Positive Feedback from Young Musical Talent; CLASSICAL Christopher Morley Looks at How One Sutton Coldfield School Is Using Its Musical Expertise to Encourage Youngsters to Learn Instruments

The Birmingham Post (England), December 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

Positive Feedback from Young Musical Talent; CLASSICAL Christopher Morley Looks at How One Sutton Coldfield School Is Using Its Musical Expertise to Encourage Youngsters to Learn Instruments


Byline: Christopher Morley

There may be a lot of white hair among audiences at classical music concerts, but membership of youth orchestras is thriving.

Governments have kicked the status of music around as they continually change priorities in the National Curriculum, but rather than being the elitist luxury some philistine politicians hold music to be, the undeniable popularity of the subject in schools demonstrates just how vital it is to us all.

We could go on about the importance of the arts to the country's commercial well-being, but instead let's concentrate on simple value in terms of self-esteem, teamwork and responsibility music gives to our youngsters in schools.

On a recent visit to the Arthur Terry Performing Arts Specialist School in Four Oaks, I caught up with some sixth-form students to look at the balance between theory, history and performance as delivered in their musical education, both here and in their previous schools.

The balance between instrumental tuition and general class music also came into discussion.

"It was a completely different experience from here. There was only a tiny music department there, and they didn't concentrate a lot on performing. It's more about the theory side, so I know more about that," explains Jennifer Loffman, a 17-year-old pianist who joined Arthur Terry last year from another school in Sutton Coldfield.

"Here they do a lot more performing in front of the class, which is really good, building up your confidence quite a lot."

Myke McLean, a 17-year-old violinist, also joined last year, coming from a school in Erdington.

He tells me how the music department at this former school was "a lot more formal".

"There was a really good music teacher there who helped me with a lot of the theory and got me through my theory grades (in order to progress with performing grades students need to have passed Grade Five Theory) and I got my grades for the violin.

"I only started the violin in Year Seven, so I got a lot of help from that school, even though it wasn't that advanced in terms of music. My teacher was really good to me and supported me very well.

"But when I came to Arthur Terry, the music's much bigger here, and there's more opportunities to play, and as Jen quite rightly said, we've got a lot more opportunities to play in front of the class, and of course that builds up confidence."

Unlike Jen and Myke, 17-year-old flautist Louise Everett has been an Arthur Terry pupil all through her secondary school years, and recalls how things were at primary school.

"My flute teacher taught several other instruments, so he didn't concentrate too much on individuals, but we did have a choir, and we had music lessons for the whole class."

She found quite a contrast here.

"It was really good here. In Year Seven they have mixed-ability classes, so you get some people who play instruments and some who don't at all.

"But in music lessons they try to develop everyone, and there are so many peripatetic instrumental teachers coming here that the group sizes are pretty small, so you have lots of individual attention. The teachers get very involved in extra-curricular activities, like orchestra and other ensembles."

General class music-teaching for all pupils in secondary schools stops at the end of Year Nine, but by that time the children will have chosen their GCSE options.

Here, the numbers choosing to continue with music are huge.

"We've got roughly 100 in year 10 and 11 at the moment doing music GCSE, so that's 20 per cent in each year group, which we think is quite large for a comprehensive school," says Chris Collett, head of the music department.

It's partly a question of motivation, as Steph Poole, a 16-year-old clarinettist who has also been at Arthur Terry throughout her secondary school life, explains. …

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