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It's a musical life

Richard West, Director of Music at Loughborough Endowed Schools, reflects on why a musical education hits all the right notes

Posted by Alice Savage | April 29, 2017 | Teaching

Recently I had the great pleasure of overseeing Loughborough Endowed School’s magnificent spring concert. Bringing together 400 performers from our foundation of four schools, it showcased our finest senior ensembles and soloists, and culminated in a large-scale rendition of John Rutter’s exuberant Magnificat, involving both staff and students at De Montford Hall in Leicester.

Planning for the event started back in September and seeing the culmination of all that hard work certainly made for a joyous occasion – but it was about so much more than that. Awe-inspiring performances do not generally stem purely from innate talent but are the result of a tremendous amount of hard work, determination, discipline and creativity.

Concerts also remind us of the importance music plays in the life of the school. In recent years, our pupils have gone on to study at the Royal Academy of Music, the Birmingham Conservatoire and the Royal Northern College of Music. Undoubtedly it was the live performances in their formative years that helped shape them into the accomplished musicians they are today and motivated them through hours of practice and rehearsals.

We passionately encourage all of our pupils to study music at some level, although only a small number turn professional later in life. Nevertheless, it forms an integral part of the curriculum because the skills it demands can be transferred to other subjects. Anyone who sings or has learned to play an instrument will appreciate the dedication it takes to pass an exam or take part in a concert. Many of us have seen that pupils who can work their way through a complicated piano sonata can usually apply that same logic to a maths or science problem.

Richard West

As well as the technical and academic skills, music also offers a host of less tangible but equally valuable benefits. Just as an exciting rugby match brings staff, pupils and parents together, so too can a rousing musical performance. Not only is it an enjoyable evening, but it is also an opportunity for parents to appreciate the benefits of music as a subject, encouraging them to support our activities throughout the year. It does bring out the best qualities in pupils, as we saw at the spring concert when one of our students performed the violin solos in Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto and in the Mendelssohn violin concerto to inspire the younger pupils who were present.

Performing in front of an audience can be a nerve-wracking experience and it requires great confidence. The pupils have usually invested a huge amount of time into learning their pieces and we do all we can to ensure they are comfortable with their part. Yes, they have to read from the score on the night, but they also have three months to hone their knowledge and understanding of the music.

Anxiety before the show is natural and almost all of our young musicians worry about making mistakes. Often their fears are unfounded but it should be remembered that they are children not professionals. I encourage them to confront their fear and handle any setbacks as best they can. In fact, I even tell our pupils that if they’re going to make a mistake – we want to hear it!

Music is a hugely important part of education, and the dedication to learn and perform in events such as our spring concert grow both soft and technical skills all of us need throughout our lives, no matter what career is chosen.   


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