The importance of music at school
There is something that many people don’t know about me. I am actually a Grade 8 pianist and a Grade 7 clarinet player. It is not something I deliberately try to keep a secret but nor is it information I openly disclose. I am not sure why as, if I think about it, they are actually quite significant achievements. I am reminded of this every time I go to one of our School concerts and hear our pupils play their chosen instrument. I am especially in awe of our Lower School pupils who perform during an assembly and who travel all round the world to showcase their talent.
I understand the dedication and practice it takes to get to that level, especially as I have also played solo piano and clarinet to a packed audience at the Royal Albert Hall at the age of thirteen.
I started learning the piano from an early age. My paternal grandmother started teaching me the piano when I was five and as I progressed, she felt I needed to go to a proper music teacher. I had two lovely piano teachers who ultimately saw me through to my Grade 8 piano examinations in my early teens. I also started playing the clarinet when I was 9, up to my teenage years. You could say I was a well-rounded child. With my horse riding and all the sporting activities I used to play, and my music lessons, I certainly didn’t have much time to spare.
Learning music is a great skill that I have carried with me all throughout my life. There are numerous benefits to playing music and, certainly for me, the following is what I can break it down to:
- Aristotle once said “Excellence is a habit”. Children who play an instrument to a high standard have usually started early – usually by the age of 7 but sometimes as early as 4. This early exposure to the serious activity of learning an instrument instils habits that have lifelong benefits: the discipline of regular practice, the patience to engage in a long term activity that does not yield instant results, the ability to practice independently, the skill of engaging in self-reflection and learning to selfcriticise. These are skills that most successful people learn throughout their lives. However, for musicians, they are acquired much earlier.
- Learning an instrument involves learning a new language, that of musical notation. This in itself is a very specific skill and which is practiced regularly and methodically by all musicians. According to Brainworld Magazine, reading music involves the visual cortex…if you actually perform music, your frontal lobe, for planning, and your motor and sensory cortex will activate as well.
- Learning an instrument is a process of endless trial-and-error iterations through which the player refines their craft. The old adage “practice makes perfect” has never been more true. I remember the countless hours I would sit, playing the piano, making sure that I had each note perfected and if I didn’t, I would start all over again until the whole piece was perfect. This learned habit of persisting and refining has made me the perfectionist I am today. I expect nothing less than perfect of myself and those around me.
- Young musicians have to do an extraordinary thing very early in their lives; they have to master their nerves and perform in front of other people. And they need to be able to carry on when something goes wrong. To this day, I still remember my first solo piano recital which took place at a school assembly. I remember the anxiety, excitement and sheer terror that overcame me as I sat down playing the notes, hoping that my fingers wouldn’t fail me and that I would hit all the right notes. This ability to perform under pressure has clear benefits when pupils take examinations, but also later in life in job interviews, public speaking and other pressured situations.
- Finally, in almost all cases, music is often about team work and collaborating with others in order to play your instrument with other people. Young musicians have to develop a flexibility of mind that allows them to be playing one line but listening to another.
I am a great believer in feeding pupils’ minds but we also have a duty to feed their souls. If they are to be truly grounded, it is key that they have a wide range of interests and develop their talents outside the formal classroom. It is also important to be appreciative of the Arts, and part of accepting different cultures and people is understanding their music and its origins. Mozart said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence in between,” and there is a lot to be told in those perfectly timed silences.