Chorus for the creative

12th September 2003 at 01:00
As Nigel Osborne talks animatedly about music therapy, it is no surprise to hear that he is to deliver a speech and concert at Learning Tapestry's conference next week.

The composer of operas for English National Opera, Opera Factory, Glyndebourne and the National Theatre of Sarajevo has received growing recognition. Tapestry now believes the Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University is such a significant educational figure that it mentions him in the same breath as learning gurus Howard Gardner, Daniel Goleman and Tony Buzan.

Professor Osborne introduced a "music in the community" course into the undergraduate curriculum in 1991 which was awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize. It involves training, research and development centring on the uses of music in education, creative development, therapy and rehabilitation.

"I became involved in music therapy, although I was not trained and remain untrained," he says. "I was a schoolteacher and have been very much involved in education."

It was the human rights work in which Professor Osborne was heavily involved that opened his eyes to the effects of music on children's emotions. "This took me to Sarajevo which, at the time, was not an easy thing to do. It seemed to me there was something we should try to do for the kids. This was early 1993. The schools had closed and it was an appalling situation.

"I got in touch with some old friends and we started doing workshops for children. The idea was simply a diversion as nothing was happening in schools, so we thought that having some fun with creative arts would be a good idea.

"But it became very clear, very early, that there was a massive reaction from the children and that something more than just distraction was happening. There was a kind of surge of emotions from the kids and I recognised a number of things I have learnt to recognise since."

Professor Osborne became involved with the charity War Child, conducting regular music therapy workshops, and helped build the Pavarotti Music Centre in the southern Bosnian town of Mostar.

Many of his students have joined him, especially at the summer camps he started. "One of my students went over there and has just come back six years later, which is great," he says.

He is looking to develop programmes in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and is keen for schools throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK to join in. He has been involved in pilot projects - his students have worked with primary and secondary children in the Lothians - and is keen to develop things further.

"Music is a subject that has suffered very much from the emphasis on back to basics," he says. "But it has a huge potential to move children along and help them."

It is easy to see why this spurred his involvement with Learning Tapestry, whose focus is very much on creativity in the classroom. "Music can transform things socially and help people move on in certain circles. It provides a template for language and is something that has a very personal relationship with the body - it brings about physical and psychological changes in human beings.

"Creative music is also a very robust form of generating self-respect. By creating it, you are making something which cannot be destroyed. When I was in Kosovo, a father of a child with whom I had written a song came up to me and said: 'Two days ago our house was burned down but you can't burn down a song.' I thought this was a very poignant message."

Appropriately, Osborne's workshop next week is called "Tuning the emotions - the personal development of children".

The Tapestry conference, Creativity and Music and the Mind, is on September 18-19 at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

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