Music makes the difference
Journalist Caroline Gleeson visits the Musical Youth Foundations’ “guitars for kids” project at St. Andrews Community Centre, Pearse Street to find out how the children participating in the project are benefiting from music and music education.
The Musical Youth Foundation is changing the lives of children for the better by providing instruments, sheet music, music classes and teachers to local community centres. However, there is a very unique aspect to the method of the programme. The music lesson provides a multi-pronged approach to social care which is extremely innovative and successful. “By introducing the kids to the arts, in this case music, you get them into a group situation where they can discuss their issues freely, in a relaxed social setting.” Lisa Downes, Youth Worker with St. Andrews.
The MYF “guitars for kids” programme is so much more than a music lesson. Of course, each child learns an instrument and gains a passion in life, but aside from that, the lessons provide a positive group setting which builds and boosts self-confidence. There is a big emphasis on the social aspect of the group; the children learn to be themselves and be comfortable within themselves. There is also a strong feeling of belonging amongst the group of young musicians which, according to youth worker Lisa Downes, is paramount to their development as the group are completely different, coming from different backgrounds, each with different support groups. “Especially for young people who see themselves as outside the mainstream box, it really gives them a positive group to be involved with. A lot of the group are very vulnerable young people, easy targets, seen as different. With the guitar, they come into the group and if they don’t feel like talking they don’t have to because it is a music lesson, but there is also the opportunity to talk about something if they want to and each one is encouraged to express themselves.”
The classes are maintained in groups of ten which allows for each child to receive the focus and attention they need. A general invitation is extended to a community and those interested in taking part are warmly welcomed. This September has seen the return of many past students and the introduction of some new ones. The halls of St. Andrews now dance to the sounds echoing from the classrooms and cheers of joy can be heard from every corner. The children quickly become acquainted with one another in this relaxed social setting and self-confidence develops rapidly as each child brings their own unique charisma to the lesson. Each one accepted as an equal by the other members of the group. No suprise really when you consider music has always brought people together, even managing to bridge the racial divides of the early 60’s. Acts such as Booker T & The MG’s and Sly & The Family Stone are recognised as two of the first racialy integrated acts at a time when black and white couldn’t share something as simple as a public water fountain without causing a major incident.
The success of the group is evident as teams of young, confident musicians took to the stage in May 2011 at the O2 Dublin for the Roger Waters gig and performed in front of 13,000 people. Something that once would have sent them running has now given them an appetite. Music is now their primary goal in life. Each child has been transformed by the music. “Music makes me feel really good.” Niamh, age 11. “It lets me express what I’m feeling.” David, age 12. “There is no right and no wrong, just what you make it.” Alex, age 12.
Youth Worker Lisa Downes has seen this transformation take place first hand. “When some of the group first joined us they would not speak, and were was so very shy. Now you can’t keep them quiet. The confidence of guitar playing has brought so much more to their life. And we see this take place every day. It is a learning experience, not only for the child, but for the Youth workers and volunteers as well.”
The benefits of the class are numerous. Social skills and confidence are primary issues which are addressed. However, other issues, such as concentration techniques, are also tackled. “One student could not sit still for more than five seconds; she found it very hard to hold her concentration. By the end of the year she had completely adapted. The guitar lesson provided a setting for her to learn these skills and this will have a very positive impact on her life in school and her life in general.” Lisa Downes.
Music has changed the lives of these children. It has given them a passion for life, a place of acceptance, confidence and a hunger for more. Once timid children, they now stand proud, instruments in hand, sounding out some funky riff or chord. There is so much more than meets the eye here, the benefits are staggering and room for growth is endless.
by Caroline Gleeson