Music and the Performing Arts are the cornerstone of our curriculum. We have a music library that spans from Gregorian chant through Glass and Adams in classical music, and covers Gamelan, Samba, Tango, Mbira, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and McCoy Tyner and a wide range of nursery rhymes. Our music teachers need to have an excellent knowledge of music, child development, keyboard skills (and may play more instruments). Howard Gardiner identified a separate musical intelligence in early years children that develops before many fundamental steps in language and literacy and numeracy.
However there is also good evidence that music stimulates certain other areas of learning, especially in some logical and mathematical areas. Our music teachers also design appropriate background music for a range of activities, or the focus in other parts of the nursery. They chose music for our babies that may help them relax and sleep or be energetic.
We use a range of approaches to musical education including Dalcroze (a mix of Solfa/Kodaly and Eurhythmics), but music lends itself extremely well to mathematics (rhythms, beats, speeds, durations), emotional awareness (major and minor keys, happy and sad music), and to creative expression.
Music is also central to storytelling. Operas, musicals and children’s songs all have a dramatic narrative and provide a wealth for children to explore. Disney is wonderful for children. But so are Mozart, Rossini, Stravinsky and Wagner. There are amazing stories to be discovered, and children are just as receptive to The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote) or Cinderella (La Cenerentola, Cendrillon) as they are to Disney’s Cinderella or Snow White.
We also use performance to build self-confidence. Children are given opportunities to perform individually and in groups, in front of each other, other children in the nursery, and we have regular performances for parents.
Every year we run a Magnum Opus programme which focuses on the creation of a larger work across the nursery for public performance. In the past we have produced versions of the Magic Flute, Cenerentola and The Love of Three Oranges. Sometimes we get the children to compose their own work. We had 170 3 – 5 year olds write their own version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. They wrote the words, they chose or wrote the music, they designed the sets and the costumes, they rehearsed and then performed for an audience at the Unicorn Theatre. What was remarkable was the amount of ownership the children took of their part of the work, how much pride they derived from being able to perform something which they had created, rather than something that they were required to memorise.