An event that has been beckoning from my diary for months has been the Festival of Music and Health given by the students of Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury. What actually would it be? What was going to happen? With not much idea, I nevertheless received regular, confident messages from Langton music teachers Emily Renshaw-Kidd and Sam Bailey about the workshop I was going to give.
When the day of my visit came I could see the context of their confidence. The school is much admired in the area – it’s a state school, Kent still has grammar schools, and Langton, someone explained, is ‘superselective’ even. Be that as it may, its remarkable culture of outreach and discovery is evident the moment you arrive – it’s particularly notable for its Star Centre (I think my picture of Emily and her choir is taken there) where pupils collaborate with professional scientists on actual research projects.
This culture has spread over into music, and I met boys (even rather young ones) who were bringing music to visually impaired people and dementia patients – not in the usual do-gooding sense (and nothing wrong with that) but in a sense of scientific enquiry, wondering how music could actually ameliorate the experience of those with these medical conditions. In a packed programme in various spaces, students were giving talks about their work in this area. My workshop was timed together with a talk about Dopamine release in response to music, and I heard the helpful ushers in the corridor asking visitors “Judith Weir – or Parkinson’s?” Further visits during the three days would be given by Langton old boys Mark Padmore and Trevor Pinnock, and other very appropriate but busy people such as James Rhodes. In a week when I worried even more than usual about the future of our country it was a true encouragement – indeed a release of dopamine – to see these brainy but outwardly-focused schoolboys at work.