The Amazing Power of Music (Part 3)

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on September 4, 2015

Have you ever asked yourself why music has the power to influence or change the way you feel? We’ve all heard of the term ‘mood music’. But why is it that music can lift us, calm us, even make us joyous or sad? Music can evoke memories in us which in turn can have an impact on our mood. But why is it, as human beings, that we like for example, music with ‘a good beat’? Most music (other than some 20th Century atonal or serial music) has an indentifiable pulse or beat, usually grouping these beats in 2, 3 or 4 beats per bar (or measure). Why is it important for us ‘to feel’ a regular beat that we might clap or tap along to or move in time with?

I would suggest it is because to be human is to be musical. Certainly ryhthmical. We all have a body-clock. Our beating heart beat keeps us alive. It beats at a regular pace and when we exercise or get excited it speeds up. When we’re relaxed or sleeping it goes at a steady moderate pace. If we listen actively to lively, fast music our heart beat picks up speed. Music’s calming or stimulating qualities are not only related to the speed of the beat. This can also relate to the texture or timbre of the music e.g. a beautiful solo violin, a heavy rock band, or a film score played by a symphony orchestra. Composers and performers hope that the listener will be stimulated in ways which provoke a variety of emotional responses. Marches for soldiers, lullabies for babies, football chanting crowds, and hymn singing in church all rely heavily on the basic rhythms of heartbeat, pulse, breathing, walking and rocking to create group empathy.

We all like a good beat, because it’s intrinsically how we’re already made. The natural rhythms of human life and indeed the natural patterns of our world have shaped us to be governed by rhythmic patterns and cycles. We enjoy pattern and form and recognise and understand it. A key building block of music is rhythm and pattern, and as humans we’re that already. Is it any wonder we respond so emotively to music with a strong beat? And another thing. Our human body houses the most amazing musical instrument  –  our voice.

The Amazing Power of Music (Part 2)

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Creativity | Posted on September 2, 2015

After my usual busy day today, phone calls to schools, a meeting with finance officers, another meeting as part of a service review and finally a meeting in a rural school with a Head Teacher at the end of the day, I got home and caught a little bit of the Scottish news on TV. It was heartwarming to see a feature from Aberdeen where a family were able (with the help of an App) to build a music playlist for an elderly man with dementia. Although this gentleman was apparently at an advanced stage of dementia, the music tracks he listened to triggered his memory and he would sing along to the words of the songs. It also provoked in him emotions of joy and sadness.

I believe human beings are intrinsically musical. Even those who claim to be tone-deaf. And, as an aside, people claiming to be ‘tone-deaf’, just ain’t! Even those that say they are ‘tone-deaf’ still love music, enjoy it and can be moved by it. Our brains are hard-wired to form strong musical connections with long-term memory. A scientific study in Northern Ireland reported that ‘newborns who had been exposed to the theme of a popular TV programme during pregnancy exhibited changes in heart-rate, number of movements and behavioural state 2-4 days after birth. These effects could be attributed to pre-natal exposure alone and not to post-natal exposure or genetic dispostion, and were specific to the tune learned.’  The mums had been watching ‘Neighbours’ during pregnancy and the babies had learned the tune before birth.

People with diseases that have damaged the brain can have a greatly enhanced quality of life through listening to favourite music tracks. Families can help in preparing these, as they know what musical favourites will likely be enjoyed and remembered by the dementia patient. There are many ways music can and does impact on our lives. Take for example a menial task like washing the dishes (for those that don’t have dishwasher machines!). The task is made so much more enjoyable if music you enjoy is playing, is it not? Why is it that music can actually change our mood? Why is it that we like music with a strong ‘beat’? In my next post, I’ll do my best to put forward some reasons for these.

 

The Amazing Power of Music (Part 1)

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Creativity, Science | Posted on August 31, 2015

Clear evidence of the power of music continues to emerge. Scientists at Queen Mary University in London have now proved that listening to music before, during and after surgery can reduce pain, anxiety and the need for painkillers. Published in ‘The Lancet’ in August 2015, the findings clearly demonstrated a link between playing music in the operating theatre and a significant reduction in post-operative pain, post-operative anxiety and requirements for post-operative pain relief medication. Research in the ‘music as medicine’ area has been ongoing and developing over recent years. Indeed there are medical texts dating back to the 19th century discussing the benefits of listening to music to reduce anxiety and pain. In Germany, Dr Ralph Spintge has used music in clinical settings. He found that patients required significantly reduced amounts of anaesthetic for certain painful procedures if they first listened to relaxing music. Are we surprised by this? Does music not have a powerful effect on us in various aspects of our lives?

Dr Oliver Sacks, the eminent neurologist passed away earlier this week. He was an acclaimed medical doctor and an author. Of music he said ‘One does not need to have any formal knowledge of music – nor, indeed, to be particularly ”musical”  –  to enjoy music and to respond to it at the deepest levels. Music is part of being human, and there is no human culture in which it is not highly developed and esteemed.’

