A Word to Parents…

I closed the door on my garden studio a couple of weeks ago when I moved home. My garden studio had been my personal space, my sanctuary, my creative writing hub, my performance venue, my musical pad. Just mine, and completely me. I thought when I moved I would miss it terribly, and that I’d lose a piece of my musical freedom, my creativity, a piece of me.

My new music room is a shared space with my musician partner, who incidentally is a fantastic trombone player, composer and arranger. The room is packed to the hilt with music and musical equipment, instruments and all the general music “stuff” musicians collect over years of gigging and playing. Surprisingly, between us, we can just about squeeze everything into this one room, including my piano. And I’m pleased to say it actually feels like a little music hub!

The walls are decorated in old sheet music; Irving Berlin, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby.

My favourite item of designer wallpaper just happens to be above my piano. It’s on the back cover of a piece of music, although I’ve no idea what music it’s from. It’s titled A Word To Parents from Horatio Nicholls. I must say I laughed out loud when I first read it. How old fashioned, and “of it’s time”, a tad condescending but perfect self promotion from the music dealer!

But then it got me thinking….is it ridiculous to presume your child does not love the piano? Apparently, according to Horatio, “all children do”. The problem is, these day, how on earth do we know if all children love the piano, or any other instrument? Where do children get the opportunity to discover a love for music? The obvious answer would be at school, surely? But music just isn’t given the same emphasis any more on the school curriculum. It’s often delivered over just a few weeks, on a rotation basis with other arts, and that’s it! Is that enough to ignite a musical spark in all children?

Where did I discover my love for music? I remember my mom always had the radio playing. Or she would pop on a record (yes, vinyl of course – seems so retro!), usually a Stevie Wonder album! My Nan would always be playing country music on cassettes (google it if you’ve never heard of a cassette!) on Sunday mornings when she was preparing food and baking for the family. And my Nan could sing! Honestly, she had a wonderful voice, really beautiful. Apparently, my dad could play piano, but he stopped playing in his early twenties. I’ve never heard him play.

The only place to hear music back in the 70s and 80s was on the radio, TopOfThePops, in a record shop, on vinyl and cassettes or in films. There was no YouTube, or Spotify, or any other streaming or social media. I remember feeling quite excited when I heard music on the radio. I loved singing along to records. I know I definitely engaged with what I listened to. Music seemed to be all around me. Music is all around us. We just need to hear it, I mean really listen.

But I think I started to realise I loved music when I joined the recorder club at primary school. A wonderful teacher, Mrs Dutton, whom I remember very fondly, took the group. I looked forward to every session and I played my recorder all the time at home. I can remember teaching myself to play my favourite songs and Christmas carols, and the school teachers were surprised when I showed them what I could play. I carried on playing recorder through high school too. I realised in primary school that I understood written music, and I just “got it”. Mrs Pilsbury was a wonderful inspiring music teacher at my school in Hednesford. We even had the benefit of Music Time, a BBC education production program we watched weekly in music lessons. I wanted to play piano from a young age and my mom got me a small keyboard, and a book, The Music People, which I still have to this day. I was always tinkering on the keyboard. Nothing changes!

If it hadn’t been for the recorder club, I wonder if I’d have pursued my musical journey? It’s impossible to say now of course, but I firmly believe for me, recorder club was the spark. So maybe a few weeks of a music at school is enough to ignite a spark in other children after all?

I think I was about 10 years old when I first saw the film Star Wars. I became so utterly obsessed with it. And it was all down to the music. I had the film on VHS video (I am soooo old!) and I would rewind the closing ceremony and replay it over and over just to listen to the John Williams score. That music! The boldness, the harmony, the discord, the richness, the brass, the strings, the percussion. It gripped me, consumed me and overwhelmed my senses. I can’t quite explain it, but it was genuinely a physical and emotional experience, I think pure musical appreciation and passion for the art.

According to Horatio, being able to play develops a child’s personality, and puts them a step ahead. You know, I think this is kind of true! Music is a world within itself, a language we all understand, (thank you Stevie Wonder for that gem) and yet so diverse. Within music, everyone can be who they want to be, they can experiment with ideas about themselves, they can express things they cannot voice. There is pure joy in music, and being able to play and express yourself is wonderfully freeing. I think Horatio is perhaps referring to a cognitive link rather than musical freedom, and of course this is also true to some degree. Although, being academic and being a great musician are not necessarily linked. We should all have the same opportunity to express ourselves through music.

Horatio goes on to say that boredom vanishes, the learner triumphs and realises the joy of accomplishment that follows patience and practice. And I concur. There is a great sense of achievement in being able to play something that at first seems quite impossible, and yet with a little time and effort, it starts to become easier and eventually enjoyable and satisfyingly pleasurable. This gives the player a thirst for more, and the musical journey begins. Knowledge and skills develop gradually over time, but passion and love for music and the instrument you play is instant.

To find a love for music, children need a spark. For children already learning to play an instrument, the need to be continually inspired, something to drive them on. Whether that’s the right music tuition book, or a great music teacher, or a recorder club, or film score, they need a spark of some kind. Every child should have the same opportunity. There is music all around. Let’s hear it, loud and clear.

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