Saturday 30 April 2011

The historic city of Denia, Spain

I spent Easter once more in the beautiful, historic city of Denia in Alicante, Spain.
Here’s a 16th Century religious artifact available to all, simply built into the wall of a house in front of the tiny convent. The convent is beautifully ornate and fabulously decorated. It’s hard to believe, but also a sign of the times, that there are only 4 nuns left now in this convent: two of them are recent arrivals from South America. In the past nuns were dedicated to a vow of silence and communicated with the outside world by written notes from behind a screen.  Fortunately for them, now the nuns can now play a full part in contemporary society and the beauty of their church and of the artifacts nearby, remain for us all to enjoy. 

Here’s a photo of a plaque which tells us that the writer Lope de Vega was in Denia in 1599 during the wedding celebrations of King Philip (Felipe)  III and his sister Princess Elisabeth (Isabel) Clara Eugenia.  The plaque was placed here in 1962, on the 400th anniversary of Lope de Vega’s birth.  Never mind the royalty, Lope de Vega was the renowned dramatist of his generation, creating a huge number of works including sonnets, novels and plays. He was a contemporary of Ruíz de Alarcón and respected by Quevedo.

Here’s a photo of the Asunción church: centerpiece of civic and social life in the city of Denia. The church shares the sides of the square with the city hall and the road up to the historic castle. Access to it is difficult at the moment due to a remodelling of the square where it stands. Now the ground is covered in fresh cement: when we were there last summer the ground had been dug up and we could see, just a few feet below current ground level, the remains of walls of houses from Roman times. Time after time, over the years in Denia, we have seen priceless archeological remains such as this covered over in favour of redevelopment: the whole port area of Denia is a living historical testimony,  but it has been buried forever so that blocks of holiday apartments can be built, such a shame.

Still, there is so much to see and enjoy, make sure you include Denia on your next holiday itinerary…

Saturday 23 April 2011

Easter procession in Denia, Spain

Last night, Good Friday, I attended a procession though the narrow streets of the coastal town of Denia in Alicante, Spain. It was a moving occasion, very well organized and all visitors were really made to feel welcome, even though this was clearly an act of devotion by and for the local people, not at all a tourist stunt.
The procession set out from the tiny San Loreto convent, now home to only 4 nuns, and wove its way through the streets accompanied by the town band, not playing out of tune like in Coppola’s movies, but playing with accurate intonation and excellent ensemble skills (sorry, but I’m a music teacher…)
The statue of the Virgin Mary was wheeled through the streets by a group of young people and followed by a group of women elegantly dressed all in black with the Spanish headdress and a long veil, “ la peineta y la mantilla”.

Then came the image of the body of Christ: a powerful statue laid across a platform, escorted by young people, priests and other local citizens and town officials.

Local people and tourists lined the narrow streets to watch the procession and then fell in behind to continue through the streets in silent vigil.

The end of the itinerary brought the images back to the convent, where prayers were said and readings were made from the Bible.

In this next photo you can see high above the altar the empty niche where the body of Christ lies during the year. During this ceremony several persons removed the image from the platform, wrapped it in cloths and anointed it with oils, and then carried it with care and reverence up to the niche, where it will remain wrapped in the cloths until Easter Sunday.

I have seen similar processions in Spain where emotions run so high you wonder if the focus moves from the subject, Christ, to the participants and their sacrifice. In some processions the image is carried on a terribly heavy platform and is borne on the shoulders by up to 30 men, and even sometimes they crawl on their knees with this terrible weight. In other areas, the crowd push and shove to get close enough to touch the image,  spoiling any sense of order.  

In Madrid on Good Friday I have seen people walking barefoot through the streets, and some even with chains on their feet, and others following the procession on bended knee.
In Denia all these excesses were avoided: at all times the procession maintained its simplicity and dignity.
During the final act, back inside the convent there was silence inside the church but considerable noise from people in the street enjoying their Friday evening and filling the table in the terrace cafes and bars to enjoy tapas and a glass of wine. On the one hand this noise was distracting, but on the other hand it showed that the Christian rite has its place as a natural part of society, not isolated from it, and it reminded me that expressions of religious faith and secular celebrations can live in peace side by side.

I think there is a mistake in my first sentence. I did more than just attend the procession: thanks to the generosity and openness of the Denia townspeople, I was actually a part of the procession, not just a passive spectator.

Friday 22 April 2011

The power of music education research

This music “has the same effect as tickling my toes” and this other music makes us think “they’re playing our song.” Professor Keith Swanwick, in his lectures for the MA in Music  Education course in the 80’s used simple expressions like these to bring home deep truths from the otherwise complex world of aesthetics.
I thought again about those happy Monday evenings spent at the Institute of Education in London  as I re- read Professor  Susan Hallam’s 2001 report “The Power of Music, the strength of music’s influence on our lives”  and compared it to her 2010 follow up study, “The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people” based on her research with her team at the Institute of Education  See also:  International Journal of Music Education 2010 28: 269 DOI: 10.1177/0255761410370658 the online version which can be found at
The 2001 study was commissioned by the Performing Right Society, which is the organization responsible for collecting artists’ royalties in the United Kingdom. I have a copy on paper which I printed out all those years ago, but have not been able to find it online and there is no mention of it on the PRS website. Hmm?
The Power of Music 2001 is a series of  short articles on different topics including Music in Our Everyday Lives, The Extent to which people listen to music, The Power of Music, Neurological aspects of musical processing, The Effects of music on individuals, Music in Society, among others, and is a review of specialist writing from around the world available at the time. These are followed by resumes of no fewer than 210 articles, mainly from music education, music therapy and psychology journals in the West.
Ah, there you are, the first sign of the times: I say in the West automatically, as I could not imagine a current publication that does not include significant contributions from Asia and around the world.
So? No, in the more than 135 references in the 2010 edition, 45% are dated after 2001, but the newer references are very much rooted in the anglo-saxon intellectual community. I just wonder how much study material the tens of thousands of young students at conservatoires in China will produce: Lang Lang has already shown us that there is musical gold in those far off hills. Nevertheless, a really useful source of research materials.

