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The Head of Junior Music Mrs Coles tells us about the popularity of Music within Blackheath High Junior School and how the variety can be beneficial for our girls.
How long have you been teaching Junior Music at Blackheath High School?
I have been running the music department at Juniors since 2011.
Can you tell us about your background?
I am a Law graduate, having studied at Cambridge University and the College of Law in London. My career side-stepped when I took a decision not to continue with Law and started working in a school as a part-time music teacher and admissions secretary. An opportunity to run a music department came up and I haven’t looked back since.That was 2004 and I gained QTS as a general primary teacher a few years later. I’ve always enjoyed teaching the whole curriculum, but specialising in music.
I started learning piano aged 4, began cello at aged 7 and was a chorister throughout university. Music was always a huge part of my life – as a teenager I would get up at 5.30am in the mornings to practise for an hour or so before school and then later in the day would practise for two hours after school. It was a regular part of my routine and my family were very patient! When I was 16 my piano tutor lived two hours’ drive away. Saturdays were spent on the M6; my father would drive me there, wait while I had a two hour lesson and then drive me back again. I will always be hugely grateful for the opportunities I was given.
What is covered in Junior Music? What are your students working on at the moment?
The variety is huge – there is always some element of music being studied in KS1 (rhythm, beat, melody) often accompanied with dancing and percussion instruments. Music lessons need to be active and colourful, especially in a Junior School. Further up the school, girls begin to hone their listening skills and start to learn about composition and history of music. At the moment, Years 5 and 6 are working on four chord pop songs using Garageband on their iPads. Year 2 are coming towards the end of their string taster scheme and will perform to their parents at the end of March (8.45am on 29 March), Year 5 and 6 both have Tea Time Concerts coming up which provide an opportunity for girls to perform as soloists to an audience. The KS2 Choir is preparing for Bromley Music Festival in a week’s time and will be competing in a choral class. We’re also hugely looking forward to Chamber Choir performing in the final of the GDST Young Choir of the Year at Cadogan Hall.
Is it a popular choice of subject?
Yes. Music lessons are generally good fun. Choirs and instrumental groups are always a popular choice of club. There are hundreds of individual instrumental lessons taking part every week as well. We know it’s going well when we can hear girls singing as they walk through the school or watch them practising a dance or clapping routine outside in the playground.
What are the benefits of studying this subject?
These are well-documented but music really is a holistic subject and its benefits are numerous. Confidence building; social and communication skills; counting; reading; expression; coordination; maturity; listening skills; patience; perseverance; the list is lengthy.
Learning an instrument gives children the opportunity to pursue something that is not compulsory and therefore, they have to find a motivation for doing it. That can be to play like a parent, sibling or relative, or like an instrumentalist they’ve seen in a concert or rehearsal. There has to be a degree of understanding of how to play and enjoyment of it, but the more children practise, the better they get and then that cycle continues onwards. It can become the aspect of their life they take pride in which is incredibly important as children grow up. At some point, practising an instrument will always have its more boring days and becomes a chore. This is when many children (and parents) want to give up. But if I had a pound for every time an adult expresses regret at having given up learning an instrument as a child…the trick is to keep going and work out how to make practice part of a daily routine. Childhood is a much easier time to learn an instrument than trying to come back to it as an adult.
What are the benefits of studying Music at Blackheath High School? What is unique about Music here?
Both Mrs Gunton and I place huge emphasis on enjoyment and inclusion in music at Blackheath. In other circles, music can become a little elitist and inaccessible. Blackheath knows and respects the place music has in all our lives and the joy it can bring.
Is there a particular aspect of the course that students tend to enjoy?
This is as individual as every girl in our school – music is highly personal. At Juniors, performance is always a highlight – singing and dancing in an enthusiastic and hard-working group will never fail to raise smiles. The combination of the part of the brain used to memorise music and songs, excitement and nerves from performance, means that these lock into girls’ memories. I remember almost every performance throughout my life and I hope that between Senior and Junior music, Mrs Gunton and I are creating fantastic memories for these girls to hold on to for years to come.