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14 | JUNE 2013

Music education in the Netherlands One of the most important things in life for many people is music, and unlocking musical talent at a young age can do wonders for the creativity of children. ANIKÓ JÓRI-MOLNÁR looks at the options available for those who want their children to learn music in the Netherlands. What’s so magical about a bunch of toddlers making hard noise with rubber ducks, plastic washbowls and rattles? And is this magic necessarily gone when they grow older? We find out how the joy can be kept for even a lifetime. I’ve seen this a couple of times but can’t get enough: all these small people, not even touching the one-meter mark, but already having a clear understanding of rhythm, dance and repetition. Some even make their voices heard. Their relaxed state of mind sticks on to their mums who are all there to make music together. Magic is born again. Some of the expat mommies are already familiar with early age music classes from their home countries, or even decide to pass it on through to the international community. Like Emma McLennan, who started out as a volunteer to give music lessons in the Maastricht International Playgroup based on her experiences as a mother and her training as a teacher of Mini Music Makers in Scotland. By now, the playgroup follows the tradition of music classes with another teacher, while McLennan has started to give private group lessons to toddlers and make it as a second career. She, as well as the carers of her small followers (aged 1-4) firmly believe that by singing and playing together they are helping to improve language, motor skills and concentration. But it turns out to be something

the Dutch also know by tradition. In fact, 25 years ago, a group of music teachers realised that the average age children start to learn how to play an instrument might be too late and started to work on an early childhood music education course curriculum for parents and their babies and toddlers as well as the teachers. The new approach, Music on the Lap (Muziek op Schoot), is based in Utrecht but has evolved into a network of over 400 teachers, each holding 1-2 courses a week for 8-10 children and their parents throughout the land. “After all these years, the basic idea is still the same: the child is always in the centre and songs and musical activities are always adjusted to the developmental levels of the children. Otherwise we give flexible and creative lessons with singing, listening, movements and instruments, and the ultimate goal is to transfer these musical experiences to the homes,” chair of the association Margré van Gestel explains. So as complex as families can be, this is also about teaching parents how to raise a child and find out how much easier it is to deal with activities by connecting them to musical activities. It also teaches the importance of structure in their lives. It can also give a sense of human connection to children who might otherwise not feel it. Eveline Arnold of Maatspel Maastricht, started out as one of the first to introduce music to the youngest generation, then went on

Photo: Rinie Bleeker

Photo: Rick Filipkowski

to develop a course for therapeutic purposes. “I found that while singing and making music makes life with every child easier, it is especially important for kids who are not developing normally,” the music teacher stresses. Parents usually start looking for this support when their children begin to move by themselves, filling all available places in the groups for 1-4-year-olds. After completing a course, parents often come back for more. “I still don’t have enough teachers,” says van Gestel. But she insists one of the key elements to this success is to keep the quality of the training by only accepting those applicants who have enough backgrounds as teachers or musicians. In an effort to adapt to every new piece of information the interaction between children and music, the association shares the latest findings of relevant research, one of which happens to be in-house. “This is a highly specialised field with a lot of challenges be-

cause of the characteristics of the age group,” says Dr. José Retra, author of Research About Music and Movement in Early Childhood, who is also a music teacher herself. “But I think it was important to develop theory around the Music on the Lap approach that can instantly find a way to practice and at the end, children can benefit from it.” Retra’s research suggests that children develop best when their natural tempo is followed and if they are surrounded with a broad range of musical experiences in both the class and at home. School’s in, music is out? By the age of four, when they begin their studies in the primary school, children with enough musical input are thought to be advanced in many aspects. “When I go to give lessons in a public school, I can instantly spot the kids who have had these types of musical experiences before – they’re more focused and their development is more balanced,” van

Gestel recalls. Regrettably, most public schools are too busy stressing the development of language and math competencies and only bother to meet the minimalistic criteria of the public education guidelines with the matching number of lessons. The primary school teachers’ training also has its deficiencies: regular training hardly prepares them to perform in class, while music teachers coming out of conservatories are an extra for a school’s budget. Because of the different requirements of an international diploma, schools like the Universal World Colleges Maastricht are more likely to offer music classes within their regular curricula. This is to successfully combine the expertise of music teaching with that of the ever changing class environment. UWC offers weekly music education for students aged 2.5 - 18 years, with variable lesson times from 30 minutes up to 6 hours a week for higher classes with possible specialisation on instruments and ensemble.