Striking it is how much we now depend on the internet, and our own free choice of music with almost unlimited access, the possibilities available to us to link with other musicians, create collaboratively online, produce high quality recordings with domestic equipment and share our work and our students’ work openly through Youtube and more safely through sites such as NUMU. Obviously, in 2001 we were not yet into all that.
Okay, in 1984 when I wrote my dissertation for my MA at the Institute of Education I typed it up word by word on a gadget my son laughed at when I finally showed it to him,  and my Aunt Edna did a brilliant job, with carbon paper and immense patience, of producing the final version, no tippex allowed. 
I would like to see more about the power of music with reference to the digital world in a IoE publication from 2010.
I just had a Tweet from Lady Gaga on my iphone with a link to her latest recording. She shared that information with me and her more than 9 million Twitter followers and before I finish writing this sentence millions of them around the world are already enjoying listening to the music on Youtube. At the same time I just had an alert from Facebook that tells me and her other 32 million followers that the song is available to download legally from iTunes. The social aspect of involvement in music cannot be divorced from the internet. Last September my colleague Pete Romhany brought his students from Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets to perform with my students here in Spain. On the Saturday afternoon they performed in the Hay Festival in Segovia, and by the time I finished unloading the van and got home for supper he had already uploaded a video of their performance to Youtube.   

So, what is new in the 2010 study? There is lots of very interesting work on the brain, and a recognition of the amazing  contributions made by neuroscience:
“When we learn there are changes in the growth of axons and dendrites and the number of synapses connecting neurons, a process known as synaptogenisis. When an event is important enough or is repeated sufficiently often synapses and neurons fire repeatedly indicating that this event is worth remembering (Fields, 2005).“

Then we find a series of reviews of the literature on topics such as Transfer of Learning, Perceptual and Language Skills, with the conclusion: “Overall, the evidence suggests that engagement with music plays a major role in developing perceptual processing systems which facilitate the encoding and identification of speech sounds and patterns, the earlier the exposure to active music participation and the greater the length of participation the greater the impact. Transfer of these skills is automatic and contributes not only to language development but also to literacy.”
Literacy, Numeracy, Intellectual development, General attainment, Creativity, Personal and Social development, Physical development, health and well-being are the following sections covered, all with abundant references to the available literature.
2001 or 2010 version? Both studies are examples of drawing conclusions from surveys and empirical observations. As always, you will only appreciate the value of these works by going directly to the source.

Through Professor Swanwick’s reading list I came across Arthur Koestler, who distinguished three all powerful sounds: the Aha! Of the wonder of scientific discovery; the Ha Ha! that a comedian’s skill evokes; and the deepest, heart rending Aaah! of aesthetic appreciation.
I love the title chosen for these studies: I believe in the power of music.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Gap year opportunity: Global Citizen Year

There are many gap year opportunities for enterprising young people. A gap year is the English term for a deferred entry into college. I was at a conference recently when a university admissions officer was asked if a gap year is regarded as a positive factor in a student’s application. The answer was: it depends what the student has done during the gap year and how much he/she can demonstrate that what he has learnt from the experience will impact on future actions and attitudes.
Global Citizen Year looks like an excellent option for very highly motivated and enterprising young people who wish to defer college entry and are US citizens. Hurry, as the next closing date is 1st May. I have no personal experience of this organisation.
One of the distinguishing features of Global Citizen Year is that thorough training is provided, followed by a placement in a practical volunteer setting.   A process of feedback to collaborators and the home sponsors is also a requirement, and is specified from  the beginning. I like the way all the conditions of this commitment are spelt out before a student even contemplates this option.
I also like the fact that this project is aimed at pre university age students. I am convinced that this is a crucial moment in   young persons’ life, and experience with many students shows that they face their college/university life in a much more positive manner. The simple change from school to college/university can be so limiting for many young people. The challenge of facing personal development and of being made responsible for the success of a project can be a life changing experience and can result in a very much more worthwhile start to higher education.
See all the details at the Global Citizen year website:

Do Germans and Spanish speak the same language?

