Diatribe in D Major!

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ~ Plato.

I can feel a rant coming on. I’ll try not to go overboard, but I’m already on top of my soapbox and it’s a subject very close to my heart – music.

I don’t think I could live without music and the arts, life would be so…lacklustre. Yet a narrow education policy and lack of funding is depriving thousands of youngsters the opportunity to benefit from learning music and thereby develop their innate creativity; which can only improve their lives.

john-lennon-happy quote

My eldest daughter is now showing a great interest in singing and learning to play the violin, and we are so lucky that the High Wycombe Music Centre is just down the road. They do great work. It’s a major centre for brass and woodwinds, but they also do guitar and strings tuition. Emily plays the violin in their ‘sizzler’ group, which gives the children a chance to try all sorts of different instruments before deciding what, if any, they want to take further.

Emily has an hour of this, then a short break and an hour of singing in the junior choir on a Saturday morning. They are such a friendly, welcoming group, and Emily really loves going. It’s a pleasure to hear her singing their latest songs around the house, and it’s done wonders for her confidence. Although the music centre doesn’t charge exorbitant fees, every activity that is extra-curricular soon adds up, at a time when many families are struggling financially.

On Saturday 27th June Emily and her fellow students at the High Wycombe Music Centre will have the chance to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in the BLTM (Bucks Learning Trust Music) Gala. They do this every four years, and as Emily has been attending for only six months or so she’s fortunate to have the chance to take part.

blmt_gala_rah

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” ~ Victor Hugo

Earlier this year when Sir Simon Rattle returned to the UK after 12 years as the principle conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, he promptly suggested that London was in dire need of a brand new state-of-the-art music performance venue. Whilst I agree with him, as a leading city in the world, London should have a modern arts facility. The media really got behind it, even the chancellor and the Mayor of London are on-side. But not everyone agrees.

“Great art and music is created by people, not buildings.” ~ Ivan Hewett

Of course, London already has some fantastic historical and iconic venues: the Royal Albert Hall, the Wigmore Hall, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the Southbank Centre, the Barbican and Cadogan Hall to name but a few.

It’s all wonderful that so much investment will be made in the possible construction of a new hall above the Barbican (current home of the London Symphony Orchestra), but there is one major point everyone is missing…

Where will the future British musicians, soloists, conductors and vocal artists come from to perform in this shiny new hall, if we don’t invest now in grassroots music education for all children, regardless of their socio-economic status?

And it’s not just the future of our nation’s artistic community that’s at stake; the very future of our society is in question. Ahem! Sorry about that, I just had a drama queen moment. Government ministers should be thinking outside the box when it comes to reducing poverty and its associated behavioural manifestations.

I firmly believe that music and the arts (along with education and a loving family environment) will help to protect against emotional, mental and physical vulnerability.

It’s that old computer analogy: garbage in = garbage out.

It starts with prevention. Prevention is easier than cure.  With overwhelming scientific evidence of how learning music affects brain development and impacts on a child’s life in so many positive ways, it defies belief to read about yet more cuts in the arts sector and in education.

Classical Music Magazine outlines cuts by several local authorities earlier this year.

A great visual presentation about how playing an instrument benefits your brain by Anita Collins:

I mentioned the #DontStopTheMusic campaign in a previous blog (The Importance of a Musical Education), and James Rhodes has done a great job galvanising the arts sector and government in improving this dire situation.

However, as someone who signed this petition on change.org last time, I recently had a message from them that made my heart sink: the government are still not giving music the same priority as other academic subjects.

A brilliant discussion about music and the mind that all parents, health and teaching professionals should study:

As the effects of our ‘age of austerity’ seep into our everyday lives there’s even more reason to protect music and the arts, by making sure that all children have access to the very thing that can stimulate a deep emotional response in their brains, that impacts their neurological health on many fundamental levels: memory, learning and plasticity, attention, motor control, language, pattern perception, imagery and other areas. Those early years are so important.

