Archive | July 2012

Portsmouth Schools Music Festival 2012

Were you told at school or at home that you couldn’t sing?  This remark was common in schools in what Howard Goodall refers to as the Bad Old Days.  Fortunately, thanks to Mr Goodall and his colleagues in their Music Manifesto, the Government was persuaded five years ago to back a National Singing Programme otherwise known as ‘Sing Up’.  The aims were to turn every primary school into a singing school by 2011.  Out of a total of 20,000 primary schools, 15,000 of them are now involved with Sing Up, using a huge range of music sources including 300 free songs with backing tracks, curriculum materials and sheet music.  So far 35,000 teachers have been trained to lead singing and bring the reality into schools and the project organisers hope to double this number.

As Mr Goodall says, singing or playing in a group is one of the most uplifting, rewarding, life-enhancing activities a human being can do.  I, myself, was a choir member and soloist at my own primary school in the 1950s and I have returned to group singing over the last 11 years since I moved to Dorset.  Some years ago I was sad to note that music was being sidelined as a subject in schools in favour of ‘teaching to the tests’.  How I wished there was someone who would make changes and this is where Howard Goodall came in.  He is known as the National Ambassador for Singing and he has his eye on secondary schools now for the next stage of the project.

So it was that I found myself, last Thursday, 6th July, privileged to be in the audience enjoying the third night of the four day Portsmouth Schools Music Festival.  I was there to support my grandson who was singing with the children from Solent Junior School in Drayton.  Little did I know as I travelled by train that afternoon what a feast of music was to be served that evening.

As I have a profoundly deaf sister, I am always interested in how children can be introduced to sign language and I was delighted to see the children signing in BSL for ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and indeed for the other songs they sang that evening.  Singers from Court Lane Junior School, Flying Bull Primary School, Gatcombe Park Primary School, and St George’s Beneficial C of E Primary School joined with Solent Junior School singers to produce a wonderful programme which included Keep Holding On, The One and Only, Never Forget and the rousing sound of ‘We Are The Champions’.  In my day we were obliged to sing music from what might have been known as ‘classical’ composers which was not always a stimulating experience.  How delightful it was to see the children making hand movements and body movements in time with the songs they were singing and all in perfect time thanks to the good teaching they had received.  That evening has to be one of my highlights of 2012 and I cannot wait to return next year.

Before the interval the Infant School Choir made up of pupils from four infant schools had entertained us with You Can Do It, My Favourite Things, Reach For The Stars during which we were encouraged to join in, Fabby Dabby Doo and Believe.

The evening had started with Portsmouth Grammar School Brass directed by Graham Brown playing a selection of music including the Olympic Fanfare and Theme and music from The Midsomer Murders.

Early on in the proceedings we were invited to send Tweets to @schoolsmusic which were then filtered to the main screen on the stage appearing on a continuous feed along the bottom of the screen.  Not for the first time was I pleased I had a Twitter Account.

This wonderful production of happy singing voices can only come about with the hard work and talent of a dedicated band of music teachers.  As a teacher I recognise the importance of a career where you can ‘make a difference’ to people’s lives.  I suspect that last Thursday, these teachers provided the children with the opportunity to do something they will remember throughout their lives and their love of music and performance will endure.  The evening has also made a difference to those of us in the audience who had feared that their children and grandchildren would not experience such uplifting musical events.

Well done all and I can’t wait for next year.

A WEEK IN THE GOWER

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A WEEK IN THE GOWER

‘What is it,’ I often wondered, ‘that my eldest daughter and her family find so compelling in the Gower, South Wales, to make them return year after year?  So, when a friend posted her scenic photography on Facebook, I took a long, hard look.  Once I showed my partner my Facebook page, the cynic in him died and the photographer sprang to life.  When her postcard of Rhossili dropped through the letter box, we were smitten.

My partner is a computer fledgling but he’s learnt how to search, particularly for holiday accommodation.  Last year we stayed in a super Peak District cottage courtesy of his googling.  Once again, he found us reasonably-priced accommodation.  Holiday cottages for two are scarce.  Often the only option is a property for four and to pay the extra, so to stumble upon a convenient studio flat in Mumbles with double bed, kitchen area, wet room, wall-mounted television and comfortable chairs was a gem.  Between 9th and 16th June the cost was £260.  No complaints there.

