Making music for body, mind and spirit

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Scottish education has always had an international perspective.

From the Scottish Enlightenment to A Curriculum for Excellence, an emphasis on thinking and a belief in breadth and balance have been important characteristics of our education system.

The willingness to look outward persists and its most recent manifestation is in the context of music.

Four local authorities - North Lanarkshire, Fife, East Ayrshire and North Ayrshire - are currently engaged in two projects led by Professor Nigel Osborne of Edinburgh University. One focuses on music, education and health; the other seeks to harness new technology in the creation of music, designing and manufacturing a new musical instrument.

This is another initiative from Tapestry, an organisation founded by Katrina Bowes less than four years ago, which brings the education and arts agenda together. This time the emphasis is on research and development and it is being driven by four of the most experienced music advisers in the country, John O'Dowd, Graeme Wilson, John Wilson and Brian Kerr.

The music, education and health project is designed to help teachers, care workers and others use music in the promotion of physical and mental health. It starts from the premise that music and the creative arts can play a role in good health. Music therapy is a field which is rapidly gaining acceptance in helping young people and adults develop their potential as learners and as human beings.

The plan is to work in schools and communities across the four councils, exploring the contribution that music can make to the promotion of health in its widest sense.

The main emphasis will be on young people, teachers, therapists and parents jointly exploring musical improvisation. Data will be gathered on the impact of their experiences on their physiology, emotions, mental well-being, self-esteem, cognitive development, communication skills and movement.

The aim is to add to the growing body of evidence worldwide of the positive effects of music-making and to develop a toolkit for teachers and others to use in a range of settings.

The second project seeks to bring together new technologies and music in a way which could revolutionise practice in mainstream and special education.

There is already in schools a vast array of computer hardware and software designed to enable young people to develop creativity in music-making. This project will work with existing approaches to music programming, the internet and sound design, and try to evaluate the most productive uses of such technologies.

The most exciting aspect of the project will be the design and manufacture of a completely new musical instrument. The aim is to develop an instrument which harnesses digital and traditional approaches to produce a high quality and flexible sound. It will move well beyond current technologies such as "soundbeam" and aim to allow children with additional support needs to achieve full musical expression.

Perhaps now music can be centre stage in Scotland's efforts to create A Curriculum for Excellence. It offers hope for the achievement of a joined-up approach to raising achievement and tackling social exclusion.

Brian Boyd is professor of education at Strathclyde University, honorary president of the Association of Educational Development and Improvement Professionals Scotland and co-founder of Learning Tapestry

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