Monday, June 16, 2014

Classical music, why it's important, and what the UK is doing about it

I know I've said it before, but I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up and been educated at a time when the arts, including music and theatre, were considered not an extra, but a vital part of the school curriculum.

Our high school, Wreake Valley, in Syston, Leicestershire, was complete with both a beautiful theatre/auditorium and also a studio: an enclosed room below-stairs, dark but with full theater lighting, perfect for improvisation, dance classes, and in-the-round theatre performances. But more than the facilities, it was the teachers who inspired and who created real interest in so many students whose lives otherwise would have been empty of these arts. We performed West Side Story, and young musicians were encouraged when they formed bands. We had an orchestra, and opportunities for everyone to try musical instruments, even to do jazz improv. And all this built on what we had already learned in our junior schools, all across Leicestershire--in my case, it was at Syston's St Peter and St Paul's junior school, where we were given the opportunity to learn to play classical instruments from around the age of seven. I can still remember how to play the violin, though very badly.

We listened to classical music, too. "Music and Movement" classes to Peter and the Wolf, or one of the Planets, or the Hall of the Mountain King. It was a whole-child experience: sound and movement and imagination. 

No matter how inspiring or how boring you thought the classes, I don't think any of us can deny that this education opened our eyes, and our ears, to more than just the names of the composers.

That's why I was very happy to read an article in today's Guardian newspaper, about a UK-wide initiavive to introduce children to ten pieces of classical music. Surprise! Some of the ones from my schooldays are there! In The Hall of the Mountain King! 

The BBC is taking classical music to the youngest children in schools around the UK: when will the USA do the same, I wonder? Here's more information about the program While it's a shame that this is considered something new (that means it was taken away for far too long), it's brilliant to see this happening.

Now I'm going to step stealthily through the house to the kitchen, imagining I'm once again seven years old, and making my way through the hall of Gynt's scary King.

(Maybe I'm wrong, and nothing changed in the years between my leaving school and today, and everyone's been having the same great education that I and my peers did. Feel free to correct me!)

(Oh and when the heck did Wreake and our junior school become "Academies"??? That's might posh for Syston!)

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