The Importance of Music By Phillip Evitt and John Muhlemann, Director of Music

The Importance of Music By Phillip Evitt and John Muhlemann, Director of Music
Highfield Prep School Head's Thoughts

Music has a power of forming the character and should therefore be introduced into education of the young


This is the strap line to the Government’s policy on music education in the UK. They recognise the healing and inclusive nature of music, its profound educational value and its particular strength with the disadvantaged. The thriving ‘Sistema Scotland’ project, launched in 2008, brought music hubs to some of the poorest areas of the country. Subsequent surveys of parents carried out by the Scottish government have shown remarkable results, including a 100% increase in confidence in their children and 93% of parents believing their children were happier because of the scheme.

Music is a glue that binds us across borders, creeds, races, ages and languages. It is a universal language.  That is why our Voyager space programmes carry so much music - it is a crucial part of our DNA that helps define our race. Interviews with a celebrity will often ask a question about their favourite type of music and their early influences, and we feel closer and more in touch with those who share our musical tastes. It comes as no surprise that ‘Desert Island Discs’ is one of the longest running and most popular BBC Radio programmes.

Music is a part of the national curriculum for all children up to the age of 14. The aim in classes is to develop children's aesthetic judgement of different types of music. Children also acquire the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to make music and to follow a music-related career, should they so wish. It is also well recognised that music can help to develop the skills, attitudes and attributes that can support learning in other subjects. This includes listening skills, the ability to concentrate, creativity, intuitions, aesthetic sensitivity, perseverance, the ability to work in a group, self-confidence and sensitivity towards others. Music may also be able to directly help a child to learn. Interest in the effect of music on children's learning really took off with the discovery of what is now known as the ‘Mozart effect’. In 1992 the late Dr Gordon Shaw realised that students performed markedly better in reasoning tests after listening to a particular Mozart sonata.

He said the patterns and symmetries in Mozart's music are very cerebral and organised in a way that takes account of how our brains learn most effectively. It is said this helps to develop a child's spatial temporal reasoning skills, developing the ability to think in patterns and pictures. All children need this in order to understand concepts such as left and right, to balance and to avoid bumping into things. Later it helps with more complex skills, such as reading and understanding maps and graphs. Music can also aid memory, which is why singing nursery rhymes and action songs are particularly good for a child's early development.

Not surprisingly, Music plays a vital part at Highfield and Brookham, taught by specialists to all years from Nursery to Year 8. Only this afternoon, we hosted children in Years 2, 3 and 4 from Sheet Primary School, St. Mary’s, Frensham and Langrish School who joined with years 2 and 3 from Brookham and Highfield’s Junior Choir and Year 4 for a Music Workshop based around 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat' by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice.  

Sometimes a musical partnership is so perfectly balanced that it is hard to know what came first - the tune or the lyrics: Lennon and McCartney; Elton John and Bernie Taupin; George and Ira Gershwin; Jagger and Richards; Rogers and Hammerstein.  Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are another perfect synergy of catchy tunes, witty lyrics, dramatic realisations of world events and fantastic productions. ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ was written in 1967 (Andrew Lloyd Webber was just 17 years old) and first performed as a ‘pop’ cantata by the students of Colet Court, a London prep school. It is rightly recognised to be one of their finest collaborations, even though it was their first. It has now been performed by over 70,000 schools and indeed has just opened again in the West End to great acclaim. It is an ensemble piece that can be sung and loved by all ages and the ideal work for a multiple schools’ workshop, as was proved again this afternoon. What better way to end a Friday at school than singing a number of songs with cracking tunes supported by a live band and another 200 voices, all in front of an enchanted audience of appreciative parents. What a powerful reminder it provided of the ageless wisdom of Aristotle’s words and the power of music to unite, inspire and delight us. 


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