There is a great story of a young Spanish man whose boss advised him to learn Mandarin Chinese to improve his chances in the export company he worked at. The young man was amazed at how quickly he learnt Mandarin that he developed sufficient anxiety to make him visit a psychiatrist, who advised the young businessman to talk to his parents. They found the whole thing perfectly straightforward: they had been part of an army of half a million Spanish persons who went to Germany in the 60’s and 70’s to find manual work. The parents had worked in the kitchens of a Chinese restaurant, and it was there that the troubled young man had been immersed in Mandarin Chinese, sitting in his pram while his parents was dishes in Germany .
(I’m going to leave some quotes in the original Spanish, in the spirit of the linguistic nature of this post.)
Currently another generation of Spanish workers are about to embark on the same journey, and we can expect to see tens of thousands moving to Germany in the coming years, but this time it will not be to fill manual labour posts, rather specialist positions as engineers and IT  technicians:
“Se produce un cierto paralelismo con la situación vivida en los años 60 del siglo pasado en la que cerca de medio millón de españoles emigraron a Alemania, por motivos económico-laborales, pero los expertos en selección destacan una importante diferencia: “el perfil de los emigrantes es totalmente diferente ahora. El perfil que se busca en Alemania es el de jóvenes licenciados“.
At the same time, the number of German citizens resident in Spain is cited at  130,232 by Spain’s office of government statistics, making them 4,9% of the immigrant population.
For the 2011 summer season, Spain’s tourism ministry is expecting 9 million German visitors, a 13% increase on 2010 figures:
“Durante su comparecencia en el Senado ante la Comisión de Industria, Turismo y Comercio, Mesquida ha señalado que la reserva anticipada en el mercado alemán para viajar en verano a España ha crecido un 13% con respecto al pasado ejercicio, y ha informado de que instituciones germanas han indicado que un total de nueve millones de alemanes visitarán el país.”
In this context, I was happy to be sent a copy of a report published recently by the Sub-directorate of international cooperation at Spain’s Ministry of Education, called “El español en Alemania. El alemán en España.  (Spanish in Germany. German in Spain).
The report was written by Dr Diego Iñiguez Hernández, Consejero de Educación at the Spanish embassy in Berlin, with a prologue by the Spanish ambassador in Berlin, and a closing section written by three German specialists resident in Madrid, writing from a personal  point of view about the teaching and learning of German in Spain. (As always, I am writing this post on a personal basis and not in any way representing any organization.)
The importance of foreign language acquisition in the life-chance opportunities for young people is given from real life examples in the report. On the one hand, the President of the German Association of Spanish language Teachers, Jochen Plikat, describes how two of his former students, young German citizens, are now working in South America thanks to their high level skills in Spanish; on the other hand, the Madrid – based German writers comment that a number of Erasmus places made available to Spanish students are left unfilled every year because the Spanish undergraduates are not able to show proof of their level of German. Opportunities are available: the question is whether or not we are equipping our young people to avail themselves of these opportunities.
I have met Dr. Iñiguez and it is a pleasure to listen to him: his knowledge of education in Spain and its place in Europe is encyclopedic, and his expertise is founded on a perfect grasp of the facts and figures which describe the past, explain the present and give pointers to how to be successful in the future. When you talk to Dr. Iñiguez you realize that he is one of those rare people who carry this mass of information in their head, ready for analysis and action at any time. For the rest of us, more ordinary mortals, this report provides a gold mine of statistics showing the teaching of the two languages in each country, with a detailed description, region by region of education policy in Germany, recognizing that each “Land” has autonomy in education.
In addition, there is a complete list of addresses and contact details for all centres in Germany where Spanish is taught. It is typical of Dr. Iñiguez’s personality that he does not just write about what there is, like a true pedagogue he provides the means by which teachers in each country can contact their colleagues and take the whole process on another stage.
The statistics are profuse, detailed and carefully compiled.  One of the most interesting charts is the one showing the number of speakers of the top 11 world languages. Mandarin Chinese appears as the number 1, followed by Spanish and then English, with German in 10th place. According to an accompanying note, German is the language with most mother tongue speakers in the EU.
 In the column showing the number of speakers of these languages as a second language, Mandarin Chinese is shown at 178 million users, with Spanish at 60 million, and German at 28 millions. In this column for English no data is shown: for the sake of completeness,, I would like to point out that the English language specialist David Graddol has calculated the number of speakers of English as a second language at 750 millions.   
The complete text of this report is available online at www.educació and it is certainly worth finding, especially for the insightful introduction by Dr. Iñiguez. The introduction is a statement of intent as well as a formal presentation: he refers to the soft-power and public diplomacy influence of language and culture in promoting the national interest, reflects on the opportunities brought about by globalization. He compares Spain’s international  cooperation actions through education and culture with those of other countries, and offers his description of the contribution education can make to serve the national interest (I give you my translation but recommend you go to the original source in Spanish), including: promoting the country’s image; reinforcing links with countries with which there is already a close relationship; play a part in the development of countries which are countries of origin of the immigrant communities in Spain; and to promote the  acceptance and recognition of Spain’s point of view in other countries.
In case anybody thinks that all this talk of language and culture is a sideshow, he reminds us that the sector contributes up to 15% of the country’s GDP, thanks to a combined effort by a number of government and non-government organizations.
Dr. Iñiguez looks ahead to the pilot implementation of a bilingual German/Spanish Baccalaureate, underway in Hamburg and under consideration in other regions, the importance of which he describes as the educational equivalent of a lunar landing.
How refreshing it is to read the author’s generous recognition of the contribution made by teachers, management and government officials in the different regions who have made possible the progress achieved to date.
I was delighted to be a witness to one aspect of the results of the outworking of this policy  when I visited a state school in Berlin with my Spanish students in 2009. The bilingual section of the school was a reality, and my students felt absolutely at home with their Spanish speaking German contemporaries, thanks to their dedicated teachers and an effective, inspiring plan at the Education Section at Spain’s embassy in Berlin.
I cannot emphasise enough that this brief resumé does not attempt to be a complete summary of the report: please do go to the source, and be inspired, as I have been, and rest assured that it is real, as I have seen for myself.
Do Germans and Spanish speak the same language?
The question is not really whether or not Spanish and Germans speak the same language, but, more importantly, whether they speak each other’s language.

Monday 18 April 2011

What is culture? A European perspective

What is culture?
Performing and visual arts was the response given by 39% of respondents.

How many people take part in public arts as performers: 15%

How many people associate culture with values and beliefs: less than 10%

True or false? Women read more books than men.True

True or false? Men read more newspapers than women.True

All this and much more can be found free of charge in the recent Eurostat Pocketbook from the European Commission called Cultural Statistics 2011.

