An occasional series of articles from Mrs White
December 2019 – Musical Musings
The Christmas season is a time when all musicians in the school are called for duty. Whether it’s for carol services, concerts, nativities or special assemblies, in a few short weeks, in addition to all the other curriculum requirements, pupils must learn full programmes of words and music. We hope and expect the end result of this hard work will be some meaningful celebration, entertainment and, of course, learning. In the rush and commitment to achieve the high standards we expect at BJAB, it’s sometimes easy to forget the underpinning skills that the pupils have been acquiring in order to participate to their full potential. I’m therefore taking this opportunity to talk about our approach to music at BJAB and why I think it’s such an important contribution to our aim of delivering and broad and balanced curriculum. I also know that, judging by the generous response to our appeal after the musical soiree, many parents share this view.
The music department (Mrs Armstrong, Mr White and Mr Wilkinson) is focused on delivering three main aims for pupils. At all ages, to some degree, all pupils will be able to:
- perform, listen to, review and evaluate music across a range of historical periods, genres, styles and traditions, including the works of the great composers and musicians
- learn to sing and to use their voices, to create and compose music on their own and with others, have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, use technology appropriately and have the opportunity to progress to the next level of musical excellence
- understand and explore how music is created, produced and communicated, including through the inter-related dimensions: pitch, duration, dynamics, tempo, timbre, texture, structure and appropriate musical notations
This means that even when learning a simple carol such as “Silent Night” attention will be drawn to the composer’s musical choices of rhythm, harmony and style. Everyone should be able to explain why we usually sing this carol in a number of different languages.
From Early Years, our pupils are playing and performing with a variety of tuned and un-tuned instruments, learning how to control musical characteristics such as loud and soft, fast and slow, high and low, solo and ensemble. Duration of notes, rests and pauses are mastered in games which frequently involve rounds and canons.
We have introduced recorder playing this year. This is an excellent way of developing hand-eye co-ordination, breath control and accuracy whilst reading music. The instrument can be played solo, in ensemble and in parts which offers multiple opportunities for all levels of proficiency.
With a knowledge of pitch and note values, pupils can move onto more complex performance and composition in their exploration of different music genres and styles.
Many pupils take additional tuition to master an instrument such as piano. This has the advantage of following a structured set of external examinations and awards, such as those offered by the Associated Board. These Grades are transferable and understood around the world and are an objective measure of proficiency in the chosen instrument and general musicianship in theory and aural discipline. I am always keen to accommodate peripatetic teaching on the school’s premises, as far as possible.
Choral singing is the backbone of the musical life at BJAB – not only for the children! Singing is aerobic exercise and musical performance at the same time. It is the most accessible way for all our pupils to appreciate the joy of music making. Learning to sing correctly is a skill which lasts a lifetime and acquiring the basics of good posture, breathing, diction and pitch control are the primary of our choral lessons. I’d like to share one of my pet dislikes and illustrate why BJAB, because of the talent of our department, is able to reach high standards. Many schools are forced into using internet based accompaniment for the children to “sing along” to. Whilst I acknowledge this is better than nothing, it does create bad habits and poor discipline. In the first instance, singing to a screen is incredibly passive. With ‘live’ direction, the teacher is facing the pupils, able to encourage individuals, immediately picking up on errors and ways to improve. As anyone who has participated in the parent choir knows, our music staff can very quickly create a performance which has energy and finesse. I also believe that choral singing is a key element of how pupils learn skills of presentation: walking on, standing correctly, following directions are all disciplines which are vital for effective teamwork and a pathway to achieving quality in many walks of life.
Brussels is a city full of opportunities to hear music of all types from the international stars of the day and the Musical Instrument Museum is unique. Our pupils can build on their knowledge and skills acquired in school through performing, composing and listening by experiences live musical performances.
A recent research paper published by the society of music teachers in the US listed twenty benefits of a musical education. I’ve already referred to many of them but here are five which conclude my musical musings.
Emotional development: Students of music can be more emotionally developed, with empathy towards other cultures They also tend to have higher self esteem and are better at coping with anxiety.
Music builds imagination and intellectual curiosity: Introducing music in the early childhood years can help foster a positive attitude toward learning and curiosity. Artistic education develops the whole brain and develops a child’s imagination.
Music can be relaxing: Students can fight stress by learning to play music.
Music can develop spatial intelligence: Students who study music can improve the development of spatial intelligence, which allows them to perceive the world accurately and form mental pictures. Spatial intelligence is helpful for advanced mathematics and more.
Preparation for the creative economy: Investing in creative education can prepare students for the 21st century workforce. The new economy has created more artistic careers, and these jobs may grow faster than others in the future
Parental involvement plays a key role in children’s academic attainment – new study
Educational leaders, teachers and support workers will all tell you how parental involvement plays a vital part in a child’s educational success. I was, therefore, interested to come across a recent piece of research which supports the strong BJAB emphasis on partnership with parents. Although the research was conducted in England and, because of the remit of the organisation, emphasised an understanding of the issues of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, its findings are relevant.
Of particular significance to me is the type of parental involvement which has the greatest impact.
Here’s a quote from the summary:
The association is strongest if parental involvement is defined as parental expectations for their children’s academic achievement. There is no positive relationship between parents providing homework assistance and academic achievement. In the early years, the evidence supports the importance of parents’ reading to / with their children (and associated interactions) and support for learning (creating a supportive home learning environment). For school-aged children the evidence supports the importance of home-school partnership and parental interest in children’s academic activities. There is a weak association between general parenting style and academic attainment; there is value in promoting authoritative parenting but it is also necessary to promote school-specific parental involvement.
Parental involvement is defined as parental expectations
In other words and putting it into context here at BJAB, the most important contribution parents can make is to support and follow the culture of the individualised high expectations we have at BJAB. That manifests itself not only in the parent/teacher meetings which are held four times a year, so that there is understanding and agreement on realistic expectations but also, for example, in the work of the class reps and the social activities provided by the school and the Friends of BJAB. “Buying-in” to the BJAB values will, as suggested by this research, have a positive impact. You will recall I mentioned in a recent newsletter discussing the value of Humility with your children and why, from time-to-time, I may have to remind everyone about the importance of punctuality and correct uniform. It works!
The research conducted by the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter, also highlighted areas where schools and early years settings can support parents in a way that improves their children’s learning. I’m pleased to say that the recent information session in EYFS is a perfect example.
Lead author Dr Nick Axford, PenCLAHRC Associate Professor in Health Services at the University of Plymouth, explained that there was no one thing that schools should do to support parent engagement, but that there were areas showing promise.
“These findings from existing studies and new surveys are interesting, because they highlight the positive link between parental engagement and children’s academic attainment,” he said.
“However, it takes time and planning to nurture and encourage parent support. Recommendations we would put forward include for schools to build parental engagement into their school improvement plans, and to work hard on establishing good communication with parents.”
I am absolutely certain that BJAB parents want their children to achieve highly so, with the evidence in mind, combined with my experience, I suggest that you should:
· Take a full interest in the academic and pastoral aims of BJAB
· Attend the Friends of BJAB events
· Support the emphasis on manners, behaviour and uniform
· Consider your own well-being and that of each family member
Above all, give your child the message that BJAB is the best school in Brussels!