“Music is an invaluable resource when it comes to children’s mental health – and yet it’s under attack”, states Pallab Sarker in the Times Educational Supplement.
Angela Chillingworth, Director of Music at Ipswich High School, agrees.
The discovery of a collection of 40,000 year old flutes in Germany shows the importance of music to early humanity. The ancient flutes are evidence for an early musical tradition that likely helped modern humans communicate and form tighter social bonds. Nowadays, when people think of significant events in their lives they often associate them with a certain piece of music. Music has an ability to draw people together and to draw out emotions; imagine a wedding, funeral or football match with no singing. When busking was banned on the London Underground the level of violence increased; as William Congreve said, “music has charms to soothe the savage breast”.
Ask any music teacher and they will tell you about the school refusers who only attend on the days when music is timetabled; the schools where 47 languages are spoken but play a song and the language barriers melt away; the pupil who cries in every lesson but during lunchtime music practice is relaxed and happy. For years music teachers have known about the positive benefits of music on mental health and now, as the effects are starting to be recognised by scientists and doctors, it seems more important than ever that we should give children the opportunity to participate in music activities throughout their school lives.
Dr Robert Myers, assistant clinical professor at the Irvine School of Medicine, University of California, says, “Having a little bit of music in your life every day can be good for reducing stress and anxiety. Research and experience has shown that calming music can provide stress relief for children and adults.”. At Christmas, during their Big Singalong Campaign, the BBC Breakfast programme monitored brain activity in a young man singing alone and then singing again with a presenter; the activity shown when singing with someone else increased dramatically.
The effects of music therapy are far reaching and can be used to treat a range of issues from depression to dementia and, surely, it would be more beneficial to expose ourselves and our children to the positive effects of music making from an early age and make music a regular part of our lives.
I read with alarm that a Grammar School in West Yorkshire is to charge pupils £5.00 per week to take GCSE Music, citing falling numbers as the cause. It saddened me to see that a Head Teacher should be so short-sighted as to view Music as an optional extra. At the same time, I was amused to see that his school is only five miles from a primary school which gives the students six hours of music per week and has seen a dramatic rise in achievements in literacy and maths. I wondered which students felt the greater sense of self-esteem and mental wellbeing.
The Government’s Aspiration is that every child in Key Stage 2 should receive one year of instrumental or singing lessons. One could assume from this that the Government thinks Music is a good thing and something to be enjoyed by all but in secondary education we find that Music is being cut to the extent that only 79% of schools in England offer GCSE Music and that Music is not part of the EBacc. The Government has made PE compulsory in Secondary Schools as the physical benefits are well-documented, but it seems equally as important to take care of our mental health, so why not make some form of musical activity compulsory too?
Princes William and Harry are encouraging everyone to talk about mental health so let’s not just talk about it, let’s do it. Make music with others and enjoy good mental health.
By Angela Chillingworth, Director of Music