Most of this information is based on straightforward statistics, which in themselves are interesting, but not transcendental to future development. For instance, who would have said cinema attendance could be so high in some countries:
“In Spain, Luxembourg, Iceland and Ireland, close to 10 % of
respondents went to the cinema more than 12 times a year”.

Other information shows how some young countries are falling behind their provision in education, for instance, the study of foreign languages. While the average number studied is 1.4, in Ireland and UK the number is lower than 1.

The importance of culture is not just in the benefits to those participating: culture is a major source of employment:
“In 2009, at EU-27 level, 3.6 million people were employed in
the five main cultural sectors of economic activity presented
above, representing 1.7 % of total employment.”

Employment in the cultural sector is dominated by those with tertiary education:
“ In all the countries studied, the percentage of persons
employed with tertiary education was much higher in the
cultural sectors than in total employment.”

Culture is widely regarded as being a feature of mobility of tertiary students:
“Regarding student inflows, Austria (13 %)
and the United Kingdom (9 %) recorded the highest shares
of foreign students from other EU-27 countries, EEA and
candidate countries.”

Those of us fortunate to live in Spain will not be surprised to learn that this country is the favourite destination of Erasmus candidates:
 “Spain was the primary host country, with
33 200 incoming students, followed by France (24 600) and
Germany (22 000).”
As for who chooses to move around the continent, the variation in mobility is noticeable. Spot the Brits here at the bottom of the table. Is there a connection between our dismal failure to promote the teaching of foreign languages and the reticence of our students to move around Europe? First you have to equip young people to move, then give them the opportunities….

“ As a percentage of the student population,
the highest rate of outgoing Erasmus students was recorded
in Luxembourg (15.5 %), followed by Austria (1.9 %) and
the Czech Republic (1.7 %). Outgoing Erasmus students
represented 1.5 % of the student population in Spain, Malta,
Belgium and Portugal. In contrast, the Erasmus programme
was chosen by less than 0.5 % of students in Bulgaria,
Greece, the United Kingdom and Romania.”
There is so much in this report that it is worth digesting at leisure. I would like to point out that the concept of culture unmistakably implies high art. It’s acceptable if that’s what you are studying, but I can say that the powerful impact of a pop culture figure like Lady Gaga, with her 32million followers on Facebook, is a powerful influence in the emotional lives of the young and not so young in Europe. Still, that’s another story….
As always, I am writing here from a European perspective concentrating on Spain and the UK. Please forgive me for not including so many mentions of the other 25 EU countries.
Here is a very significant statistic: “Less than 10 % of persons surveyed
associated culture with ‘values and beliefs’”
Thanks to Rubicon Servicios Culturales, through whose Fb page I discovered this document:

More information on the European Union is available on the Internet

Saturday 16 April 2011

Every Breath You Take.mp4

Your special wedding day

Q: How do you know which woman is the bride at a Liverpool wedding?
A: She’s the one wearing the white track suit.
OK it’s a pretty awful joke and I didn’t make it up, but it does illustrate the degree of informality which has overwhelmed many sections of society in the West. In some ways it’s a healthy reaction to a stuffy,  over-regimented way of doing things, but the down side is that informality is also a reflection of absolute self centredness, that no one and nothing is more important to me so I don’t have to dress up, sit up or shut up for anyone, anywhere on any occasion.
It’s the It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to attitude applied to one’s whole life.
I’m thinking about weddings thanks to a message from Visiting Arts in the UK, a busy organization which promotes links between practitioners in the arts:
Apparently there is some kind of a high profile media event on 29th April in London, still trying to remember what it is…. Anyway, here’s the idea: Visiting Arts are inviting short contributions of 100 to 300 words, maybe with a photo or two, of weddings around the world, with some comments on  your personal view, how it fits in with local culture and a brief description.
If you have some ideas for this collaborative project, and would like them to be included in their presentation, the address is: and the closing date is 20th April.
Here’s my reflection on weddings in Spain.
I have been fortunate enough to be invited to perform music  at many weddings in Spain over the last 20 years, and have admired the simple dignity of the mass and the seriousness which the moment is given by all concerned.
The most spectacular moments have always been at the end of weddings involving a bride or groom from Valencia, the epicentre of Spain’s inventive firework industry. There’s nothing like playing the wedding march for the exit procession and being overpowered by the acoustic interference, let’s say noise,   of hundreds of firecrackers exploding on the ground as the happy couple leave the church.    

Oh, I remember now, all best wishes to the royal couple for 29th April….

Friday 15 April 2011

Music and Art in Education and Therapy Summer Course

I have just received notice of a course to be held in Vitoria/Gasteiz in Spain called La música y el arte en educación y terapia.

The organisation, Música, Arte y Progreso/ Music Art and Progress, has arranged summer courses for 25 years. Among their other activities they have produced a series of cd’s over the years for the children’s market, many of them by Fernando Palacios, one of the summer school’s speakers. The cd’s have featured his arrangements of children’s stories to symphony pieces, which I bought for my son when he was little: the standard of  production was always high.

Fernando Palacios is well known is Spain. He has been, among other things, responsible for the education projects at the opera house the Teatro Real in Madrid.   The education projects have featured his own compositions and his own participation, and I think I am not alone in exercising patience while we wait for a genuinely contemporary and creative music education set up at the opera house. Pedro Sarmiento briefly held the post, and that period shines brightly as a time when positive steps were taken in the right direction, not least in introducing Mary Ruth McGinn’s wonderful work with schools, which I have written about in a previous post: Mary Ruth McGinn: Opera in action becomes Learning through opera: LOVA (see 9th February 2011). This was a great success, and what has followed on at the opera house has not lived up to it.

