Sunday, 28 September 2008

Music Matters

I had a moment of extreme sadness tonight where I suddenly felt, quite strongly, the full force of unlocked potential.

It's one thing to have one's own ability to enjoy and perform music impaired, but quite another to not be able to pass down musical ability and nurture it in someone you love.

I've done my best with piano lessons but my aunt and uncle weren't wrong when they suggested that perhaps proper lessons may be in order if my son is to get serious about it. After all, I never trained as a teacher. They both did, and though they wish they lived nearer so they could teach him themselves, they did the right thing suggesting he gets lessons.

Anyway, that's a slight tangent. What got me tonight was the fact that since we moved out of nursery rhymes I've not heard my son sing a song all the way through. And that struck me as quite incredible. Then I started crying.

Now, I can see that it's not all my fault. Apart from having a condition and a prescription that together have done a great job of destroying my senses, I am also up against the National Curriculum, which places music firmly at the bottom of its list of priorities.

How can it be so? Doesn't anyone in education recognise the value of singing on a regular basis, of having access to free music tuition and regular music lessons within the timetable? It should be right up there with Literacy and Numeracy, Art and Science. That's what I think. But the days of singing en masse seem to be over. I used to sing in assembly every day. And in a choir at primary school, and then in a Saturday music school, and then at GCSE, A Level and in the university choir. And several shocking bands. But we won't go there.

I know a vocal coach locally. But I think my son is now a little too old to be learning World Music and shaking a tambourine in a room full of earnest hairy mothers with their flora and fauna-named offspring. Which is a shame. Sort of. To be honest it's the only access to group music around where I live, and I suspect in many other areas. The years he would have enjoyed that with me have disappeared in a blur. And that's what I'm struggling with. It's a huge chasm, a divide that cannot be bridged.

So I'd like to share a memory with you. When he was very, very small my son stood in the middle of his Grandma and Grandpa's living room and shyly managed to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. All curly locks and big brown eyes, he sang it very softly and yet with that magic only music can bring of knowing he was sharing something that brought pure happiness.


Cusp said...

Well we were only talking about this at the tea table last week. We all love music in this house and my partner's brothers are both professional musicians. We were both in choirs at school and loved to sing.

I was walking with my daughter last weekend and we got talking about this whole business because they were ploughing in the fields and I began to sing 'We plough the fields and scatter'. She asked what it was.

What hurts me (and it does hurt) is that now she's at Middle school they don't have assemblies anymore where they sing hymns and she doesn't seem to know any traditional hymns at all. We all know we live in a multicultural society and things move on and they try at school to move away from the traditional and be kinda 'hip', but for me those traditional hymns are part of English/British culture and if you live in this country then you are either British or living within British society so need to know something about British culture (just as British people need to know about the cultures of the people that live with and around them).

I asked her about her music lessons and there's no communal singing there either...though she is about to start learning the trumpet at school. If they do sing they are sitting at computer screens and ineteracting/copying some software...great ! ...not !!

It all seems such a shame but then the National (So**ing) Curriculum is not really interested in the Arts at all -- not music, not visual art...those subjects are after-thoughts. It's a real 'Bugger Culture what about the Money' attitude and I detest it.

All you can do is expose your son to as much and as many forms of music as possible and sing with him when you can. We sing in the car, in the bath and the CD player in the car has everything form Coldplay to Roxy Music to C&W to Albeniz to Vivaldi to their uncles' music.

Funnily enough, my son, who goes to a Special school, DOES have proper msuic lessons, there IS a school choir (and a signing choir) and he does sing in it. They have visiting musicians and performances and last year the whole choir performed at Snape Maltings....tears ! I can't tell you.

We often wonder who has the better education in terms of a well- rounded experience: our daughter who goes to an ordinary (and quite good) Middle school or our son who goes to the Special school?

seahorse said...

cusp, I'm so glad I'm not the only one with these feelings. Sounds like your son is getting the more rounded education where the arts are concerned...I really hate the fact that music is so unimportant in the daily lives of our children. Yes, okay, my son can sing Green Day and Nirvana, but what about Rutter and Tallis? It's not snobbish, just part of our culture as you say. I totally agree. But rather than say "Oh if only I wasn't ill, I'd be organising a choir" I have to make opportunities like you suggest.