I believe, perhaps intuitively, but also based on much growing evidence, that we are, as humans, intrinsically musical. If that is indeed the case, the implications for the potential impact of music on our lives is great. One of the most important discoveries of modern neuropsychiatry is that the two halves of the human brain have distinctly different functions. Scientific experiments have shown that the two hemispheres of the brain respond exclusively to different musical intervals. Dissonant and discordant sounds are registered in the left (language, verbal, logical, sequential) side of the brain. Concordant intervals (pleasing sounds) lie exclusively in the emotional, imaginative, spatially aware, rhythmic and melodic right side of the brain. It has been found that the more academically a musician is trained, the more his/her left hemisphere is brought into play because it is a learning skill (left brain). Dr Paul Robertson suggests that this is why ‘academic’ musicians write music that is difficult for most people to listen to and even harder to enjoy.

It is now widely accepted that music can bring great benefit to Alzheimer’s sufferers. Music can evoke emotion in even the most advanced of dementia patients. The afore-mentioned Dr Oliver Sacks once said that ‘Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory……it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.’  This fact alone demonstrates to me, the amazing power of music.

Education – ‘a messy business’

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Learning & Teaching | Posted on October 12, 2014

Once upon a time,  at a teacher inset event (it seems a very long time ago) I remember Brian Boyd (Emeritus Professor at Strathclyde University) saying ‘Education is a messy business’. I’m not sure if he was quoting a favourite luminary or giving his own thoughts, but after more than 35 years in ‘education’, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked in a range of very diverse primary and secondary schools (from Possilpark in Glasgow to Mearns Castle in East Renfrewshire) and also ‘on the dark side’ in a couple of Local Education Authorities. I’ve been privileged to see at close hand schools in the USA, Australia, Germany, Portugal, Malaysia and most recently in England. They’re all so different and yet so similar. Governance, local politics, resources, parental expectations, pupil aspirations and the weather are a few of the many variables.

Schools where teachers talk with each other on learning & teaching issues (often referred to as professional dialogue) and occasionally observe each other seem to be far more likely to be successful than schools where teachers work in isolation behind closed doors. If schools adopted a consistent approach for teachers to plan their work in a collegial way and, for example, discuss and moderate each others marking, there would be an expectation of improved outcomes for kids. And in a time of fiscal challenge, surely the only practical, sustainable way forward with ‘professional development’, is, in the main but not exclusively, for staff in local schools/communities to support and develop each other. The widest variation in teaching quality is not to be found between schools, but within individual schools. In my experience, every school I’ve worked in has had many teachers with talents and capacity for sharing their teaching methods and classroom practice with their peers. I believe that being ‘a good teacher’ in the 21st century requires adopting an attitude of a willing learner. That, aligned with a real compassion and care for the social and educational needs of kids can lead to some truly great outcomes for young people.

The one thing I’ve noticed though, particularly through recent visits to schools in England is that it is so important for young people to have high aspirations. I was talking to some youngsters last week in schools about their hopes for the future. Even in certain schools with low socio-economic demographics, it was great to hear of students’ plans to become “an architect, a forensic scientist, an optometrist”, and yes, “a footballer!”

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A Night on Bare Mountain

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Creativity, New Music, New Music Compositions | Posted on October 2, 2014

With the BBC’s Ten Pieces project about to kick off on Monday I’ve been motivated to come back to a piece I first shared with kids in my first teaching post in Glasgow in 1978. Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bare Mountain’ is deservedly part of the ‘Ten Pieces’ that kids will enjoy. Locally, we’ve got hundreds of kids from around 10 schools attending the Odeon in Dumfries for the BBC ‘Ten Pieces’ film. I hope Mussorgsky will forgive me for this digital arrangement of his music, I’ve certainly had fun putting it together!

 

Mood Indigo

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Creativity, New Music, New Music Compositions | Posted on September 28, 2014

Collaboration on a piece of work is for me, always going to result in something much better than if the work is done in splendid isolation. That’s the case for almost any task.

I composed a piece of music initially with the title ‘Scotland Decides’. I’ve shared this music with a few folks and been encouraged by the response. John Maxwell Geddes and Eddie McGuire, both Scottish composers of great note (unintended pun, sorry!) have given me very positive feedback. Legendary record producer of ‘Tubular Bells’ Tom Newman has given me very specific suggested changes which I’ve already taken on board. And Emerson Lake & Palmer sleeve artist and designer William Neal has asked if this piece be linked directly with an art work he’s been working on entitled ‘Mood Indigo’. I’m so delighted these folks have given me such generous, helpful feedback which can only enhance my work. Thanks guys, here’s the piece now called ‘Mood Indigo’.