Anyway, you can hear Fernando Palacios promoting his new book, and enjoy other conference presentations and workshops, divided in two groups: Feel and Use Music, and Working with Music Therapy.

Among the guest speakers is Dr. Inge Nygaard Pedersen. According to her publishers notes: “ is the head of the Music Therapy Clinic in Aalborg, a centre for treatment and research that is run by the University of Aalborg and Aalborg Psychiatric Hospital. She worked at Aalborg University from 1982-1995 where she created and expanded the MA programme in music therapy. Among her publications:

A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy

Theory, Clinical Practice, Research and Training

Tony Wigram, Inge Nygaard Pedersen and Lars Ole Bonde

The course runs from 11 to 14 July 2011, and full information can be found at

Applying universities' research to reduce energy consumption in schools

In one of the schools I have worked in I asked my students to go around the building and count the number of rooms which were unoccupied yet still had all the lights left on. Before they went on their tour of the building, pen and paper in hand, we all made our estimates: we guessed that between 5 and 10% of the unoccupied rooms might have lights on. See end of story for the results.
I had been especially struck about our profligacy in our use of resources in general here in Madrid by two encounters with attitudes in the USA.
Firstly, some friends from Connecticut came to visit, and told me they were amazed at the high pressure of the water in their central Madrid hotel. Knowing the climate here, and the ever-present threat of water shortages from year to year, they compared the water pressure to what they are used to in their very comfortable district in CT and were disappointed by what they saw here as unnecessary, careless and wasteful.
Soon afterward, I had the great fortune to spend 2 weeks near San Diego in California as a guest of the excellent La Jolla Country Day School Country Day is renowned as the leading school in the region, gifted with highly qualified and motivated teaching staff, inspired leadership, caring and involved parents, and facilities that are just a dream for many school students around the world. Day after day I noticed there was something missing the moment anyone entered a room, yet it took me quite some time to work it out. I realised eventually that my instant reaction was to flick on the light switch, yet my hosts did not do this. One after another, classes took place using natural light, even thought the well designed building leaves most rooms sheltered from direct sun. I was very impressed by this sensible use of electricity, an excellent model for the California students, and one I thought I should bring back with me to Spain.

Thanks to a message from the Daily Good, at, I came across this really interesting project in Brighton, England. Local residents in a single street have been issued with metres to monitor their energy consumption, and facilities to compare it with other users in their neighbourhood and around the world. A street artist has painted a graphic on the ground and on it he plots the daily use of energy by the residents. Guess what: consumption has reduced by 15% since this project started.

In times of severe cuts in government support of universities in the UK, it is important to point out that this project is part of a research collaboration between several higher education institutions. According to the web page notes:
“ The Tidy Street Project is part of CHANGE, an EPSRC funded research collaboration between The Open University, Goldsmiths, Sussex University and Nottingham University.”
The results of our impromptu survey around the building found no less than 27% of unoccupied rooms had all the lights on. Our estimates were wildly inaccurate and my students were scandalised. I suspect there would be a similar result in many buildings of all kinds in Spain: we really need a greater awareness of the consequences of our profligacy.
Why not try it in your place of work or leisure and plot some results?

When Yo-Yo Ma Met Lil Buck -The Daily Beast -

When Yo-Yo Ma Met Lil Buck -The Daily Beast -

I just watched this beautiful video via The Daily Beast, which picked it up from YouTube.
Here's the explanation that goes with it from film director Spike Jonze:

"The other day, I was lucky enough to be at an event to bring the arts back into schools and got to see an amazing collaboration between Yo-Yo Ma and a young dancer in LA, Lil Buck. Someone who knows Yo-Yo Ma had seen Lil Buck on YouTube and put them together. The dancing is Lil Buck's own creation and unlike anything I've seen. Hope you enjoy."

