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.


“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.

An Evening with the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT), in London

“The brain that engages in music is changed by engaging in music.” ~ Michael Thaut, Professor of Music and Professor of Neuroscience at Colorado State University

music solutionWe all know, on some level, how essential music is to human existence. We can recite instances when music has evoked powerful memories and emotional responses in us. Even if our involvement with music is only to the extent of listening to the radio now and then, to the more obsessive playing of our CDs, iPods and MP3’s on a constant loop, it has a major impact on the quality of our lives. Further up the scale, (sorry!) amateur musicians find joy and fulfilment from the pressures of everyday life by playing an instrument, and the more gifted of us make their living from bringing this lofty form of entertainment to the masses. Then there are those who specifically use the medium of music to reach out to segments of society that are suffering, either mentally, emotionally or physically. In the UK, there are over 700 of these caring and talented individuals who make up the membership of BAMT, which supports this network of highly trained and committed therapists.

I jumped at the opportunity to find out more about their valuable and pioneering work in this field when I was invited by Beth Britton to attend their exhibition: Music Therapy – The Art and Science, hosted by the Barbican Music Library in London on 10th September.

music factThe exhibition itself was full of amazing scientific facts about how music therapy has been successfully employed in the fields of neurology, child development, adolescent’s issues, autism, adult mental health, dementia, cancer and the challenges of old age. There were wonderful anecdotes and case studies from both therapists and recipients, as well as the history behind music therapy, not just in the UK but around the world, dating back to ancient times. Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine played music to some of his patients.

With a glass of wine in hand and a tasty selection of hors d’oeuvres on offer, I had had a lovely chat with a lady called Catherine; who is based in the north of England, working with seriously disturbed and mentally ill individuals. She told me her first instrument was the cello, but that she mainly used the piano and guitar in her sessions due to the sometimes unpredictable nature of the participants, as well as plenty of singing. She explained how singing was great to establish a rhythm and get patients moving, and she actively encouraged them to sing and dance.  I think she found her career very rewarding, but due to the intensity of the work and the time input she felt her own musical creativity was not being broadened.

The presentations were extremely interesting. Donald Wetherick,Chair of the BAMT Trustees, music therapist at Nordoff Robbins London Centre and music therapy tutor at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, highlighted the role of the charity in the UK, and explained about their work in the areas of research and collaboration in Europe and beyond. They are a point of contact for the public, for therapists and other professional bodies. You can find out more about them on their website. Or connect via Twitter: @musictherapyuk

“Currently provision of music therapy is uneven across the UK. We want to work with all those who champion music therapy to help change this, so that everyone who needs a music therapist can get access to one. Funding for large-scale research, such as the field of music therapy and dementia, is also vital if we are to harness the full potential of music therapy.” ~ Donald Wetherick

He introduced Richard Jones, the librarian of the Barbican Music Library, who gave us an overview of their set-up, They are only one of two music libraries in London (along with Westminster Music Library), and they have hosted various musical events from classical to jazz to rock. It seems appropriate that they are based on the second floor of the Barbican, which is also home to the London Symphony Orchestra and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

For more information click here. You can also follow them on Twitter: @BarbicanMusic

Donald then introduced my cousin, Beth, who is a Dementia Campaigner, writer and consultant, to talk about her experiences of how music helped her father, who lived with vascular dementia for the last nineteen years of his life. Discover more about her brilliant work here and on her blog: http://d4dementia.blogspot.co.uk/ and on Twitter: @bethyb1886

“Even as other abilities decline, music engages the brain through an extensive set of processes that are preserved and remain functional.” ~ Dr katrina McFerran, University of Melbourne

Yehudi Menuhin quoteThis explains why people who can no longer find the words to speak, may still be able to sing and play instruments. Beth related the story of her father humming and singing the last few words of his favourite songs as she sang to him, long after his ability to speak had gone. By encouraging and supporting active involvement in musical interaction and socialisation, music therapists can help clients living with dementia reduce feelings of apathy, anxiety, restlessness and depression, potentially lessening the need for medication.

These two videos express the essence and benefits of music therapy better than I ever could in words:

How does music therapy benefit children with special needs?

Music therapy, the empowering tool:

The final speaker was Professor Helen Odell-Miller, Head of Therapies at Anglia Ruskin University and Director of Music for Health Research Centre, who gave us a fascinating history of the origins of Music Therapy in the UK, and how the early pioneers established the framework of common practices and professional and personal qualifications that Music Therapists need, (a Master’s Degree in Music Therapy as well as having an advanced level of musicianship and skill, and also being registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council). Music therapists work in hospitals, schools, pupil referral units, day centres, hospices, care homes, therapy centres, prisons and in private practice across the UK.

BAMT is conducting cutting edge research into the role of music therapy on human health and wellbeing, in addition to providing support and training to music therapists. Notably, they are sharing the results of their discoveries with other health professionals as part of a multi-disciplinary team of speech & language therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, doctors, paediatricians, teachers, social workers, consultants, psychologists and psychiatrists who are working to deliver the same aims in society.

Promotional video by Nordoff Robbins for those interested in training as a music therapist:

I hope the work of music therapy resonates with you! The BAMT exhibition is on display until 31st October at the Barbican Music Library in London.