Nine tiny heads peer above state-of-the-art Yamaha electronic keyboards, barely visible behind the bank of shiny black instruments. Of course, these four to six-year-olds cannot resist running their fingers up and down the notes, creating a wonderfully tuneless cacophony until Lesley Newman brings them to order. "Hands behind your backs," she says firmly but gently, and the din subsides. Lesley Newman is a Yamaha Music School teacher, and this lesson is taking place after school hours at Bishop Stortford High School, Hertfordshire.
This is the Junior Music Course of the Yamaha Music Education system, first developed in the 1950s in Japan, where it has achieved remarkable results. If Lesley Newman's young charges this evening stick with the course over its full six-year duration, they will have reached GCSE music standard by the age of 10 or 11. In Japan 85,000 four and five-year-old children enrol on such courses every year. The programme has since spread around the globe and three years ago Yamaha UK brought it into schools in the state sector here.
The out-of-hours courses are available to the general community, and participants pay Yamaha Music Schools for them. But Yamaha loans keyboards, guitars and other resources free to the host school, and the school can then use it all in their own school-time music lessons (see box). The company's patronage in the music room where Lesley Newman teaches the community classes at Bishop's Stortford school even extends to the clock on the wall, which bears the Yamaha name.
Bishop's Stortford was the first state school to enter into the partnership in 1998 but there are now 40 such locations delivering Yamaha keyboard and guitar courses out of school hours.
"The equipment is used extensively out of hours but the advantage to the school is that we get to use it for curriculum work five days a week," says Adam Baum, head of music at Bishop's Stortford school. "It's in use solidly round the clock and the keyboards are a wonderful composing aid for students at GCSE and A-level."
He also reports a direct correlation between the provision of such facilities and an increased enthusiasm for the subject among students.
Yamaha wants to expand the programme and eventually increase the number of participating schools to around 100.
"A lot of schools would like to get their hands on our keyboards, but we have to stress that it is a partnership," says Nigel Burrows, Yamaha's Music Schools' education manager. "We want the host school and the feeder schools to benefit, but above all it's a community project and so schools have to be pro-active in the community for it to work."
The main requirement is to provide a room and make the equipment available outside school hours. This, for example, involves providing caretaking staff at evenings and weekends.
The teaching staff for the out-of-school lessons are trained and provided by Yamaha, but the school is responsible for collecting the fees, from which it also pays the teachers.
* Schools interested in learning more about the Yamaha Music Education project should write to Nigel Burrows, Yamaha Music Education Manager, Yamaha-Kemble Music (UK) Ltd, Sherbourne Drive, Tilbrook, Milton Keynes MK7 8BL.
The equipment supplied to Bishop Stortford High School consists of:
* Sixteen PSR640 keyboards which would normally retail at around pound;500 each
* One PSR740 keyboard (teacher's keyboard) worth about pound;600
* A clavinova (piano) worth about pound;1,100
* Various music technology equipment which, put together with items which the school has bought from Yamaha at discounted prices, is worth about pound;1,000 .
The total value of the loaned items is around pound;10,000. The loan is part of a special agreement between the school and Yamaha and the equipment is replaced every two or three years so that the school and community have access to state-of-the-art technology.
Broad criteria for selection are: Location: Yamaha wants to spread centres around geographically
State schools only
Good building access for the community participants