Thursday 14 April 2011

Learning for Jobs: relevance for secondary schools

“I don’t need your *** exams; I don’t need your *** school. My dad’s got a stall at the market, I already work with him whenever I can, and that’s what I’ll do as soon as I can get out of this place.”
That was a 16 year old pupil at a school I taught at in Peckham, south London, around 1983.
“No problem, all I’ve got to do is get to university and my Dad’s got a place for me in the company.”
That was a 16 year old pupil in, let’s say, another European city at a private school some years later.
The attitude is the same, and equally unfortunate. I often wonder about the young Londoner. What was his Plan B for when trade in the market stalls declined? What high level skills could he offer to prospective employers when his dad sold up his stock and went to work in a pub?
I also think of the second young man, especially after reading in the business press that his father’s company has been the subject of a takeover by a multinational firm who have replaced local staff with qualified executives from around the world.
These 2 students, at least, never got into the 3G generation of work attitude.
I have just read the Synthesis Report of the OECD Reviews of Vocational Education & Training, published in 2010, and available at:,3746,en_2649_39263238_43736957_1_1_1_1,00.html
The report refers to work experience and apprenticeships in VET, but I think it has a number of relevant points for Secondary education as well. I am especially interested as I have been involved in arranging a Workshadowing programme for Year 11 (10th Grade) students at different schools, and this has always been a great success.
The Foreword of the OECD report includes the comment: “Those graduating from vocational programmes need to be equipped not just with the skills that will get them their first job, but also with the broader capacities for learning on and off the job that will support career development in a labour market undergoing rapid evolution...”
I think this applies not just to VET students, but to all students, including those who will follow highly academic courses. The broader capacities for learning are essential for all our students, and workplace experience can help prepare them in their acquisition.
The report identifies several kinds of Workplace Learning:
Job Shadowing, Service Learning (voluntary work), Internships, Apprenticeships, Employee Training and Informal learning through Part-time work. (p.106)
Work experience is an excellent form of careers guidance. As the report says: “Through such experience young people can be introduced to some of the choices they will face in their professional and learning pathways.” (P. 85) In the United States, this sort of experience is called Career Exploration. I like that expression as it neatly sums up one aspect of work experience.
Work experience is one more way of limiting social disadvantage. If school and other agencies arrange experiences which introduce students to new experiences, we increase the potential for social mobility. The report explains that reliance on parents for careers advice can be limiting: “... may also tend to reinforce existing social disadvantages since, for example, poorly educated parents may not be in a position to advise their children on the full range of career options which might be open to them”. (p 78). Does that remind you of my student from south London?
The European Union has established a series of skills which it requires all member states to provide in its citizens through their education systems. These skills, or competencies, are recognized as being crucial to providing a base for life-long learning:
“The European framework for key competences
The European framework for key competences for lifelong learning, released at the end of 2006, identifies and defines the key abilities and knowledge that everyone needs in order to achieve employment, personal fulfilment, social inclusion and active citizenship in today's rapidly-changing world.
The framework includes competences in ‘traditional’ subjects, such as mother tongue literacy, numeracy, knowledge of foreign languages, science and IT skills. But it also covers other skills, such as learning to learn, social and civic competence, initiative-taking, entrepreneurship, cultural awareness and self-expression.”
I think there is no doubt that work experience can be an essential element in helping our students to acquire these competencies.
So much for the students: what do employers get out of providing work experience opportunities?
In terms of VET, the report identifies benefits to the employer in Recruitment Benefit and in Productive Benefit. (P.110 & 111). In a period of high employment, it is useful for employers to get to know potential employees in advance, and it gives them the opportunity to select the best candidates in their field: work experience facilitates this. In apprenticeship situations, there can be a Productive Benefit when the young person acquires sufficient skill levels to make a worthwhile contribution in productivity.
In a secondary school situation, can there really be a benefit for the company offering a workshadowing placement? Yes there can. After our first project, when more than 70 students spent between 1 and 5 days shadowing professionals in a wide range of business settings, a Vice President explained to me how fascinating it had been to listen to her senior leaders submit themselves to the discipline of explaining in detail their role in the company in language which a 16 year old could understand. She said it made the company’s commitment in time and organisation really worthwhile.
Additionally, of course, the company increases its notoriety in the community and its reputation. In many cases the contact person for our Workshadowing project was not in Human Resources but in Corporate Social Responsibility: participation in the project became another soft marketing opportunity.
Yes, work experience can help students to acquire those broader skills. Let’s hope it will help them to adopt a positive attitude to work, and to avoid falling into the work habits of the 3G generation: Get there; Get through; Get home.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

UK students spend 5 million euros in one week partying in Salou, Spain

Saloufest is in its tenth year, according to one of the leading national newspapers in Spain. Actually, there is huge coverage of this event in all Spain’s media, and it’s all really bad. I’m writing this post as an English person resident in Spain. This is the kind of behaviour that makes you think there is no hope for the UK and that UK youth is lost in the pursuit of selfish pleasure.
Basically, between 5,000 and 7,000 students from UK unis get together in this small town on the pretext of a sports meeting. It’s pretty clear that sport is way down on the list of priorities once they all arrive: the whole thing is summed up in a quote in the El País newspaper, from 20 year-old Daniel: Sport? No thanks, I’m here for the parties, the girls and the beer.
In the first place, it’s bad for Spain, because it reinforces the country’s image as a destination for low cost, low quality holidays based on the 4 s’s: sun, sand, sex and sangría. The Saloufest is tolerated by local residents because it brings about 5milllion euros into the town. But this kind of short term tourism, replicated in one seaside town after another and throughout the summer, diminishes Spain’s prestige. I’m not saying the people who take part are bad or in any way unworthy of being allowed into the country. I mean that they will take home and communicate to their friends the same old stereotype of Spain.
How many of the uni students will return home without seeing the amazing sights in Barcelona, with Gaudi’s original architecture and its parks; or the Dali museum in Figueras along the coast. To say nothing of Madrid’s wealth of history, to be seen in its buildings and in its unmatched art collections, or Toledo, Granada and Santiago de Compostela, between them offering centuries worth of learning and history, with unique combinations of the Christian, Arab and Jewish cultures.
In the second place, it’s bad for the image of the UK. While the Salou residents are very happy to take the cash and clear up the trash left behind, the media are full of truly dreadful stories about the students’ behaviour. Just take a look at this search in El País for the word Salou, and you get 9 pages of links to articles. Typical headlines are: Hundreds of students parade naked through the town; Lost, a youth wanders through the streets, drunk out of his skull; As the night wears on the clothes come off – this one with a photo of a naked youth urinating in a shop doorway... the comments just go on and on, and they get even worse:
For Spanish people these are not some UK students, these are UK students. There is no mention of the ones who stayed at home and are working to pay their way, or, heaven forbid, even at home studying for the upcoming exams. No, just the assumption that what you see is what there is. And what you see is not inviting.
In the third place, it’s really bad for these young people themselves. Sport is meant to be a healthy, life-enhancing activity. Sport as an excuse for binge drinking is a threat to good health in the long term, and puts these young people at risk of terrible accidents in the short term. Nobody needs to read here of the damage that binge drinking inflicts on health, people far more qualified than I have made the case many times over.
Worst of all, I think, is the sense of waste: wasted opportunity, talent time and money. Imagine the good that could be achieved by 5,000 of the most talented, gifted, healthy and financially stable young people in the UK. These young persons are among the most privileged of the most privileged.
24.200.000 is the number of entries in Google when you search for Volunteering
$400 is the IMF’s estimation of per capita income in Timor Leste, in South East Asia:
5 million euros is the money spent by at the Saloufest.
What would you get if you put together 5,000 students, 5 million euros and a well organised volunteer programme for one week?
Thankfully, I know other young people in the UK who do not follow this destructive pattern of behaviour: young people who are hard working and serious about their uni courses, persons who take care not only of themselves, but who give of their own time to care for others, through faith groups, civil organisations or through volunteer work with established organisations. When they’ve swept up all the beer cans at Salou, maybe we can start talking about these students: less striking as news items, but more newsworthy by far.

