back to site

The Wonderful Gift of Music

January 5th, 2011

I want to share with you an amazing two hours watching The Music Instinct on Sky Arts. This documentary should be compulsory viewing for all those interested in education, health care and the social sciences, and priority viewing for everyone else. Anthony Storr illustrated in his book Music and the Mind that it can have a special value for children with learning difficulties. I am indebted to my music teacher who played records to us with, as I recall it, fibre tipped needles. If music is introduced at school, it will last a lifetime. It has for me. With great music like great art you can touch eternity. These are moments that will last a lifetime.

Strangely the programme did not explore, as Emma Kirk the music teacher does in Death of a Nightingale, whether music that can be termed spiritual – from anywhere in the world – reaches part of the brain that other music does not. But it did explore the way that music acts as a trigger to emotion – happiness, sadness, terror, and provides a stimulus to the imagination. It also echoed my thought that it had been around since the dawn of civilisation. Archaeologists have discovered an ivory flute going back 30,000 years.

Neuro-scientists studying brain function with the latest MRI scanners now have evidence that music in early years can improve cognitive skills, make those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease more mobile, help stroke victims talk again, steady the heart beat of patients in intensive care units, contribute to the care of Alzheimer patients and offer great benefit to children with special needs.
I ask the question. When children with special needs are being taught in mainstream schools are they all being introduced to music?

Terry is my favourite character in Death of a Nightingale, as there is a subplot to the play in the music lesson.

Is there a God? More precisely is God, God of the Jews, God of the Christian, God of the Muslims, God of the Sikhs, God of the Tibetan monks … or just “God”? Or, alternatively, is God simply a figment of a very fertile imagination, a concept made by man in the image of man to give meaning to birth and death?

In this argument Terry is a younger version of Richard Dawkins, but perhaps even more disrespectful of authority. He echoes his father and the millions of those who doubt God’s existence altogether. He is a fictional character, but he is very real.

Terry does not believe in God. Very early on in the Play we know he is an awkward customer. He loses friends easily, but gains secret admirers.

He stays that way until the very end, even when he has been put on Ritalin. (Whether he should have been is, of course, another issue.)

In the music lessons in the play I look at the nature or otherwise of God’s existence through the prism of music. In sporting terms it is Emma Kirk, the Music Teacher, versus Terry. She certainly feels it is that way.

Yes, Terry is my favourite character. You will sense by now that I like those who cock a snook at authority. But I shall give the last word to Tracy. She very much reminds me of a pupil I knew when I was a Governor of a Special School. This was her contribution.

‘My Nana used to say that God was as near to her as a new born babe and as far away as the furthest star.’

And she says it to music.