Tapestry weaves its inspirational magic

26th September 2003 at 01:00
"Inspirational" was the word on the street. Or at least it was last week in Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall, at the latest and most ambitious conference organised by Tapestry, the Strathclyde University-based organisation committed to promoting the work of progressive educational thinkers.

"Unique" might also have been deployed to describe an extravaganza that highlighted the cultural contributions of popular icons ranging from Beethoven and Brahms to Bogart and Bergman (Ingrid, not Ingemar) and drove a well-aimed nail into the coffin of performance indicators and targets.

Whether or not the representatives of all 32 Scottish local authorities in the audience, who included 15 directors and eight conveners of education, got the message, there was no doubting the impact on the 1,000 upper primary pupils from eight local authorities. They sat transfixed during a tour de force by international conductor Ben Zander and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on the first day of the two-day event.

Wowed by a frenetic rendition of the William Tell overture, mesmerised by the feud and love themes from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, the young people and the more mature members of a packed hall were driven to a standing ovation in response to the joyous finale of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony - all before lunchtime.

Officially entitled "Creativity and Music and the Mind", the international reputations of the main presenters attracted delegates from across the UK and even a teacher who had financed her own trip from Luxembourg.

It amply bore testimony to the observation from Keir Bloomer, a member of the Tapestry board and Clackmannanshire's chief executive, who said: "There is probably more interest among teachers in contemporary thinking about education than there ever was."

Nigel Osborne, Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University, who has done ground-breaking work with special needs children, used a clip from the film Casablanca to illustrate how one song ("As Time Goes By") can impact on both the drama of the plot and the emotions of the listener.

Professor Osborne deplored the fact that music "got trampled on in the search for identifiable political goals". He congratulated Tapestry for "expressing a new synergy in Scottish education" and bringing to Scotland the most inspiring and productive of new thinking in education internationally.

Paul Robertson, a professor of music and psychiatry and leader of the Medici Quartet, also heaped praise on Tapestry for opening up "a whole new set of creative possibilities". The author of the Channel 4 series on the brain and learning, Professor Robertson illustrated how music affects intelligence and puts young people in the most receptive state for learning.

Tony Buzan, originator of mind mapping, who has been involved with Tapestry since its inception two years ago, was even more effusive. Mr Buzan described the impact of Tapestry's work in some Scottish schools as "epoch-making" and said it was now reaching a critical mass.

The effusiveness was backed by hard-headed realities. According to one experienced teacher, the time is ripe for a change of emphasis, especially in primary. Speaking to The TES Scotland, May Ferries, deputy head in Victoria primary in Glasgow, said teachers are "really sick" of the expressive arts getting squeezed in the drive to raise attainment.

"There is a growing recognition that the kind of approaches we have seen today can raise pupils' self-esteem, motivate them and raise attainment as well," Ms Ferries said. "People are ready for an alternative strategy."

Her view was supported by no less a figure than Howard Gardner, the Harvard professor renowned for his work on multiple intelligences. Professor Gardner described Scottish initiatives as making a "bracing" change in a world where "learning is being reduced to facts and assessment to a single high stake test".

Ben Zander's young audience may not have been au fait with the tensions within the 5-14 programme, but the conference gave them an introduction to classical music they will never forget - and not even Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, knows how much he affected them.

While he was animatedly preoccupied with conducting, behind him in the auditorium were hundreds of little hands doing likewise - especially during the fast bits. Inspirational certainly, unique possibly; as for critical mass, only time will tell.

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