Monday 11 April 2011

Is your child ready to have a musical instrument? Guest post by Taraneh Guidry

Every school year there is a sign up for Band or Orchestra.

So many choices these days. There are dozens of instruments to choose from. If this is the first year that the child gets to choose what instrument that they want to play, it's important to look at the big picture when making such a big decision.

If your child is entering 4th grade, some school districts offer Band and/or Orchestra. Other districts start Band and Orchestra in 5th or 6th grade. It's also just as acceptable to start your child in Band or Orchestra in 7th grade. Often it's difficult to know when your child is really ready for the responsibility that goes along with having an instrument and the extra practice needed to succeed in Band. Sometimes it's better to wait until the child is more stable in their schoolwork, and also at a responsible stage in their development before introducing an instrument to them.

Here are some things to think about when trying to decide if your child is ready for Band or Orchestra.

Are they responsible? Does your child do their chores? Do they clean their room and get all of their homework done on time? If you can't answer yes to all of these, perhaps it's better to wait to get an instrument.

Musical Instruments such as clarinets and saxophones use reeds. These reeds can get lost or broken if left out on the floor and someone steps on them. Musical instruments also have many parts. It's important to make sure that they are responsible enough to put the instrument parts in the case every night.

Does your child often lose expensive toys such as cell phones or portable video games? If so, then they most likely aren't mature and responsible enough yet to take care of their musical instruments and not lose them as well. 

Is it difficult for you to get your child to do their homework every night? Are they often found watching TV or playing video games instead of doing their homework? Practicing an instrument is something that your child needs to commit to playing for at least 20 to 30 minutes every night. If your child won't even do their regular homework, how are they going to practice their instrument every night? After a few weeks the instrument won't seem as new or exciting. It is often difficult for chores and homework to compete with all of the electronic options such as the Internet, YouTube, Facebook, Video Games and TV. When musical instrument practicing becomes another thing that they have to do, then it is often something that they will procrastinate doing, just like homework. 

Make sure that your child isn't also doing too many other activities. If your child already has a full plate of other activities such as swim lessons, karate classes, soccer, tennis, baseball or any number of afterschool activities, then they may not have enough time or energy to commit to practicing an instrument.

Although your child may beg to get a musical instrument and want to sign up for band or orchestra because all of their friends are, make sure that they are mature and responsible enough to add another activity on. Usually musical instruments are a one year commitment. If they choose to drop out during the middle of the year, then they may not be able to get into alternate classes. So it's a big decision, and it's important to weigh all of the pros and cons. 

Learning an instrument is great, especially when your child is ready and committed to learning to play an instrument. Make sure that you are also able to attend all of their concerts if you do end up signing up for Band or Orchestra. You will be their biggest fan, and it's important for parents to commit to showing support of their children's musical activities as well.

This article is by Taraneh Guidry a writer for TeachStreet.  TeachStreet is a website dedicated to providing online and local classes as well as piano lessons and guitar lessons.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Homewood-Flossmoor High School Big Band concert in Madrid, Spain

Great concert last night here in Madrid, Spain by the Big Band from Homewood- Flossmoor High, near-ish Chicago, Illinois, USA. Okay, I just googled that and checked that Flossmoor is some 35 miles/56 km from the Windy City.
Well, there was tons of big city energy in the set by these wonderful young musicians, led by their inspiring Director, Sarah Whitlock. They kicked off with an arrangement of Chick Corea’s Spain and ended with Johnson’s Sweet Home Chicago, neatly looking ahead to their flight back home today. I loved the trumpet section in Taylor’s Brass Machine, some really good ensemble work there, and the programme had lots of variety, including Bebop N’ Georgia, a moving I Remember Clifford, and some nifty Nestico.

It is not really fair to single out any particular soloists, because this  wonderful group of young people all excelled themselves, but yes, I really enjoyed listening to the tenor sax, the alto who moved on to clarinet, the vibes player and pianists. In your programme you use the expression set, by which I suppose you mean drum kit, sorry I’m English. Well, your drummers are great, very exciting and managed to add complex solos without losing the beat, not as easy as it sounds. Then of course, the amazing bass player, complete with Jimi Hendrix impersonation: do these kids know who JH is? And I loved your amazing trombone section. Just right near the end,  I thought we had heard it all, up stood the only female player in the band and knocked us all out with a power-trombone solo, following on from her trombone colleagues who had previously shone in their own right.
Years ago I read a book about Louis Armstrong when he was with a young man in King Joe Oliver’s band, playing a string of high C’s, and I was reminded  of this last night when one of the young trumpeters seemed to be emulating the great master.