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JUNE 2013 | 15

Photo: Rick Filipkowski

community institutions and private educators brought a program called Get Lekkers to the schools of the poorer districts of the city. Due to recently being awarded a grant, the program can now get to literally every pre-school and primary school in Maastricht. Developed by former music teacher Marijk Greweldinger, it also accommodates moulding clays, drawing pictures, making collages, or anything else children are interested in – which is a lot. “When children are playing, it’s not a specific art form, but always a story in their minds,” says Greweldinger, adding that it makes art a starting point to teach many things about geography, history, environment and music. And again, this can be a kind of a therapy. “I met some young kids in these places who wouldn’t speak, but they could properly express themselves through crafts and eventually started to socialise,” Greweldinger explains. At her own artistic education Photo: Courtesy of Maatspel

They have three staff teachers and specialists coming from the Maastricht Conservatory, with the latter also giving individual lessons for children after-school as an additional music school programme. In an international setting, students come not only with very different musical experiences but also backgrounds: however, this can prove to be more of an advantage. They form friendships regardless, which is good for personal engagement, and from the teaching perspective, the more advanced can effectively help the others. “Music is not just an education program, it’s also a way to connect the community,” Vandewege says. Budget (of the parents or of the governments) is something even a traditional music school like Maastricht’s Kumulus with a steady 2,500 students a year has to deal with. “I think music education is getting too expensive, and people don’t have that much money at the moment,” says the head of the

music school Annemie Hermans. As such, instead of giving only individual lessons on instruments and vocal arts, her school is launching a system of group lessons from the next school year in August, in an aim to attract more pupils by significantly cutting the costs for the families. “We also think learning and playing together is very important,” Hermans adds. The children will have 30, 45 and 60 minutes in a group of two, three or four respectively. Meanwhile, there is no compromise on one of the most important tasks of such an institution, talent scouting. Every year, 25 children with proved special capabilities are selected for the talent class to later advance to the conservatory or another form of higher music education. Like the way you do this With a committed community, even public schools can find ways to fit quality arts in. In Maastricht, a cooperation of local art and

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enterprise, Het Brede Spoor, she uses a holistic approach and says families are the ultimate unit to get the message through. “These children, aged 2.5-10, still have close relations with their parents, so we’re getting together even in the weekends to go to concerts or exhibitions together with the families.” In Rotterdam, the Ieder kind een Instrument (One instrument for every child) program was developed and launched by the local institute for art education Stichting Kunstzinnige Vorming Rotterdam as a pilot five years ago. It has grown by now to accommodate 50 music teachers, each of them visiting one of the 22 participating schools once a week. The city thinks that by supporting music education, the performance of kids in math and languages will also improve. The program runs from kindergarten to grade 6, with the first four grades singing in the class and getting to know the most im-

portant ideas of the sound, while older kids can choose an instrument and learn the basics of playing on it. In Imeldaschool, one of the first to join the pilot in 2008 and having already extra emphasis on arts education and singing, students can choose from violin, accordion, flute and piccolo. “We wanted to make more effort,” arts and culture coordinator Petra Schoenmakers says. “These kids don’t have a musical background at home and we wanted to give it to them.” The children are happy, too, so much they even formed a school orchestra, so that those higher graders already not in the program or the more enthusiastic younger ones get extra opportunity to play their instruments. Which, by the way, can be lent for only a deposit. When asked why music is so important for a school, she sounds surprised: “Who can live without music? It’s part of our lives.”


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