Talking Head

Headmaster's blog at Newcastle School for Boys

May 21, 2018

Singing the praises of school music

I’m writing this just a few days after the boys’ outstanding performances at last week’s Headmaster’s invitation concert.

There was a letter published in The Times last Friday from Sir Simon Rattle, music director of the London Symphony Orchestra.  He wrote: ‘it is every child’s birthright to have access to music . . . it is essential to the wellbeing and success of our young people . . . The future may be uncertain and difficult for the next generation, but unless they have access to a vital cultural education they will be unprepared for what this new world may require.  Our children need to have the artistic vitamins that will help to build a better society.

Speaking after last week’s concert, I suggested that there may be a stereotyped view of single sex boys’ schools as strong on testosterone-charged physical activity but weaker on performing arts, culture and sensitivity.  Not at Newcastle School for Boys.  The boys’ only environment actually liberates the boys from self-consciousness and encourages them to perform in front of their peers and large public audiences from a very young age.

Sport is often cited as developing or revealing character. Matthew Syed writing, also in The Times last week, about our excellent prize day speaker from 2015, Stuart Lancaster, suggested rugby is about character.  He’s right.  Music is too.

There were some truly remarkable performances at last week’s concert.  My inbox filled with appreciative messages from parents, staff and governors the following morning.  Beyond the obvious quality and breadth of performance and styles delivered from our relatively small school, I noticed more besides.

Smiles on the faces of performers.  Smiles on the faces of fellow performers as older boys congratulated younger boys – some as young as five.  And certainly smiles on the faces in the audience.

Boys displaying courage submitting themselves to the challenge, risk and thrill of a live performance – some of them for the very first time.  Developing confidence.  Being prepared to make a mistake – not that there were many that I noticed – and carry on, smiling.

Perhaps the key here was overheard in the words of our Senior School subject leader for music, Mr Hopkinson, just moments before the boys went into the auditorium.  He told them: ‘Enjoy it.  Smile.  If you make a mistake, carry on and keep smiling.’  What a fantastic approach to promoting young people’s enjoyment of music, their learning and development.

Music carries its own intrinsic value and worth.  It is good for our wellbeing.  It promotes creativity and also develops character.  We shall continue to ensure that our boys receive a healthy intake of musical and artistic vitamins.