To unlock the hidden muse

9th December 2005 at 00:00
A Scottish school is the first in the UK to benefit from an arts programme set up by Yehudi Menuhin. Elizabeth Buie reports

Ryan is exactly the kind of child Yehudi Menuhin wanted to help when he created his MUS-E programme in 1993. Ryan is in Primary 7 at Carlibar Primary in East Renfrewshire, a school of 134 pupils where 62 per cent of children receive clothing grants and 45 per cent free school meals.

Like most pupils in the school, he has not had opportunities to learn musical instruments, go to concerts or art workshops outside school or be exposed to the cultural richness of society that many young people can access.

Ryan has had behavioural problems and received learning support since his entry to primary. But in the six weeks he has been in the class of Catriona Inglis, a jeweller and clock designer, he has blossomed. He has displayed an extraordinary artistic talent - beyond what his teachers suspected - and is rapt in concentration as he wields the metalwork tools and materials used in clock-making.

His sketch-book is full of innovative designs, and he has a selection of different kinds of worked metals, twisted and patterned, as he works up ideas for the clock the class will eventually make for their new school.

Talk to him about anything else and he is nervous and awkward, speaking behind fingers guarding his mouth. But when he takes you through his designs and metalwork, he flowers in confidence, telling you about the four metals he is working with (brass, copper, tin and aluminium), about the girl's earring he has cannibalised and turned into a new design, and the flower brooch he has made.

"The philosophy of MUS-E - he is just it," says Lynn Bale, Carlibar's headteacher.

Ryan exemplifies why East Renfrewshire has set up the first MUS-E school in the UK in Carlibar primary, with the support of the International Yehudi Menuhin Foundation. The programme of musicians, artists, dancers, writers and film-makers working with pupils is part of the authority's strategy to put arts at the heart of the curriculum and is being funded under the Scottish Executive's Future Learning and Teaching (FLaT) scheme.

Jill Carrick, East Renfrewshire Council's quality improvement officer for the expressive arts, explains that the fundamental principles of MUS-E are that art is a tool for the development of self-respect and respect for others; art rooted in experience stimulates the pleasure of discovery, curiosity, interest and access to other fields of knowledge; art can enable a child to rediscover a cultural heritage that may have been forgotten; and through singing and dance, art restores the body to the soul and the soul to the body, the emotions to the mind and the mind to the emotions.

The MUS-E programme was devised by the violinist and humanist Yehudi Menuhin in 1993 and was set up a year later in collaboration with Werner Schmitt, head of the music school at the Bern Conservatory. They drew their inspiration from Zoltan Kodaly's concept that music should be part of daily education and accessible to everybody. Menuhin, however, broadened the concept to put emphasis on movement, all the senses, the body and the imaginary in the practice of art in various cultures.

There are now 70 MUS-E schools in the world, the majority in Europe.

Carlibar is the only one in the UK. It will move into a new building next summer and much of the work with the participating artists is geared towards involving the children, including those with additional support needs and those from its centre for communication and autistic spectrum disorders, in the design and environment.

Naheed Cruickshank, a musician with experience in working with pre-school children, will work with a drama partner on a children's story incorporating lyric-writing, drama, singing, movement and percussion.

Robert Coia, a woodcarver and expert in Celtic calligraphy, will work with P1 in the third term to create playground furniture and sculpture, some of which will use wood from trees felled to make space for the new school.

Norman Douglas, one of Scotland's foremost dancers and dance animateurs, has been doing choreography with P2 around Mozart's opera The Magic Flute to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth next year, and Suzi Morrice, a drama animateur and theatre director, will work with P3 on a performance for the school's opening.

Carl MacDougall, a writer and broadcaster, is exploring with P4 concepts of family and the people they live with so that they can write about the Carlibar family when they move, and Madaleine Conn, a 3D artist, has been doing photography on the same themes.

Fiona Foley, a stained glass artist, is working with P5 to make an installation for the new school. They have been exploring life-cycles of the insects, wildlife, trees and flowers around the site. She plans to take them to Glasgow Cathedral and St Mungo Museum to see stained-glass work, as well as her own studio at the source of lead, Leadhills.

Windswept Media, a company with long experience of working with schools, is producing a film with P6 about their last year in the old school: already, pupils are showing greater confidence in presentation and interview skills.

Finally, Catriona Inglis has been teaching P7 metalwork and design skills, and helping young Ryan and his classmates to design the clock that will hang in the new school entrance.

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