These 11 month old twin sisters demonstrate this point perfectly when they have a delightful reaction to daddy’s guitar playing:

My mother played Beethoven piano sonatas when she was pregnant with me, and I’m sure that’s why I love his music so much, and why music has played an integral part in my life. I grew up with it. We all have stories of how music has influenced us like that.

There would be no such thing as movie soundtracks if music didn’t play such a vital role in our emotional perception. Filmmakers understand how it can add that defining emotional hook in our minds. I wonder if Star Wars would have been such a hit without the majestic interplanetary sound track written by film composer John Williams. The two are inseparable.

Tufts University neuroscientist, Aniruddh Patel, explains how scientists study your brain’s response to music and what parts of your brain are activated by different attributes of music:

Music and the arts are not just some fluffy dispensable activity that stimulates creativity; they are scientifically proven to be beneficial to the human family across the world, no matter the culture. Human beings inherently respond to rhythm and music, it’s a natural and fun way to produce dopamine, the so called ‘feel good’ hormone.

And that concludes my diatribe. If I wasn’t sneezing, coughing and streaming with a summer cold I’d go and pick up my violin for a practice. I’ll just have to listen to this jazz/baroque fusion instead!

Music for a while.

Shall all your cares beguile.

Wond’ring how your pains were eas’d

And disdaining to be pleas’d.

~ Lyrics by John Dryden set to music by Henry Purcell

My call to action this week is to please sign the #DontStopTheMusic petition. The children will thank you.

Transforming Education: The Case for Making it More Creative, More Engaging and Tailored to the Individual

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” ~ Albert Einstein

Now that the UK’s 56th general election has been so decisively concluded, and the ramifications of the results are already being endlessly debated, I got to thinking about one of the most important issues for me personally – education. Amidst the weeks of tedious campaigning it reminded me of the much used and successful Labour battle cry, when Tony Blair stormed to victory in 1997.

Education. Education. Education.

education quote - Victor HugoIt’s an important issue. It’s fundamental to most parents and voters. You want the best for your children. If governments got this right, I have a feeling the economy and many of society’s woes would take care of themselves down the road.

We only get one chance to provide a solid foundation for our youngsters. Their minds are like sponges until the age of eight, and their confidence is a fragile commodity well beyond that.

Does anyone have happy memories of their time at primary and secondary school? Do you remember feeling engaged with your subjects and teachers?

Sadly, mine are few and far between. I excelled at French and English, was hopeless at maths, (except Algebra), and loved drama, music and PE. I was bullied mercilessly at secondary school, and worse was to come at college, (but that will have to wait for another post).

Education-Quote-MLKGoing to secondary school and higher education is a time of change and great upheaval: emotionally, hormonally, socially and mentally. If children already have a healthy sense of who they are and what they are good at, I propose they are less likely to go off the rails at this stage. It’s not to say they won’t experience any discomfort, but I think they are better equipped to weather the teenage storm.

But it seems the curriculum, especially for primary schools, is rigid and confined, with too much focus on literacy and arithmetic. Lots of rote learning of tables and phonics. Don’t even get me started about how ill equipped phonics are when it comes to spelling. My daughter spells a word exactly how it sounds, full stop.

Now, being a writer, I’m all for these important subjects to be taught, but they should be taught well, and not just by one method. Our children are individuals and will relate to teaching in their unique way.

Socrates on wisdomWhere is the focus on creativity? Why are music and the arts fighting to be on the curriculum? I wrote a previous post about The Importance of a Musical Education – a subject very close to my heart. Why are there not enough trips and visitors to talk to and show the kids different skills and professions? I know cost is a factor, but what is the cost of not improving our education system?

Good luck if your child is a square peg and doesn’t fit into a round hole, which is what mainstream schooling tries to shape them into. Heaven forbid a child should be ‘troublesome’ or have ‘learning difficulties’. In my humble opinion the ‘one size fits all’ approach is so damaging to children’s self-esteem and creative process. Anything can be learned. Original and creative thought are infinitely more valuable.

Albert Einstein - Our Education System

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” ~ Albert Einstein.

We should not just be teaching them how to read and write, we should be teaching them skills for life. We should be helping them to discover their talents. Emotional intelligence is every bit as important as IQ.

