A Childhood Without Music Isn't Childhood

23/03/2017 14:18

I'm terrible at remembering things, particularly words. It's always been an issue when trying to scratch together a career in communications or singing in a band. It's made for some interesting gigs though. My wife watching me replace entire verses with a description of last night's dinner is a particular favourite of hers.

However, there's always been an anomaly, a line from a book which has become etched into my consciousness. It's from Graham Greene's Ways of Escape and goes as follows:

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation."

Now, possibly more than ever, these words strike a chord. Writing, playing music, composition - they aren't frivolous activities of the indulged, they are a necessity - something long since forgotten in our education system.

As a child I was lucky enough to be surrounded by music - or at least a family that appreciated its importance. Dad playing Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath on Sunday afternoons whilst Mum played Bowie and The Sparks. At school our fierce-faced music teacher, Dr Anwyl, laboured us through lessons where we sat around clanging triangles in dusty classrooms or learnt the words to some nineteenth century hymn.

This was the mid-nineties in a small mining town in the East Midlands. It wasn't perfect, far from it, but the fundamental principles of expression were still encouraged, it was as much part of the learning process as, say, Technology or French. Not anymore. A recent study by the University of Sussex suggests that music could 'face extinction' in some schools with "the majority of teachers in state schools warning of a stark drop in pupils studying the subject". This is hugely worrying.

As a long term sufferer of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) - the result of the death of my brother - creative expression is, for me, as important as medical attention. Creativity opens up neurological doors that would otherwise stay shut. It utilises parts of the brain that would otherwise be taken over by anxiety and the unravelling questions it breeds. The importance of creativity, specifically musically, should never be understated, it is the key to a fuller life.

As a father, this plays on my mind. On a very basic level I want my son to understand that he can express himself unhindered - that being free to pursue artistic creativity is as important as maintaining healthy physical wellbeing or achieving academic success.

We seem to have willingly created an atmosphere for young people, particularly since the onset of austerity, that seems completely obsessed with not wasting time. One that seems hell-bent on ensuring value for money and success at all costs. In a tough, dog eat dog world, where graduate prospects are poor and the reality of debt high, it seems creativity has become seen as expendable - it is nothing but a frivolous novelty to be rolled aside so children can be drilled in statistics.

But there are places that exist that help to reconnect young people to music - and in the process help cultivate some of the most important social aspects of growing up.

For example, the website Learn Music London provides information on how young people can access their local music services. Parents can use it to signpost to a multitude of musical services with the aim of empowering young people through music. By clicking on their borough (all 30 boroughs are covered) on an interactive map of London, users are able to find out what musical opportunities are on their doorstep. Once there, in addition to getting young people started in music lessons, the music services offer young people the chance to play in ensembles, orchestras and bands.

And this is the thing: the importance of music should never be underestimated. And so the musical opportunities offered by services such this are crucial - in more ways than we'd think. They help underpin the social skills that are so valuable to transforming and honing young minds such as making friendships, cultivating a sense of community, gaining self-confidence and finding effective stress relief methods - particularly in an education system that places increasing demands on young people to achieve at all costs.

Over the past decade - particularly since the Olympics - huge emphasis and resource has gone into transforming sport at both school and grassroots level. We need to put the same emphasis on musical expression. We need to understand the social implications of being involved with music and that the music services found on sites such as Learn Music London, aren't just an expendable luxury.

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