Red Dog Music | Oct 9, 2018 | 0
Why music should be central to the curriculum
Winston Churchill, when asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, famously replied: “Then what are we fighting for?”
In all honesty, we don’t know if this actually happened. He could’ve blurted it out after a lukewarm bottle of Buckfast, whilst swinging the empty glass bottle around his head like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, primed for a square go.
Or he could’ve been sitting by the fire, enjoying a civilised conversation about politics and a fine Cuban cigar.
Either way, we don’t know whether the Church-meister actually said that. I, on the other hand, am saying that, and I’m definitely not the only one. In fact, there are an abundance of people who feel passionately about the arts – and specifically music – and its mandatory inclusion within the UK education system, and I’m going to explain why.
One of the most annoyingly regular conversations I have takes place in a taxi:
“What do you do?” asks the driver. I reply, “I’m a musician”. He replies, “That’s great. My pal plays the guitar too. He does a barry version of Wonderwall. What do you do for money though?”
My point is that most people view music as a mere hobby, as something that one does “for fun”. They don’t see it as something important, as something that is imperative to emotional literacy, a language that helps people learn and express themselves (and helps strangers to unite on their commute home, see this excellent singalong for more details).
I can’t imagine my life without music, and I know a lot of people who feel the same way.
I come from a very musical background and my parents were hugely supportive (albeit slightly concerned) about my choice to follow my god-given musical genes rather than vainly chase my diabolical and, quite frankly, embarrassing mathematical genes.
The truth is that, without music, I wouldn’t have done very well in life, and I’m now very thankful for being forced into learning a musical instrument from the age of 7. I spent most of my school years in the music department. I used to sing ALL THE TIME (I’d listen to the Fugees and Eminem in the back of the car, learning how to sing, rap and swear at the same time, surrounded by my entire family). I got an award for singing (but not for rapping, or swearing). I went on to study music at university. Music has been a constant throughout my life and it has helped me to develop and grow into the (passable) human being that I am today.
Enough about me though; in 2013, I started working as a learning mentor for creative 14-19 year olds who suffered from emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties. These young people came from troubled backgrounds, a lot of them involved in gangs, lacking in any kind of family support unit, and they certainly hadn’t been given the same opportunities that I’d had – the chance to engage with and explore music education. Most of them had been, or were about to be, kicked out of school because they found it almost impossible to fit in with the rigid school system, and rather than being asked what they were interested in and being encouraged to develop these skills, they were told to go elsewhere so as not to disrupt the students who were coping.
It was at this point that they were referred to our team of youth workers.
We operated as an alternative educational provision for these particular young people and our focus was teaching English, Maths and Music as core subjects. The effect that music had on these young people was amazing and, at times, overwhelming. I would often see them transform and grow in confidence before my very eyes.
One of my students had severe behaviour problems and usually refused to talk to me at all. I sat down with her one day and instead of asking why she was behaving the way she was, or what was wrong with her, we focused on writing lyrics. Suddenly, we were having a really in-depth conversation about her personal life and, amazingly, she bared her soul and let me read some lyrics that she’d written.
I don’t know if you’ve ever written a song, but I have, and I know that letting someone read your lyrics at the age of 15 is an incredibly brave feat – it’s a bit like letting somebody read your diary. This wouldn’t have happened if not through the wonder of music. (Cheers, music!)
While we’re sharing anecdotes, I also recently co-assisted with a youth music project called The Second Look / Der Zweite Blick between London and Berlin. I was coordinating a group of 18-30 year old South Londoners who had come from somewhat disadvantaged backgrounds, and the one thing that had carried them through life was music. I had never seen such musical passion until I met these people and, I have to admit, it was really humbling.
When we met the group from Berlin, there was a pretty vast language barrier, but music broke this barrier down entirely and, soon enough, there was a conversation happening simply by the foreign groups sharing and creating music together. There isn’t another language in the world that works magic like that.
Aside from my personal experience, a recent study produced by the German Socio-Economic Panel in 2013 stated that “music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theatre or dance.”
It turns out that kids who take music lessons “have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.”
Did you know that? Isn’t that cool?
Another cool thing that you might like to know is that singing improves your mood, relieves stress and clears your sinuses. Cool AND healthy!
I recently stumbled across a singing organisation called Harmony that incorporates two choirs: one of them focuses on adults with mental health issues, and the other on adults with breathing difficulties, with the ethos that singing can help with both of these things, and is a great tool for building confidence and improving self-esteem.
Red Dog Music also conducted a recent study (with a little help from their friends at the legendary TED talks), proving that musicians are actually more intelligent than normal people. Don’t argue with them. They’re musicians. They know what they’re talking about.
In all seriousness, though, music makes you better at Maths (have you ever noticed how amazing drummers are at counting? And sound engineers can count to two!); it reduces anxiety (I can vouch for that); it improves your listening skills (you have to listen to other instruments, as well as listening to yourself, AT THE SAME TIME– such skill, much practise, wow) and last but not least, music helps you to express your feelings and provides you with an emotional outlet.
Think about the greatest songs ever written; the majority of those were born out of heartbreak. They were written because someone was feeling sad or angry and needed to channel their emotions somehow. Performing a song that you wrote in front of other people takes balls, which proves that music also builds courage and confidence. Hell, music will turn you into A LIVING LEGEND. Look at Meatloaf, for Pete’s sake.
Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that, far more than just being a hobby or a bit of fun, music is absolutely crucial to our personal growth and development. It’s as important as English, Maths and Science and it absolutely should not be taking a back seat within the UK education system.
It should be right at the front left of the stage, hair billowing in the mist of the smoke machine, chanting ONE MORE TUNE! ONE MORE TUNE! ONE MORE TUNE!
And if it’s not, then it’s up to us musicians to change things and make it that way.