We need more flexibility and imagination in our education system, not more targets.

When you were growing up did anyone truly inspire you to follow a path that lead to contentment and success? I was lucky to have a couple of really wonderful teachers who helped me in certain areas, but they are mostly confined to the system the government of the day imposes on them.

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” ~ Albert Einstein

Progress 8 

PRS OptionsMy 13 year old son William is currently studying at Princes Risborough School and is now choosing his Key Stage 4 options for GCSE. It has been an easy choice for him; he knows what he wants to do, what he enjoys and what he’s good at.

His three choices from the categories available are drama, history and business studies. I’m hoping he’ll do well in his June science exams and be chosen to study either triple or double science as part of his core subjects as well.

The school were very supportive during this process to both students and parents alike, recommending students follow the subjects they love and excel at, plus a technology subject, in consideration of the government’s Progress 8 performance measures.

education keyboardIt is predicted that students will change careers multiple times in their working lives, so to choose a subject for a lifetime is an almost impossible task. What really impressed me was that where students’ interests and government interests clash, they would always side with the student, having their best interests at heart within the set-up and capabilities of the school. Their motto is ‘Enjoy and Achieve’. A lot comes down to leadership. I’m thankful they have a great head teacher in Peter Rowe.

At William’s school they also get to do an enrichment activity weekly (with interests as diverse as beekeeping and falconry on the list), and PE (non-examinable) as part of their post Year 8 curriculums, in addition to taking a Citizenship GCSE and their core subjects of Maths, English and Science.

By the time my kids leave school I want them to believe that there is no glass ceiling on what they can achieve in their lives.

nelson-mandela-education-quote

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case in this TED Talk for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity:

He makes the insightful comments that children get ‘educated’ out of creativity, and that we should educate their whole being. I couldn’t agree more. It’s vital to help children discover their talents. He states that education is currently mechanical, and how it could improve if it were more organic. He talks about the need to create the conditions where children can flourish.

Sir Ken continues with his vision for education in his 2010 talk, Bring on the Learning Revolution:

The rise in home schooling shows the dissatisfaction parents have with such a narrow and institutionalised system.

Article in The Guardian about Home schooling and the rights of both children and parents.

In another TED Talk, teenager Logan LaPlante gives his take on hackschooling:

He sums it up perfectly: education is oriented to making a living rather than making a life.

A great blog on Higher Density highlighting what schools generally don’t teach about creative thinking.

Education is a lifelong process.  I try to set the example for my kids by continued study, as well as putting myself in situations where I will be challenged physically, mentally and emotionally. I strongly believe that if I don’t push myself and get out of my comfort zone, I’ll never know what I’m truly capable of.

tell-me-and-i-forgot-learning-quoteI feel that my role as a mother is to love, care for and nurture my children, which encompasses helping them to discover themselves, respect them for who they are and not who I want them to be, to have conviction and confidence in their ideas and abilities, become self reliant, have a meaningful set of values, a healthy self-esteem and dreams and aspirations to aim for, all in a supportive family environment.

In short, providing the necessary ingredients for them to lead happy, successful and fulfilled lives, where they can have a chance at reaching their full potential.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if schools had the same mandate?

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” ~ Albert Einstein

The Path to Publication

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” ~ Virginia Woolf

When I was eleven I had a nasty accident at school. It was positively gruesome. I remember the day vividly; my class had just come back from a P.E. lesson and we were making our way into the changing rooms. I wanted to tell my best friend something (I can’t even remember what it was), and in my haste to talk to her I placed my right hand next to the hinge of the door as she was closing it. Only I didn’t quite have my finger out of the way…

PhotoFunia-The Virtuoso2The ensuing carnage must have been quite a shock for my head teacher, who was greeted by a very pale screaming girl, with the end of her finger missing and copious amounts of blood flowing everywhere.  The trail of blood running from the girls changing room to the classroom must have been redolent of a murder scene. The whole of Bledlow Ridge Primary School knew that something quite grisly had just happened.  He duly picked up the top of my finger and wrapped it up (I never asked what in), and I was driven straight to hospital. The car journey was awful, I was clutching my tawdry severed finger, and as the initial shock wore off the pain grew in intensity.

