We got rhythm and a whole lot more

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Bongos and bodhrans to violas and xylophones, Douglas Blane says music can bring out the best in anyone

There are so many ways that music affects the lives of young people. It doesn't take a lot of thought to produce a list, says Mary Troup, community music co-ordinator with the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

"Music can enhance communications, creativity, imagination, listening, working together, performance abilities, social development, intellectual skills - and, of course, it also provides great pleasure," she says.

It can make a difference to the lives of all kinds of schoolchildren, from infants to school leavers and the musically gifted to those with additional support needs.

The Arts and Minds project at St Mungo's learning community in Glasgow is not aimed at all these groups, but it does have a breadth of content, variety of aims and diversity of pupil participants that make it tricky to summarise in a soundbite.

There are three strands to the project, says Ms Troup, who is project manager for all of them. "First, a team of musicians will be working with all Primary 1, 2 and nursery children in the St Mungo's Academy learning community using Hungarian philosopher Zoltan Kodaly's method, which produces improvements in language and learning by teaching young children to make music.

"Then we have a listening centre where we use music to help children who have communication, learning or behaviour problems. These can be caused by a fault in the listening process that we can correct using a special machine.

"Finally, there is Room 13, aimed at older pupils who want to work on music-making with a musician-in-residence."

At Sacred Heart Primary, where the listening centre and Room 13 are located, the pupil management committee for the latter has been taking important decisions about how it will be run.

As the talking stops the delegates disperse, irresistibly drawn to the xylophones, drums, guitars, bodhrans, bongos and recorders scattered around the large room decorated with children's artwork. A few pause to explain how Room 13 operates, accompanied by rich tones and rhythms as its contents are plucked, struck, shaken, rattled and blown.

The idea of Room 13 began at Caol Primary in Fort William, explains the managing director, Kieran (P7). "They came and told us about it and everyone got interested. Their Room 13 was all about art; ours concentrates on music."

Freedom of choice is the big difference from normal music lessons, says Danielle (P7). "In class the teacher says: 'This is what you have to do.'

But in Room 13, the music teacher shows us how to play all these instruments. We play games and make beats and rhythms and we're going to do a show for the school."

The room's facilities are available at breaks and during the day by agreement with the class teacher, explains the new chairman Christopher (P7). "I wanted to be on the committee, so we could change things. This year we are going to get all the P5s and P6s involved, so they enjoy it too."

In the listening centre, two lads are being supervised as they build Lego models, while a parent of each watches from an armchair. Big, black earphones on the childrens' heads are connected by cables to a bank of electronic equipment in the corner.

"My son's speech and social skills were delayed," says Mark Stowe. "So, at nursery he was assessed for autism, Asperger's syndrome and dyslexia, but he didn't have any of them.

"He is six now. He was referred to the centre by his school because he didn't seem to be listening.

"Ms Troup said she could help. We come here every afternoon for three weeks, then take a break for a month and then another two-week session."

Based on the methods of French ear, nose and throat specialist Alfred Tomatis, the centre's programme is aimed at children whose listening skills have not developed sufficiently, perhaps for social reasons or through illhealth. Children perform set tasks, while being exposed to classical music that is filtered to train the ear to focus on the higher frequencies used to communicate.

"Social and behavioural difficulties, like attention deficit disorder, can be caused by listening difficulties," says Mary Troup.

"If children have an underlying problem with listening, rather than hearing, they will not be able to learn.

"We are boosting and rebalancing the way children listen so they can go back to school and make the most of their education."

Mary Troup, tel 07776 146265, mary.troup@btclick.comwww.room13scotland.com www.tomatis.comSETTArts and Minds by Mary Troup of Sacred Heart Primary, Glasgow, Wednesday, 1pm

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