Scotland Decides

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Creativity, New Music, New Music Compositions | Posted on September 17, 2014

One day to go as we lead up to the Scottish Referendum. Don’t ask me why, but I decided last night to write a piece of music for piano which I’ve unimaginatively entitled ‘Scotland Decides’. I’m not saying which way I’ll be voting, just that I will be. It will be probably be a very narrow contest, with delighted and disappointed voters almost in equal measure. Whatever the outcome, let’s move forward carefully considering the feelings of all.

Here’s my piece ‘Scotland Decides’

USA/Scotland exchange visit April 2014

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Creativity, Curriculum for Excellence, International Education, Leadership for Learning | Posted on April 15, 2014

Last week students in Northern Valley Schools, New Jersey welcomed 24 students and 4 staff from Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland. Families of students in Demarest and Old Tappan schools kindly hosted young people from Castle Douglas and Dalbeattie for the week of 5-12 April. This was our reciprocal visit to the USA following the American students’ visit to Dumfries & Galloway in April 2013.

SATURDAY

We had a good flight on United Airlines from Glasgow to Newark Liberty International Airport on Saturday 5th April. It was a very pleasant surprise to be met by Northern Valley friends greeting us warmly at the airport. From there we headed for Demarest High School to meet all host families. In the evening we went to the Ice Skating Rink at the Palisades Centre.

SUNDAY

Sunday was a day for host families to spend some quality time with the new arrivals. Our students were involved in a wide range of activities with their hosts. The weather was superb today and I was delighted to take part in a game of golf at River Vale Country Club.

A beautiful day for a game of golf!

A beautiful day for a game of golf!

Later that afternoon our chaperone group enjoy a traditional thanksgiving-style meal at Steve and Elaine O’Neill’s house.

Fiona and Chris enjoying the sunshine!

Fiona and Chris enjoying the sunshine!

Elaine & Steve hosted us for a delicious thanksgiving style meal.

Elaine & Steve hosted us for a delicious thanksgiving style meal.

Kay, Evan and April on Sunday afternoon.

Kay, Evan and April on Sunday afternoon.

 

Claudia, Susan and Nancy

Claudia, Susan and Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

MONDAY

Today we all meet up at Demarest at 7.45am and take a private coach to New York City. Highlight of the day is a boat trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. In the afternoon we visit the Reflecting Pools commemorating those lost in the World Trade Center tragedy.

Standing at 1776 feet, the Freedom Tower

Standing at 1776 feet, the Freedom Tower

Fiona on Liberty Island at the Statue of Liberty

Fiona on Liberty Island at the Statue of Liberty

 

Reflecting Pool at the World Trade Center site

Reflecting Pool at the World Trade Center site

TUESDAY

Today we have a very full and exciting day, starting in Central Park at the ‘Imagine’ commemoration for John Lennon.

Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York remembering John Lennon

Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York remembering John Lennon

We then head for the Museum of Natural History and then an opportunity for shopping at Times Square.

At the Museum of Natural History

At the Museum of Natural History

Our dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner features our waiters and waitresses also starring as Broadway singers in their own right!

Waiters and waitresses take their chance to sing on Broadway!

Waiters and waitresses take their chance to sing on Broadway!

After our meal we head to the Broadway show, ”Wicked”, which is for many of our group a highlight of the week. A truly excellent show.

Everyone enjoyed the show!

Everyone enjoyed the show!

 

 

IMG_9437Wednesday

Today, we all go to school, either at Old Tappan or Demarest. It’s very interesting to visit a range of classes in a New Jersey school. The schools are very well equipped with technology and other resources. In the evening, all the chaperones enjoyed a lovely meal at Claudia and Evan Cooper’s house. Claudia’s cooking is wonderful. I even took a picture of breakfast!

Strawberrys, pancakes and bacon….mmm….

Strawberrys, pancakes and bacon….mmm….

Thursday

Today our group takes on the challenge of the Project Adventure ropes course. Everyone has their own challenges and successes on this, with beautiful weather today helping all to enjoy the outdoor activities. In the evening we have a formal reception at Old Tappan with a few speeches and exchanges of gifts.

All smiles at the evening reception

All smiles at the evening reception

 

 

Dr Chris Nagy, totally committed to the success of the exchange visit

Superintendent Dr Chris Nagy, a great advocate for the Northern Valley / Dumfries & Galloway partnership

 

Cool dudes

Some cool dudes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Northern Valley hosts

Our Northern Valley hosts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday

Another very full day starting at the Empire State Building with wonderful 360 views of New York and New Jersey from the top.

From the top of the Empire State Building looking towards the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty

From the top of the Empire State Building looking towards the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

 

We then go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This massive museum houses a huge range of amazing artefacts.