The concert was organized thanks to a volunteer group working through a local residents association, called Encuentros Culturales Portugalete, who are funded by the city hall and sponsored by a local radio station, Radio Enlace:
Thanks to Santi and to Robin for arranging this concert when I contacted them after a call from my friends at Wens Travel, specialists in arranging performance tours in Europe for US groups:  Santi and his supporters have been arranging jazz concerts at this venue for the last 7 years, all with free admission, a great achievement.

I am really sorry not to have heard the symphony orchestra play: anyway they all made their presence felt as part of the audience last night.
I think the visitors should know that among the audience were many people who, like myself, play in different Big Bands and combos in Madrid, mainly for fun, like me, and some, like Robin Cooper, as a professional: you can find him at  and

Thanks again to Homewood-Flossmoor Big Band and congratulations to Sarah Whitlock. If you read this please could you send me a link to your photos, I’m sure they are much better than mine and I will let everyone here know the link.
I think Santi summed up how we all felt at the end of the concert when he said, speaking as a trombonist who is well past his 21st birthday: When I grow up I want to play like these kids!

Friday 1 April 2011

Big Society and Health Care: a personal reflection

I have just been signed off by my doctor to start back at work after some serious surgery so I think it’s a good moment to reflect on my experience in the light of the Big Society initiative in the UK and its implications.
Two of the main Big Society concepts are privatisation and voluntarism. I have been reflecting on how the imposition of these two concepts would have affected the treatment I have received here in Spain. To what extent can privatisation and voluntarism replace an effective national healthcare provision?  
I am lucky to live in Spain, with the access I have to the public health system, and this was confirmed by today’s article in the UK Guardian newspaper:
(Spain’s) healthcare is highly regarded – it ranked seventh in the World Health Organisation's top 10 in 2000 (the UK was 18th) – and, like the NHS, it is free at the point of delivery. It has an excellent network of family doctors and a health centre within 15 minutes of every home.
Through my workplace, I pay a monthly fee to a private health company. On its web page, the company describes itself as serving millions of customers in many countries.
This may be so, but in my case I was unable to get an effective course of medicines for my health problem through the doctors associated to this organisation, and  I was not happy with the arrangements offered for other treatment. 
My luck changed when I returned to the fold of the state health system, where I received an excellent diagnostic service and surgery at the hands of an experienced, expert and committed team of specialists who took a personal interest in every detail of my treatment before, during and after surgery.
I have been asking myself during these last few weeks of treatment why I am spending good money on private health care: in my experience, the state system has been a much better option, even taking into account the rather irritating delays in waiting for specialist appointments. Obviously I am not alone:
 "We only spend 6% of GDP," says Dr José Martínez Olmos, secretary general of the ministry of health, although if you add in private sector spending, it reaches 8%. Most people use the state sector. As in the UK, the private sector offers shorter waiting lists, but for major illness, emergencies or cutting-edge treatment, public hospitals are the place to go.
In my experience, the gap in provision between public and private provision is huge, and falls in favour of the public system. In Spain, at least, it’s not even costing the country an unreasonable amount, as explained in the same Guardian article:
"The healthcare system in Spain is not expensive," Olmos continues. "We spend €1,600 per head per year. This is a price that a developed country can afford."
So much for privatization as a pillar of Big Society’s ambitions.
What about Voluntarism?
Volunteerism, the idea of Burkean small platoons taking on the functions of the state, is the trickiest part.
When it comes to medical treatment, speaking as a patient, believe me, it certainly is the trickiest part. When I was lying on the operating table I asked myself how any of the 8 persons present could be replaced by a volunteer. The specialist who was to cut my nose apart and leave me free of a tumour which has been growing there for 15 years? No thanks. The anaesthetist, whose minute by minute care kept me from suffering pain and brought me around at the end? No thanks.
I suppose all the other guys were superfluous? As this was a local anaesthetic, I could hear the doctors’ conversations, including the lead specialist, who said at one point: You’d better keep a close watch on this one, or he’ll end up in Intensive Care. I am sure I needed every one of those highly trained persons to be there, and I cannot imagine replacing any of them with a volunteer. Volunteering is ok, but it has its limits. Would I be happy for a volunteer surgeon to operate on my nose? Stupid question.
Imagine a volunteer anaesthetist calling in to say sorry, can’t come today because it’s the grandchild’s birthday and I have to buy a cake…. Imagine a volunteer Dr Gray, well I’ve never really chopped a nose up before, but I guess it can’t be that difficult…..
The Economist writer certainly got it right, voluntarism has its place, but also its limits:
In practice, however, the idea has flaws. Running your local library sounds attractive, but most people lack the time and expertise required, and there is not a lot of money around to help them (thanks to the spending cuts)...
Never mind looking after library books, what about the high level skills required in cutting up my nose!
I don’t want to be completely negative, so I can give you two excellent examples of private enterprise and of voluntarism which I saw working perfectly during my time at the excellent Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid.
Every time I visited the hospital I stopped on the way in to buy my newspaper at the press kiosk outside the front door. This kiosk is privately owned and operated and provides an excellent service with a wide range of reading materials to satisfy every taste. Privatisation stops at the front door, thank you.
On the day of my operation I was glad to see a group of volunteers, clearly of retirement age, working their way through the corridors offering soft drinks and light refreshments in exchange for a donation to the national cancer research charity, the excellent AECC: Great volunteers and a magnificent cause, at the right time and in the right place, but no further.
So, that’s how I have lived the last few weeks, and that’s how I see the Big Society.
When you consider privatisation and voluntarism in health provision, imagine some really invasive surgery, and imagine it was your nose and your face.