watch. It can even bring the world together….Sheku is an example of that!I In a time when young people’s mental health and wellbeing is so important, music and expressive arts in general are very important in developing the whole child and enhancing creative talent. I’d really like to see more music in schools, starting at preschool.
Thank you Mrs F – lovely to have a parental comment and so positive
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