Over the ages, many have praised music for its transformative power. From Plato (“Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education.”) to Bono (“Music can change the world because it can change people.”) we’ve been told countless times that teaching music to children not only isn’t a waste of precious classroom time but can be the key to unlocking students’ potential, developing life skills and shaping young minds. Yet in many schools, music still is more of an afterthought than the core element of the curriculum. Fortunately, not in Phuket, not at British International School, Phuket.
Even though I arrive at the school after hours, the corridors are still full of students; excitement fills the air like in a house in anticipation of long-awaited guests. And indeed, guests are coming – the acclaimed Desford Colliery Brass Band from the UK are about to perform at the school’s auditorium. I head there to find the band on stage, preparing for their performance. And the students are there too, warming up their voices, tuning up instruments.
“This event has been in the making for over a year and from the beginning we wanted our students to be integrated into the band, so they could see how professional musicians work,” tells me Paulette Wilkinson, the Head of Performing Arts at BISP, who manages to take a 10-minute break from this last-minute rehearsal to tell me more about musical education at BISP.
I learn from her that it’s not just on festive days like today that music flows through the school’s corridors. “Every single one of our students in Years 7, 8 and 9 plays a concert band instrument, an hour each week. Those who are more advanced play in the School Concert Band and have another extra hour of music after school” says Paulette. Some students decide to continue studying music beyond the ninth year and the School Band itself performs not just on home turf, but away – as far as Disney World in Hong Kong or, soon, on tour in Europe or Australia.
“Arts are strongly supported at BISP because the school has a well-balanced curriculum. Sporting students are very well developed, academically we are an excellent school, all to make sure that students receive a well-rounded education,” explains Paulette when I ask about the reasons behind the strong emphasis on music in the curriculum.
“When you play a musical instrument, both sides of your brain are absolutely fizzing together. When you play as a part of an ensemble, you learn how to collaborate, how to be more accommodating – it’s not just learning music, it’s learning life skills,” she explains and runs back to the stage to wrap up the rehearsals.
The concert that follows confirms everything she told me and is a reminder of the special kind of joy that only live music can yield. Do you know that feeling of being swept away by a live performance? Having a tune send shivers down your spine? That evening, I experience it all. The atmosphere in the auditorium is positively vibrant, each song – from instantly recognizable movie themes to A-list classical compositions – is received with thunderous applause, and the sense of togetherness shared by the students, the parents and the performers, all connected through music, is almost palpable. Music at school? Sounds like a great idea!