Tuning out dyslexia

Friday, August 17th, 2012

This article was sent to Children Webmag recently. It is partly a good news story about overcoming dyslexia, but the cuts provide an unwelcome sting in the tail.
Brothers in harmony

The National Schools Symphony Orchestra, better known as NSSO, is a charitable organisation which brings together young musicians between the ages of nine and eighteen. NSSO aims to help, challenge and encourage those young musicians who already excel in their home environment.
The standard of young musicians within the orchestra is of the highest quality, so securing a place on the course can be a challenge. When three brothers, Luke, 17, Patrick, 15 and Robert Baldwin, 13, all won places on the 2012 NSSO course, it was a great achievement. What was even more remarkable, however, was that all three suffer from dyslexia, which has proven to be a real barrier to channelling their talent.
Music as an outlet

Sasha Baldwin, mother of the three boys, explains, “When they were diagnosed with dyslexia very early on in their school careers, I became aware that music training could offer a valuable outlet for their development. I also knew that learning a musical instrument could aid focus and improve language and literacy skills. I encouraged Luke, Patrick and Robert, from as young as five, to begin learning the piano and they all went on to play other instruments.

“The boys expressed a keen interest in music, but all suffered the same issues with reading music to differing degrees. For example, Robert had to give up the piano after a year as he could not read two lines of music simultaneously and became very frustrated. What really helped the boys was having access to a variety of musical instruments from a young age, and the ability to attend organised music lessons”.

Classes were set up by North Yorkshire Country Council that came to the boys’ primary school and offered music tuition and access to instruments, such as the French horn, which parents would not have been able to provide because of the expense.

Sasha continues, “Having access to music lessons from a young age has helped them overcome issues associated with dyslexia such as co-ordination problems, and has had a positive impact on their reading, writing and spelling.”

Learning music from a young age has enabled two of the brothers to win places as choristers at the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge. Patrick, who faces short term memory problems, writing and reading difficulties as a result of his dyslexia, explains, “Starting music at a young age at primary school gave me an amazing start, and I’m now able to play the trumpet, as well as piano and organ. When I started, I found it difficult to concentrate and keep focused on the music. Learning to read music has also always been a difficulty, especially following the line of music.
But, having a passion for music and learning a variety of instruments from a young age has had a positive impact. I have much more confidence and self-belief and this helps me manage my dyslexia in a better way.”

Turning down the sound

Teresa Bliss is an educational psychologist who works to help children and young people who are experiencing problems in school. She is convinced that music can have an impact on the development of children with dyslexia.

Teresa says, “Dyslexia is usually thought of as being a problem with reading and spelling but in fact, there are often many other additional difficulties with dyslexia. It can affect language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation. Children and young people with dyslexia are often easily distracted and lacking in concentration.

“I’m not at all surprised to see the benefits that music has had on Luke, Patrick and Robert with managing their dyslexia. While it is important that a structured approach to teaching reading and spelling is also used, it should be remembered that music offers training in many of the areas where dyslexics typically experience difficulties, such as understanding rhythm, sequencing, organisation, motor co-ordination, memory and concentration.

“It is a great pity that over the last two decades successive governments have reduced the funding for teaching of music in most state schools and increasingly it is only the children whose parents are able to afford it that can experience the life enhancement and confidence that comes from learning to play an instrument.”

Music matters

Alongside the reduction of school funding, music education has also been impacted by recent announcements by local councils who have confirmed that they are pressing ahead with planned cuts of up to ten per cent to their music services budgets .

These cuts come in the face of recent research by the Institute of Education, University of London, which has established that students who learn music over time increase their general IQ by seven points, while learning an instrument improves behaviour, memory and intelligence .

Sasha says, “The planned cuts to local council’s music budgets are really saddening. From my own personal experience, without the tuition that North Yorkshire County Council provided the boys, they would not have been able to overcome their difficulties with dyslexia and effectively express their abilities.”

Rebecca Woodward, NSSO representative, supports this, “These planned cuts, as well as the removal of the £82.5m a year in funding specifically aimed at providing music education, sends out the message that music education is a luxury that children can do without . The experiences of Luke, Patrick and Robert, with the help North Yorkshire Country Council provided them, showcases why this is wrong, and proves exactly why we need quality music education in schools.

“Learning to play an instrument can have a positive impact on young people, as the research by the Institute of Education, and in the cases of Luke, Patrick and Robert has proven. We are delighted to have three such talented young musicians on our 2012 NSSO course, but I fear how many other similarly gifted young musicians we will miss out on when these cuts come into force. Treating music education as a luxury that can be taken away when times are tough is doing the next generation a disservice, and may severely limit their overall development.”

Patrick concludes, “It would be a shame if councils reduce music services, as the North Yorkshire Country Council’s programme really helped develop mine and my brothers’ passion for music. Without it we would not have had the same access to instruments and therefore may not have been in the position to secure places on the 2012 NSSO course.

“My brothers and I are really excited to have won a place on the 2012 NSSO course. We have the opportunity to play Hollywood film score writer Patrick Doyle’s new piece of music called Impressions Of America: A Suite For Orchestra. He has written this music especially for NSSO to perform at a summer festival and we can’t wait to perform it.”

The National Schools Symphony Orchestra
Established in 1994, the National Schools Symphony Orchestra, also known as NSSO, aims to help, challenge and encourage those young musicians who already excel in their home environment, whether in the nation’s outstanding County Youth Orchestras or some of our leading school orchestras.
The step up to the ranks of the National Youth Orchestra or into the world of professional music is significant, and NSSO bridges the gap between county and national orchestra.
NSSO appoints experienced and internationally acclaimed professional conductors, skilled at relating to young people and able to make appropriate demands on them. They have included former ENO musical director Mark Shanahan, Bath Philharmonia principal conductor Jason Thornton and Peter Bridle MBE. Over the years the orchestra has also worked with leading soloists including Peter Donohoe, Ronan O’Hara and Tim Hugh.
The first National Schools Symphony Orchestra course brought together 78 young musicians and since then standards have risen consistently. Now NSSO is looking to expand and solidify its growing reputation for fulfilling a critical place in the panoply of the United Kingdom’s leading youth orchestras.
For more information visit: www.nsso.org

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