Creating the next generation of music lovers across the country
Young people will choose for themselves the music they want to learn, the instruments they want to play, and who they want to play with, writes Celine Naughton
You don't need to be a rock star to realise that music is a wonderfully creative art form that soothes the senses and enriches the soul. Less well known, however, is that music can also help children by boosting their brainpower and building their confidence and self-esteem.
YOU don't need to be a rock star to realise that music is a wonderfully creative art form that soothes the senses and enriches the soul. Less well known, however, is that music can also help children by boosting their brainpower and building their confidence and self-esteem.
Which is why the sound of music in the classroom is set to revolutionise education for future generations of Irish children. This is based on a growing realisation among educators that the key to academic success and emotional wellbeing is not to pile on extra homework in the three R's, but to bring music and the arts in through the school gates.
Yesterday the Government announced that the Music Generation programme - set up in 2011 to provide equal access to music education for all children, regardless of means - will be rolled out nationwide by 2022.
Thanks to an initial €7 million donation by U2 and the Ireland Funds, and incremental government investment, the initiative delivers access to instruments and high quality music tuition for more than 41,000 children and young people every year. Its expansion has been warmly welcomed by the organisation's director Rosaleen Molloy.
"The success of this programme shows the power of partnership between philanthropy, government and local agencies," she says. "Music Generation is now embedded in 12 communities throughout the country. We provide half the funding for approved projects, and they're responsible for the rest. This creates a sustainable practice and promotes local ownership.
"It's very much youth led. Young people choose for themselves the type of music they want to learn, the instruments they play, and the band or ensemble they want to play with."
While the scheme may foster stars of the future, that's not the main focus, she adds.
"We're driven by the way music transforms lives in a holistic way. Learning to sing or play an instrument builds confidence, self-esteem, listening skills, creativity and mental health. It also boosts brain power. For instance, children who sing every day have been shown to be two years ahead in numeracy and literacy skills than those who don't."
Helen Doyle, director of the award-winning Wesley College Choir, has seen those benefits close up in her 16 years of teaching music.
"When it comes to Pillar One of Creative Ireland, enabling the creative potential of every child, I firmly believe that one mechanism to achieve this is by singing in the classroom," she says. "Rehearsing with a choir is one of the best brain-training exercises you can engage in. Students learn technically difficult music, they retain that knowledge, and sing in three or four different languages. It helps with literacy, languages and cognitive function. Even the breathing involved fills the lungs with air."
Next Wednesday, December 13th, Helen is bringing a choir from St Vincent's National School in Dublin's inner city to the Mansion House for a celebration of 120 years of the Feis Ceoil.
"The first Feis Ceoil took place in the Mansion House in 1897, so it's appropriate to mark the anniversary there," she says. "The St Vincent's choir will sing a contemporary Irish composition, 'Codhladh Sámh,' by John Gibson. It's not every school choir would make its debut in front of 550 people in such a prestigious setting, and I'm delighted for them."
The event is called 'It's the Taking Part that Counts,' and while there is no doubt that actively making music is an enriching experience, being entertained by it is also part of the creative process.
This month at the Ark cultural centre for children, a Christmas show, 'Tracks in the Snow' was specially crafted by folk and trad band the Henry Girls for a young audience.
"I love to see children being able to attend shows with their families, and enjoying that experience together," says Ark director Aideen Howard. "By commissioning artists to create work specifically for children, we leave a legacy that's very gratifying."
Based in Temple Bar, the Ark produces work for, by and about children aged 2 to 12 years in its premises in Temple Bar, and off-site in schools, on tour, and in specific locations such as a direct provision centre in Clondalkin.
"We're constantly looking at ways to provide inclusive access," says Aideen. "For children in areas of disadvantage, the most likely way they will engage with the arts is through school. We run an arts access programme in six city centre schools in Dublin and we want to do a lot more. Nationally, we need to enable all schools to access places like the Ark."
That looks set to become a reality sooner than many think, thanks to a new initiative called Creative Schools/Scoileanna Ildánacha being piloted by the Arts Council in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills, and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Designed to increase the number of artists working closely with teachers and students, the project is already in train, with two teachers seconded full-time to the initiative, and international experts Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE) secured to act as Project Lead.
"What we're aiming to do is put the arts and creativity at the heart of the lives of children and young people," says Seona Ní Bhriain of the Arts Council. "It's a project as exciting as it is ambitious. This month we're starting to build our team by putting a call out for people interested in becoming part-time Creative Associates. These will be made up of 50:50 teachers and artists. The team will help schools identify resources they can tap into, address the particular challenges they face, and collaborate with them to explore new ways of bringing creativity to the classroom.
"Next month, we'll be inviting primary and post-primary schools to express an interest in participating in the project. By Spring 2018, we'll have identified the first 150 schools to take part in this first phase. From then we'll begin planning with these schools, mapping how each one will implement its own carefully devised programme from the following September.
"This is a pilot phase, but the ambition is that every school will soon be able to access the support of creative practitioners and embed the arts in the wider curriculum. It provides an opportunity to make education a rich, transformative experience for all the children of Ireland."