Despite studies that show how music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities and lead to improved academic performance, music education has been disappearing from schools in recent decades, due to reduced funding for the arts and a heavier focus on academic test results.
The proof that structured music instruction can improve a child’s ability to plan, organize, and complete tasks has now been harmoniously demonstrated by a community school in Walthamstow, England—which boosted test scores by embracing a new melody.
Frederick Bremer School has risen up the scale by gifting students their own instruments. Every new pupil who enters the inner-city secondary (middle) school is given a violin, viola, or flute and is mentored through three years of classical music lessons.
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has abhorred the government cuts to music education in public schools, so in 2017, he donated £1.4 million from his own foundation to provide free music lessons to 6,000 kids in the city schools of London.
“What the government should be grasping is that every penny you spend on music – not to turn people into musicians, but music as an empowering force in schools – comes back to you tenfold,” Lloyd Webber told Classic FM.
Frederick Bremer School was about to be closed before the new music program was brought in five years ago. Soon afterward, the school’s Ofsted rating, a system of grading school performance throughout the UK, was raised to outstanding.
“I went to the school, and in many cases, a violin was the first thing that these kids had actually owned. The music literally turned the school around, and within four years they got their first scholarship to Oxford.”
Head teacher Jenny Smith, who runs the music program, told The Times: “The school is unrecognizable from where it was in 2014. We are celebrating the best results the school has ever had.”
The program is now being expanded to schools outside London for the first time and aims to reach every school in England.
“It helps on every level from behavior through to academic level of achievement, and actually self-esteem,” says Lloyd Webber, “because music is an empowering force for all kids.”
Elsewhere in the world, the Country Music Association in America has taken similar action and donated millions of dollars to public schools in Nashville, Tennessee, while in Venezuela an inspiring program gives hope to the poorest children with an opportunity to travel and perform, thanks to rigorous classical music training.
A 24-year-old Hollywood film, Mr. Holland’s Opus, about a dedicated music teacher who impacted generations of students, inspired a foundation that has donated 29,000 instruments—including 75 of Eddie Van Halen’s guitars—to local schools.
Find help organizing your own instrument donation program at SpiritOfHarmony.org, a foundation that was started by musician Todd Rundgren.
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(Cowritten by Jennifer Zolper – Photo by Jim, the Photographer; CC license)