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Piping hot;Music and the Arts

Time-honoured South American percussion instruments, state-of-the-art synthesisers, even the humble drainpipe I all have their uses in the classroom of Kevin Hayter (pictured right).

Chris Fautley reports.

Kevin Hayter likes toJbreakJnew groundJ-Jlast yearJheJtookJeight teenagers on a trek to the North Pole. But I find him in the more temperate climes of East Sussex, leading pupils on a journey of discovery at Robertsbridge Community College.

I sit in on three of his lessons - one each for Years 7 to 9 who have three compulsory 50-minute music periods a fortnight. Every student looks as if he or she wants to be there.

One reason, I imagine, is that technology features in such a big way. They've spent a lot of money on it here - "as in hell of a lot," says headteacher Brian Hartley, although he still doesn't think it enough and hopes to invest a further pound;60,000 on sound and light for the hall. (It already has quadrophonic sound.) Hayter believes music technology grabs children's attention, which is why the music room has 30 Yamaha and Casio keyboards,JdigitalJsound, widescreen TV, laser discs and Dolby surround cinema sound.

Most music today uses technology in some way, yet many teachers are still terrified of it. This results in children being brought up with two styles of music: music outside the school and an entirely different type inside.

"I think that's so sad," says Hayter. "Some children have a different brand of music thrust upon them. They will always see this gulf. I will play everything; Indie, Mozart, the lot."

Minutes into the Year 7 lesson, students of all abilities are playing "In My Dreams" by dance music maestro Robert Miles.

"Music to me is everything to do with sound," says Hayter. To illustrate this, he shows a clip from Star Wars - minus the sound wizardry: no effects, no sweeping orchestral music and all the characters with normal voices. This approach is extended for Year 8 with the opening sequence of another, supposedly scary, film. First, it is shown without music. Pretty tame. But just a few seconds after the soundtrack is added, the first startled shriek is heard from the class.

The lesson comes to an electrifying end with the whole class accompanying the soundtrack on keyboards.

Year 9, meanwhile, are learning about the hearing process by recording their own voices and transforming them into cartoon chipmunk voices. "Kevin glories in the success of music and the success of the school," says Brian Hartley.

The teacher himself modestly puts this success down to approaching the subject from the children's own culture. "I like finding new ways of doing things," says Hayter. "I don't use anybody else's material for lesson plans."

He adds that, being dyslexic, he tends to think differently from other people. "The gift of dyslexia," he calls it.

A Year 8 student tells me: "He's a cool teacher. He's up to date in the music world. He does music in a fun way." That's why she nominated him for the Disney Channel Teacher of the Year award in 1998. From 2,000 entrants he was one of the eight short-listed finalists. For that achievement, he won pound;2,000 - and spent it on Brazilian percussion instruments and surround screen cinema for the hall.

His GCSE students - violin, saxophone, trumpet, piano and flute players among them - are just as enthusiastic. "He gives you the drive to learn," says one. They then demonstrate how by playing "Dance of the Hours" - on drainpipes.

Having deliberately gone for popular music, Hayter has, says Hartley, introduced a different feel for the subject within the school. "There are some seniors now who two years ago wouldn't have dreamed of doing music. They are now thinking 'This is for me'."

Which is why, I suspect, a quarter of the school is in the choir.

At the same time, what Hartley calls the "workaday" brand of music is maintained for serious musicians. "Children who excel on the more traditional instruments still get that as part of their coaching."

And this is just the beginning. "I want some type of big jazz band," says Hayter. "I've got the sound system, now I'm building up Years 7, 8 and 9. They're the future. I want to make it a community band as well. That's the whole remit. Teaching children how to mix properly."

Stravinsky once commented, "People are taught to have too much respect for music. They should be taught to love it instead."

He would surely applaud the approach here.

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