What happens when you put an orchestra into a failing school?

Imagine a school in a high-rise housing estate with a reputation for poverty, crime and where most of the pupils can barely speak the native language. If you had to find a way of cutting truancy, the high drop-out rate, the appalling exam results and the despair of the wider community, what would you do?

In an age where music is being shifted off the timetable at an alarming rate and learning a musical instrument is only for the rich, a musical solution might surprise you. Eleven years ago, when Bremen East Comprehensive School in Tenever, northern Germany, had a reputation for fighting, aggression and graffiti, it was suggested that one of Europe’s best-known orchestras – the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen – should be moved into the school for rehearsals.

Disaster, you might think; but you’d be wrong. Certainly, the suggestion initially caught both parties off guard. Although the teachers were already hard-pressed to find enough time for learning and the musicians dreaded the prospect of unruly noise and a violent atmosphere, a series of projects was devised to bring the two factions together, including class visits and talks by musicians and the promise of help with an annual opera which was to be written and performed by the students.

Once the orchestra had moved into the school, pupils were given the freedom not only to listen to rehearsals, but also to sit between the professional musicians as they played. This brought them close to the harmonising effects of music and helped them to calm down and find gentler ways to express themselves so that they became more ‘sound’. The students were also encouraged to talk with the musicians and share their stories, broadening perspectives, demonstrating new possibilities, breaking down social barriers and opening young minds to otherwise undreamed of opportunities. Furthermore, as had already been proven by research, the music helped pupils to improve their reading and comprehension, language development, IQ scores and creative skills.

The result of this extraordinary collaboration was that truancy was dramatically cut, drop-out rates fell to less than 1%, exam results improved enormously and the atmosphere of the wider community was transformed. Indeed, the school became so popular that students from all over Bremen, even the wealthiest parts, queued up to join. The experience even benefitted the orchestra because it was discovered that children sitting amongst the instruments improved not only the musicians’ concentration, but also inspired them to make more beautiful sounds.

So let’s bring music on a grand scale into schools and mix people from different educational and social backgrounds together. Let singing and playing, listening and enjoying, sharing and expressing in choirs, orchestras and bands help every pupil from every country to become an inspired member of the community so that we can all learn how to live harmoniously together.

Sounds hopeful, doesn’t it?

Wishing you a happy and joyous Easter, Love Laurelle