Where there's brass, there's a high note

9th January 2004 at 00:00
Grantown-on-Spey primary is the setting for an ambitious pilot scheme to bring tuition on wind, brass and percussion instruments to all pupils in primary 6. It ensures a one-year loan of an instrument to each pupil, and tuition from specialist instrumental teachers.

The scheme was devised by Brendan le Page of the London borough of Croydon music service, and named Sound Start. It has now been rolled out to various regions of Britain, backed by the instrument maker Jupiter and its UK distributor, Korg.

Tim Barrett, northern sales manager for Jupiter and a former instrumental teacher, says: "Brendan le Page spent about a decade putting this together.

Many of the individual elements are not new, but the package itself is unique. Jupiter agreed to provide instruments for the pilot schemes, and obviously we are keen to see children learn to play them, not just for the sake of developing future players, but also for the benefits it brings to their general education."

The scheme takes instrumental teaching away from the traditional one-on-one basis and works with children as a class within the regular curriculum and timetable.

Grantown-on-Spey was chosen for the Scottish pilot because of a chance conversation between Tim Barrett and instrumental teacher Sheena Graham, both colleagues in the Scottish Vienna Horns.

Sheena Graham had moved to Grantown after 30 years as a music teacher in Edinburgh, and suggested approaching Mairi Robertson, the primary's headteacher. She was enthusiastic, and with the blessing of Highland Council took on the challenge.

Flautist Catherine O'Rourke and Sheena Graham visit the school once a week for a two-hour session with the combined P6 (there are 32 children in total), aided by class teachers Linda Cleworth and Gale Lee and Lesley McCracken, a learning support teacher trained in music.

Neither class teacher is musically trained, but unlike many primary staff confidence is not a bugbear. The aim is not to turn out competent wind and brass players but to instil an interest in playing as a team and to get across the fundamentals of pitch, dynamics, tempo and rhythm, using singing and clapping as well as learning to play the notes on instruments.

Catherine O'Rourke notes that many of the secondary pupils she tutors have not absorbed such information this early, leading to problems as they try to master more advanced instrumental techniques.

The children respond enthusiastically and are notably confident in their singing. They have also taken the responsibility of "owning" an instrument seriously. Mairi Robertson praises the inclusiveness of the project, and stresses the benefits for staff development.

But what happens when the instruments must be handed in? So far there is no provision to continue playing in primary 7, although the pilot is likely to run for three years.

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