It wasn’t a clean separation, and I was told that they would try and sew it back on. My mum and my family came to see me before the anaesthetic to reassure me. I had never been under before, and I was terrified I would never wake up again, as the anaesthetist counted down from ten. By the time he reached five I was out cold.

When I regained consciousness my finger was throbbing in agony and I felt groggy. The wonderful get well cards made by my classmates helped to cheer me up in the aftermath of my surgery. The only consolation was that I’m left handed, so it could have been worse, and I got to have quite a bit of time off school.

My mum dug those handmade cards out of her loft recently. They still bring a smile to my face. I remember I couldn’t play netball for months, (which I was absolutely gutted about) and when the bandages eventually came off I was shocked to see that the top of my right index finger wasn’t actually recognisable as a finger. The nerve endings gave me hell in the cold. It was like needle points stabbing my flesh until it went numb.

Needless to say, I have a thing about fingers and doors, and my kids have received several lectures about the dangers of getting a digit caught!

In the midst of my trauma little was I to know that the experience would surface many years later from the depth of my psyche, to provide my muse with inspiration for the misfortune of my first heroine and protagonist of my novel, The Virtuoso.

So you could say the idea has been brewing for a good many years!  Eleven was also the age when I started learning to play the violin. I can’t help thinking that the foundations of the path to publication were laid in 1981…

Stepping Out Onto the Worldwide Amazon Stage

New Kindle Cover

New Kindle Cover

I’m happy to announce that The Virtuoso has now been published on Amazon Kindle today, Monday 15th December 2014 at a launch price of £3.59. There will also be a paperback version available on Amazon next year. (US Link)

I’m sure I’ll feel a certain amount of satisfaction that I made it this far, for persevering over the seven years it’s taken me (on and off) to complete The Virtuoso, so that I can finally say my work in progress is now a work in print!

I’m now at the stage where I’m excited that my work can open the door to other related creative pursuits. I was fortunate to meet and hear the violin virtuoso, Adelia Myslov in the summer. She played a stunning performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. I asked her if she would be interested in playing a specially composed unique ‘theme’ for The Virtuoso, and to my delight she said yes! The music project is still ongoing and I hope it will be composed and recorded in the not too distant future. Eventually it will be available on iTunes and Amazon.

There is also a book trailer that has been produced for The Virtuoso by 13Media Arts in Daventry. Along with my voice, words and pictures, and Kevin and Darren’s digital jiggery pokery (I mean expertise), I am hoping it will prove to be a successful team effort!

During these years I’ve battled my demons of self-doubt that I could actually be a writer, and a half decent one at that. Well, I’ll leave the judging to my readers (I do hope I have some soon), after all, my daughter Emily is telling everyone she knows: ‘my mum is an author.’

The path to publication hasn’t always been like the yellow brick road! At times I had so many other ‘distractions’ beckoning for my attention; mainly life happening around me. But I found that the more time and effort I put into it,  the more I got sucked into my characters’ world of make-believe, and the more I felt as if I was becoming a proper writer.

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King

The Eureka Effect – Where Does Creativity and Inspiration Come From?

“Creativity doesn’t wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones.” ~ Bruce Garrabrandt

Can you remember being at the receiving end of an enlightening or illuminating idea that flashed into your mind like an incandescent light bulb? Perhaps you’ve had quite a few moments of erudition? I’ve had a few too; and who wouldn’t want to have more of those those elusive but cherished aha! moments?

creativity lightbulbsUnfortunately the moment doesn’t tend to hang around long, you have to use it or risk losing it. I have taken to keeping a pen and pad by my bed, in my office and buried in the murky depths of my handbag, ready and waiting for rapid note taking… You never know when such blessings will infiltrate your consciousness, so it’s wise to be prepared! There have been times after stirring from slumber, when I am still in that twilight zone between lucid dreaming and being fully awake, when my subconscious mind has been streaming ideas into my conscious mind. Sometimes it’s so fast I just jot down whatever is in my head so as not to forget anything later on. I can always ditch the stuff that I may not use in the future.

