The Power of Music
For as long as I’ve been alive, I think I’ve been musical. You might imagine this is down to being brought up in a family of musicians; but no ‘one as far back as I am aware had any real musical leanings, let alone being a ‘performer’!
For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve also been ‘naughty’ – never one to follow the rules, always challenging, breaking conventions, questioning the status quo, and giving my teachers a very hard time when I was younger (and maybe even now!).
It is at the age of 5 that my story begins – I was in trouble, for what I can’t remember, but I know this wasn’t a rare occurrence. I was called to see the Headmistress, in her office…
I remember having to sit ‘up’ onto the chair next to her desk, and how she was looking me up and down in silence for what seemed like an age before saying anything… (this is not exactly what she said, it was 33 years ago, but this is as well as I can recall it!)
“Simon, you are a quandary to me. Clearly, you are a clever and able boy and can be a joy to teach. But you seem unable to get through a day without upsetting someone, hitting someone, calling someone names, or just being plain obstinate. And I’ve dealt with boys like this before. But I have already punished you, sat you away from others, spoken to your parents and kept you inside at break and lunchtime, and yet still you rock the boat.
But here’s my problem – we have a very important musical play coming up in a few months, and the main character has to do lots of singing, and learn lots of lines and needs to have a beautiful voice. And your teacher says that YOU have that voice and that god-given ability to sing with beauty. But how can I give the main part in our play to possible the naughtiest boy in the class, maybe even the school?”
I had ignored every part of what she had said, up until the statement that I could be the star of the show. I suddenly regretted my behaviour, not because it had hurt others, but because it could now hurt me… I can’t remember what I said, but I was given the chance to be ‘The Merry Wizard’!
In a fairy-tale, I would have seen the error of my ways and straightened myself out, but reality is much more ‘colourful’. I continued to be ‘energetic’ most days, but I also made sure that I was a GREAT Wizard. I was off-script in no time and to this day can still remember my main song, it’s words and tune, and as my Mum tells me, I was a real hit when it came to the big performance!
As my school years went by, Music was then part of my story – it was the glue that kept me in mainstream education, I think. I started to learn the recorder but was stopped from being in the lunchtime group as I kept on hitting people around the head with my instrument. I then started to learn the violin, for a dare, and proceeded to eat a hole in the side of my shiny new violin within a year or two of having it – Saturday Orchestra was NOT the most engaging at times for a 9-year-old me!
I got more leading roles in Primary School performances – most notably as a sarcastic Angel Gabriel in a quirky retelling of the Christmas Story when I was in Year 6, where all the well behaved girls who were standard angels had to sit at my feet and look upwards reverently… this did nothing for my humility, and I remember tying one of them up with a plastic skipping rope as punishment for not showing me the correct amount of respect (this almost lost me the part, but not quite!).
As I entered Secondary School, I joined the School Choir – I was one of 2 boys who attended, and in rural North Yorkshire in the early 1990s this was not a universally accepted thing for boys to do. I was called gay, a faggot, a queer, and a girl, as was the other boy in the Choir, and we became friends quite quickly, partly down to this. He played the piano and sang, and I played the violin and sang, and the more I spent playing music, the more I found that I was good at it – it spoke to me at a fundamental level. The creativity of musical composition and making something that was truly an expression of ME was intoxicating. I wrote music with my friend, and we performed our compositions at the Year 7 concert – one was called ‘Reflections’ and both of us can still play it to this very day!
The other constant of my life was still there though – I was naughty…
The boys who teased me for being musical were the first ones in the firing line. I was one of the biggest boys in my Year, and I let that fact be fully felt. When fists just wouldn’t do, I used words to ensure that my message hit home, and kept going until my target had been ‘felled’…
And so, it went all the way until the end of Year 11 – I was academically able but lazy, charismatic but chaotic, creative but ‘crazy’, musical but ‘mad’. My Head of Year told me, in one of her many dressing downs of me, that of all the students she had ever taught, I was the only one who she truly thought was ‘evil’… I said ‘thank you’ and left her office, but those words have stayed with me ever since…
My Music Teacher at this time was a VERY patient woman – a short powerhouse of a Soprano, with both the wit and the experience to know how to handle me. She had me singing Andrew Lloyd Webbers ‘Pie Jesu’ to show my gentle side, and ‘Stars’ from Les Misérables to show my reflective side. She duetted with me as we attempted the Bach Double Violin Concerto when I was in Year 10 – I wasn’t good enough at the time to play it, and I think she knew this. She wanted to show me that I had still had much to learn and that my ego could often be my downfall… I try to hold onto that fact to this very day!
Music had been my ‘North Star’ guiding me through troubled waters, gave me a sense of who I could be, who I was, and what I could maybe achieve. It had helped my teachers to see something other than a ‘thug’ in front of them and had shown them what I could accomplish with the right approach. They began to appreciate how I was just ‘different’ to the standard student, not broken or beyond saving, just wired differently. The very thing that was my greatest strength was also my greatest weakness.
I became a Teacher to repay my Teachers for not giving up on me – to show my Music Teacher (who is still teaching Music and changing lives today – thanks to Mrs. Dawson!) that she made the right choice to keep trying with me!
I am now in my 16th year as a Music Teacher, and I am blessed to have shaped the lives of thousands of young people, giving them a voice they didn’t know they had, showing them a world so different from what they have ever known, showing young boys that singing is not ‘gay’ but is something that can lift the souls of others, and themselves. To introduce them to a life beyond textbooks, beyond normality, beyond conformity – literally ‘to infinity, and beyond!’.
We do live in difficult times – financial pressures make subjects like Music, Drama, and Art a ‘luxury’ for many schools, something that can be taken out of the curriculum and replaced with ‘experiences’, ‘workshops’ or not bothered with at all. But even in these dire circumstances, there is still the need for us all to keep our eyes and ears open – the troubled student in your class might just need to find their purpose, they might just need a different approach, and whilst they might be ‘naughty’, they could also be ‘nice’…
I owe my very existence to the teachers who saw that spark in me, who put their faith in me, and who I am still paying back today. When people ask me about the power of music, I can’t even begin to put into words just how life-changing it can be – it can lift us all just that little bit closer to the heavens, and in tomorrows troubled world, I think we should try and keep that in mind… but I am still naughty.