`Children should absolutely listen to classical music'

24th October 2014 at 01:00
Concert violinist calls for pupils to be exposed to great composers

No one, says Nicola Benedetti, asks pupils whether learning algebra or reading Great Expectations would be fun. And so, according to the internationally renowned concert violinist, fun should not be a consideration when music teachers are deciding whether to introduce pupils to the works of Beethoven, Bach or any other classical composer.

"We don't ask kids, `Would you like to study maths today?' or `Would you like to read this long book?' " Benedetti says. "They're probably going to say no.

"We don't ask them because we know it's right for them and it's good for them. So often people say, `We can't just dictate to children.' But what's school, then? Of course adults decide what's good for them."

In fact, she believes that acquiring knowledge of classical music greats should be an integral part of education as a whole, rather than merely musical education.

"Just like children would read Great Expectations, they should absolutely listen to classical music," Benedetti says. "The kind of skill and soul and ability to create a symphony like Beethoven did - it's a phenomenon. It's something that children should be exposed to."

Benedetti, now 27, first came to national prominence when she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at the age of 16. Since then, she has signed a pound;1 million, six-album recording contract, and performed as a soloist with orchestras in London, New York, Berlin and Hong Kong.

She has also committed time to a range of educational projects, including Sistema Scotland, which aims to transform the lives of underprivileged children through music. And, on 10 November, she will be leading an online lesson, which will be hosted on the TES website.

Benedetti believes that learning a musical instrument is particularly valuable today, when so much focus is on instant gratification, YouTube clips and the importance of having fun.

"I think there is a desperate need for some kind of counterbalance to that kind of culture," she says. "I can't describe the level of pleasure and satisfaction you get from working your way through the development of a skill. The feeling you get is much, much better than fun.

"Fun isn't the end goal in life. It's great, but there are other things that can sustain you more, and make you calmer and more content - like the feeling of true achievement and ownership over something. It's just much, much better than distracting and entertaining yourself for the next hour."

She acknowledges that only schools with relevant facilities and well-trained staff are able to teach pupils to play musical instruments.

The Department for Education announced an pound;18 million funding boost for music education in the summer. Part of this will be used to increase to pound;75 million the funding for a national network of music hubs.

But Benedetti says schools do not need a large music budget in order to teach the subject effectively. "There are basic things that can be taught by someone who doesn't have Grade 8 on the piano or a music degree," she says. "Singing together, clapping together - basic melody and rhythm challenges - could be taught without an extensive music education.

"And listening to masterpiece compositions through history, by Bach or Beethoven - even just playing 10 minutes of a symphony after explaining who wrote it, this is what the world was like at the time, this is about the development and progression of that piece of music. That would count as music education to me."

However, Benedetti shies away from prescribing a canon of musical greats. Instead, she would like teachers to choose the pieces of music they are genuinely enthusiastic about.

"You can explain a whole lot about a piece of music, but then you listen to it and it becomes yours," she says. "Creativity should make everything in that child's experience - school experience and home experience - that little bit better. It gives them life skills to be more confident, more expressive, to be a more comfortable version of themselves."

In concert: a TES live lesson

Nicola Benedetti will be performing alongside primary-school musicians during a live music lesson to be streamed on the TES website.

In the lesson, the violinist will teach key stage 2 pupils about rhythm and pitch, as well as offering tips drawn from her own career and musical experience. Participating pupils do not need to be able to play a musical instrument.

She will end the lesson by playing Beethoven's Symphony No 5 alongside the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and a selection of classroom musicians. Viewers will also be encouraged to join in.

The event, which is coordinated by the BBC, will be broadcast on the TES website at 10am on 10 November. Find all the information you need to deliver the lesson at tesconnect.comtenpieces


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