George Washington crossing the Delaware in December 1776

Famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware in December 1776 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the evening we all board ‘The Spirit of New Jersey’ for an evening cruise and dinner. We enjoyed fantastic views of New York from the boat and also of the illuminated Statue of Liberty.

Everyone looking forward to the evening cruise and dinner

Everyone looking forward to the evening cruise and dinner

 

 

 

Chaperone team USA/Scotland prepare to board 'The Spirit of New Jersey'

Chaperone team USA/Scotland prepare to board ‘The Spirit of New Jersey’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has been a week we’ll never forget! Many thanks to all our friends and families in Northern Valley, New Jersey.

Great views of New York City by night from the boat

Great views of New York City by night from the boat

Professor Stephen Heppell

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Creativity, ICT, Leadership for Learning, Learning & Teaching | Posted on February 5, 2014

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Great to spend time with Stephen Heppell last week as he shared his ideas and stimulated thinking with us in Dumfries & Galloway for a couple of days regarding Dumfries Learning Town plans and the exciting new build school in Dalbeattie. Had a good chat with him as we drove (roofless, open top in January!) back up to Glasgow Airport. And just yesterday, Stephen was chairing the first meeting of an Educational Technology Action Group (Etag) as the UK Government in London (with Michael Gove) look to develop a strategy for ICT in learning for schools, Further Education and universities. No challenge too large!!

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2013 was a great year!

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on January 4, 2014

4th January 2014, time marches on, last year a distant memory. Well not too distant! On reflection, last year I didn’t blog much, partly because I was too busy. A lame excuse. Perhaps the real reason was that I used twitter much more as it is so immediate and easier to engage with. Writing a blog post requires me to sit down, gather my thoughts and write. But here goes.

So 2013, what did I achieve / enjoy / learn? In some ways it was an amazing year. I embarked in January 2013 on a science project with Professor Heather Reid MBE in engaging kids in primary schools with lessons live via HD video conference. I gave a presentation with Heather at a national education event in Glasgow in March showcasing the work with kids across 10 schools. In April I hosted 24 USA students and their 5 chaperones, a fantastic time of learning from each other and enjoying the company of colleagues from across the Atlantic. In March and September 2013 I hosted Chris Lubbe, personal bodyguard to Nelson Mandela as he shared his story and values with kids across 20 of our schools, a truly memorable and valuable time we had. I now count him as a close friend. In March, April and May, with the help of Professor Stephen Heppell, we rolled out an iPad project in 5 primary schools whereby whole class sets of iPads were provided as additional learning tools to enhance and engage kids in their learning. And following our excellent Schools Music Service summer courses and concerts I was invited to spend almost 3 weeks in Australia speaking at a conference and working with Head Teachers in clusters across the State of Victoria. I also visited several schools in Tasmania and we’ve now started in a very positive way to build partnerships in learning between Tasmanian and Scottish schools. I hosted around 20 Head Teachers from Australia in September as they came on a study tour to the UK. This summer in the UK, we had some lovely weather, and I really enjoyed our holiday time both at home in the garden at the farm and down in Norfolk and Cambridge. And to cap what was an amazing year, I became a Grandpa firstly in October and then again very soon after in November. In no particular order, below are a few pictures from 2013!

A school visit with Pete Lelong in Tasmania

A school visit with Pete Lelong in Tasmania

 

Had an amazing time visiting Sydney Opera House

Had an amazing time visiting Sydney Opera House

 

Interesting meeting with colleagues at Victoria State Education Department

Interesting meeting with colleagues at Victoria State Education Department

 

A class set of iPads for kids in Garlieston Primary School

A class set of iPads for kids in Garlieston Primary School

 

In March I gave a presentation in London at Music Education Expo

In March I gave a presentation in London at Music Education Expo

 

Jack, born October 9th

Jack, born October 9th

 

Chris Lubbe, personal bodyguard to Nelson Mandela, was a huge hit in our schools

Chris Lubbe, personal bodyguard to Nelson Mandela, was a huge hit in our schools

 

Inset with Heather Reid was great. Science lessons via video conference direct into schools with Heather from the Glasgow Science Centre

Inset with Heather Reid was great. Science lessons via video conference direct into schools with Heather from the Glasgow Science Centre

 

Stephen Heppell in our schools supporting our iPad development work

Stephen Heppell in our schools supporting our iPad development work

 

Wine tasting with Phil Brown near Wangaratta - best wine ever!

Wine tasting with Phil Brown near Wangaratta – best wine ever!

 

Harry, born 4th November

Harry, born 4th November

Our house on a hot summer day in July. Who'd have thought our friends Paul and Audrey would have the same car as me?

Our house on a hot summer day in July. Who’d have thought our friends Paul and Audrey would have the same car as me?

 

Mum's 80th Birthday celebrations!

Mum’s 80th Birthday celebrations!

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