Instruments for change
We all meet together every Saturday morning at the local comprehensive and call ourselves the Whetstone Community Band. When we're all present, there are about 45 of us, ages ranging from 12 to 70.
About 20 children in the band are pupils at the school, a few others are ex-pupils. Our conductor teaches science and when we give concerts, we are joined by three or four other members of the staff. Perhaps the sound we make isn't Festival Hall standard but it's certainly joyous.
I've known Tim, my piano pupil, since he joined the band as a trumpeter when he was about 10. Then he was often told off for making "rasping noises", but now 14, he has passed his Grade 8 trumpet exam and is going on to take the Advanced Certificate. He is the lead trumpeter in a local brass band.
I give him his piano lesson on Thursday at lunchtime and it's there, in the music room, that I meet up with some of the other children in the band. We have an over-riding common interest in music and the band.
There is never any lack of conversation - memories of a previous concert, talking about the next one, comments on the choice of music, exam prospects.
Sometimes, after our Saturday morning practice, I give Claire a lift home. As it's a school without a sixth form she is now a leaver. "Sixth-form college?" I ask. "Not for me," she replies. "I'm going to be a mechanic." I used to give her keyboard lessons when she was 10. She didn't make much progress but was determined to master some sort of instrument. She tried everything, settling in the end for the saxophone. Now, as well as playing in the concert band, she also plays in a jazz group.
Whatever happens, she is determined to keep up her involvement in both.
Some might say she has limited expectations and ambitions. I would reply that she has found the "pearl of great price".
For all these children, music has become, by their own choice, a major part of their lives but there is something else, something I have felt strongly about for many years. Adults of every kind, not just teachers and parents, should be involved in children's education - and not not only outside school hours.
Because of their involvement with the band, the children I know are necessarily much involved with adults - none of whom, except myself, are teachers. They are at ease in their company and can maintain an intelligent level of conversation with them, not just about music but about everything. They are confident, purposeful, aware and alert.
Recently I wrote my observations down in a letter to the head of the school and he read some bits out at a parents' evening where the band was playing. Among other things, education was about more than the national curriculum. He could have added what John Holt wrote many years ago - that school should not be a place where one acquires the product called "learning" but should itself be a place of learning.
To get to the music room on Thursdays, I have to sign in at reception and take a circuitous route through the school and part of the playground. It is lunchtime. I always greet the children but many look at me as if I'm from another planet.
To them I'm on a level with their teachers, just another symbol of authority. Some look wary as if I might catch them doing somethlng wrong. If I pass a group and hear someone swear, I can hear nervous giggling as I walk on.
When I reach the music room, it's like arriving at a safe port. The greetings are friendly and genuine. Our common bond is music but it clearly extends its influence well beyond the clefts and staves. In this room, education is not about imposing a product but a shared adventure among equals.
Derek Chorley is a retired primary head living in Somerset