In a minor aha! moment I thought it would be interesting to investigate such ephemeral phenomena, and try to understand how we can better manifest these fleeting gifts from the universe.

Etymology and language is constantly evolving, but essentially the definition of the word inspiration hasn’t changed much from its Latin roots: inspirare, meaning divine guidance, or in a more literal sense, breathing in spirit.

Creativity-takes-courage-Henri-Matisse-inspirational-quoteIdeas are everything. Ideas fuel man’s progress and make life better for humanity, especially in the areas of the arts, literature, health, science and technology. However, our ideas don’t all have to be on the same level as E=mc2, we can achieve smaller-scale wins by solving our everyday challenges, or, in my case, figuring out how to multi-task having a career alongside motherhood and running a home… I’m still figuring that one out!

Ideas are the intangible, ethereal side of our being. We cannot force them, but perhaps we can increase their frequency by learning a bit more about how they come about. Of course, they are nothing but useless data if they are not followed up by meaningful action.

Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

And here’s the rub: although that moment of glorious enlightenment may appear to be a bolt from the blue, it’s most likely the result of many smaller steps over time, and at times, a seeming impasse as to how to proceed. We do what we think we should, we hit obstacles, we try again, hit the repeat button a few times, and then, if we have the right mindset, the answer we have been seeking miraculously presents itself to us. We could be standing at the bus stop or be out on a hike, we could be in the middle of reading a book, we could be cooking, we could be drifting off to sleep…and ding! A passing, but profoundly brilliant thought pops into our heads.

Giovanna Mingarelli from the World Economic Forum highlights her take on the Eureka Effect:

The word ‘Eureka’ was coined by Greek polymath, Archimedes, after he had an epiphany about how to measure the volume of an irregular object.

Barry Evans gives an enlightened TED talk about Archimedes and his all important principle:

There are various theories about how creative insight works, this is my perception garnered from my personal experiences: I concentrate on a problem, mull it over, write down my ideas, follow the ones I think will work best, tweak if necessary, and then later try to empty my mind of it completely. Sometimes I forget about it for a long time, and then an answer or solution usually comes to me. I know that may sound simplistic, but it’s worked for me in the past.  I just have to get out of my own way. And of course, some Eureka moments are more recondite than others, but the fact that any kind of inspiration is flowing is a positive result. I have also found that meditation has greatly helped me to relax and clear my mind, to have that space when I have no thoughts and no content in my mind. In the right conditions I can easily go into the alpha brainwave pattern, and this seems to support my intuition and the mental settings needed for insight to take place. I find other than my meditation, nature and music are wonderfully conducive.

Transcendence seems to be key, as stated in this talk by author and entrepreneur Bernardo Kastrup (if you can put up with the audience coughing):

Here’s my previous post about meditation.

An absolutely brilliant presentation about the process of creative insight and why you need grit:

Again, they both draw the conclusion that eventually one should stop looking and focussing. Jonah talks about those all-important alpha waves again…and about the obsessive revisions that Beethoven made to his music to attain the level of genius that he is loved and admired for. Perseverance is half the battle, which reminds me of a famous Calvin Coolidge quote…

When worthwhile ideas come, it’s up to us to stick with them, hone them and improve them, and ultimately, to have faith in them.

Fabulous article by Eckhart Tolle on creativity.

CreativityI’m really getting into this mnemonic lark! Cognitive Random Ephemeral Attributes Transformed Into Valuable Expression

Wherever they come from, (perhaps it’s the infinite field of consciousness that all humans have access to), ideas will flow to you if the conditions are favourable. The Eureka Effect isn’t a domain just for the chosen few… Pay attention to the answers you seek, and then let it go. That song from Frozen sums it up perfectly! Take a walk, empty your mind and get ready for the influx…

“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.” ~ Dieter F. Uchtdorf

P.S. Any takers for the problems facing the Middle East at the moment??