Cusp said...

doesn't have to be a choir or anything like that. does it ? Our son, out of school listens to KissFM all the time which I hate and he loves R&B. At his youth club they have a set of decks and the kids can have a go. It's all music, all musicality, all creative...and in the meantime he sings to Kiss FM all the time too: not MY choice but then I don't suppose me singing along to Lou Reed and David Bowie was my parents in 1973. Diffrenec was that at school I was also singing Handel's Messiah, Anvil Chorus or Bach Sheep May Safely Graze

The Goldfish said...

shaking a tambourine in a room full of earnest hairy mothers with their flora and fauna-named offspring

This made me laugh out loud. :-)

Cusp said...

There’s an award waiting for you at


Elizabeth McClung said...

I think that your concern and the importance of music is insightful, a sign of a good and sensative parent. Music is how we record our history, and our year; from birthday to Xmas songs. I remember in Wales going to the Queer Christmas Carol Concerts, being surrounded by a couple hundred adults harmonizing, it is one of the best memories of the UK. But the UK is still a place where there are so many local orchestras that a person CAN take up an instrument as a teen (I knew several) or at uni (several more) or as an adult and participate in the group orchestral experience. That isn't available outside of a junior high or some high schools if you are very fortunate in north America. I think there are many opportunities ahead and depending on your area, there may be funding for going to singing camp or for a free instrument (what Thatcher took away some areas preserved).

The great way we learned to sing as kids in North America, the annual road trip, with the muppets tape in the care - admittedly singing the ENTIRE Lydia O Lydia the tattooed lady is not what most people want to hear but Linda, Cheryl and I all had the same tape and last weekend, we all started rocking singing it. These musical moments still happen, still bind.

seahorse said...

Cusp, you are right. We do share a love of Nirvana (Unplugged in New York - their best, I think). It's the sort of album that begs to be listened to quietly. So following that route may be a good idea whilst my hearing repairs. Thanks for the award :-)

Goldfish, yes I thought that may raise a chuckle or two. It's all absolutely true as well.

Elizabeth: I feel encouraged that at secondary school there will still be opportunities, and as you say, possibly more. His current school is particularly bad on music. He does listen to lots of stuff with his Dad in the car. Maybe I should get a stereo for my scooter :-) Blast the street out a bit...

Anonymous said...

I have a HUGE bone to pick with the state musical education. To a greater extent than any other subject, the teaching of music has become so bogged down in presumptions about what 'the youth' would be interested in that it has become totally condescending. Just because kids listen to rap music it does not mean they should be denied access to classical music. It's like saying that just because you like cartoons you shouldn't given the opportunity to paint still life. I was taught literally nothing about classical music in my GCSE class. I could identify a Gamelan, but what use is that once you get to University and every other student when was privately educated and knows a darn sight more than you.

I hate the independent school system more than anything else in Britain but at least they know not to give in to the idea that kids these days can only really understand music that is 'on their level'. No wonder our classical music industry is completely elitist.

I learned to sing in church. Not in a choir, just part of the congregation. It's a pity that there isn't an alternative to hymn singing for those who aren't keen on religion.

Don't blame yourself. You are an amazing parent! You can get some great sing-a-long CDs - my uncle used to play drums for these people:
Do you have a copy of Carnival of the Animals or Peter and the Wolf. I think those are brilliant for any age.

seahorse said...

Hi there flutter! My son won't go near classical music (not at the moment anyway) so it's a case of being creative in what I introduce him to. It seems you do need a certain sort of upbringing these days for classical music to feature at all, and being a benefit scrounging single mum (to quote the odious Giles Coren) I can't afford to take him to concerts or pay for private tuition. I'll have a look at your link and try and think of some alternative music making opportunities, but yes it's essentially the same problem that you experienced at school. Good to hear from you.