We arrived in blazing sunshine, walked the seafront with its separate lanes for walkers and cyclists, to the Lifeboat House, ate fish and chips from Yallops and drove to Bracelet Bay.  On Sunday, we walked into the centre of Mumbles, lapped up Sunday roast with wine in the White Rose for £5.49, catching a bus back to West Cross before taking the car in late afternoon to explore Langland and Caswell Bays.

After announcing our presence in the Gower on Facebook, we were inundated with sympathetic messages from friends and relations all suffering horrendous deluges or floods.  Thankfully, we’d chosen south rather than north Wales so no submerged caravan for us.  Seeing on television a woman holding up a dripping laptop, identical to mine, was a wakeup call to the importance of backing up files, especially for a writer.  The dry weather and hazy sunshine on Sunday was repeated on the Monday but, despite taking photographs, we still hoped for improved photographic opportunities with blue skies, fluffy white clouds and bright sun.  The emails, texts, photos, TV and newspaper coverage continued with tales of flooded gardens and pictures of Bognor Regis residents boating down the High Street.

But for us, things only got better.  The Gower doesn’t always share the rain in South Wales and Tuesday and Wednesday were hot and sunny all day, although we began to think our luck might run out for our two remaining days.  A dull sky on Thursday morning proved us right so we headed by bus to Swansea for some retail therapy and lunch in Pizza Express.

Our first impressions of the Gower were favourable especially the car parks which all hosted superb toilet facilities.  The Welsh people were friendly and always helpful with directions.  We discovered quickly the reason for our family’s frequent visits to Rhossili with its breathtaking views, cliff walks and large beach ideal for surfing.

I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren we have been to their favourite place.

Please be Deaf Aware

I have just had my sister and brother-in-law staying for a few days in Swanage. What’s new in that, you might say? Well there is no doubt a great difference between your family visitors and mine. Both my sister and her husband are profoundly deaf which means there is nothing that can help them – no hearing aids, cochlear implant – as the nerves are dead.

So here is one myth about deaf people which I wish to dispel – Can’t they wear a hearing aid? No, not all deaf people can use technology.

On Saturday afternoon we visited Durlston Castle, a short walk from the centre of Swanage. It was an enjoyable afternoon which was slightly spoilt by the attitudes of other visitors. When a deaf couple are walking around a visitor attraction they will interact just as hearing people do by talking to each other. The difference is that hearing people can walk and talk all at the same time. Not so the deaf. To speak to each other, they need to stop walking and concentrate their eyes on their partner’s face, lips and hands. It would appear that those on holiday who were visiting Durlston were in a great hurry, impatient to get to where they were going and their inability to get past this couple prompted large sighs of exasperation, exclamations and quite angry facial expressions. No, the deaf couple are not rude. They do not hear people coming up behind them and they do not hear you – you know who you are – say ‘excuse me’ even when you say it for the second time in a loud cross voice. These hearing people lack any iota of deaf awareness and only show themselves up. So next time you come across two people who are holding you up, just take a minute to consider that they might be deaf. My sister is very polite and she says ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ very clearly which is more than any of the hearing people did that afternoon.

Deafness is a hidden disability and there has not been enough Deaf Awareness over the years. My mother was a founder member of the Deaf Children’s Society, now the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) and if she was still alive she would be very disappointed and, dare I say, angry that things are not that much better since her campaigning during and after the Second World War. I am still asked questions which make me hold my breath and count to ten.

Should deaf people drive? Of course. They are more alert than many hearing drivers and those with loud music thumping out of their vehicle are more likely to have an accident, especially as they are singing and closing their eyes revelling in their latest favourite hit.

Surely they all have these implants now? No, there are many older deaf people and they cannot have the Cochlear Implant (CI).  These are suitable for some younger children.

Are they deaf and dumb? Most deaf people have healthy vocal chords but many have not been taught how to use them. The connotations of ‘dumb’ are negative and it is more appropriate to say Deaf without Speech now.  New terms such as ‘hearing loss’ and hearing impairment’ are sometimes used as the term ‘deaf’ is not accurate for all.  Most deaf people would describe themselves as ‘deaf’.

Weren’t you taking a chance having children yourself? My sister’s deafness is due to suffering meningitis at the age of six months. My brother-in-law does have some deaf relations but he married a hearing girl and has two hearing grown up children and three hearing grandchildren. Deaf culture does not see ‘deafness’ as a negative. The deaf world is vibrant and few deaf people would forgo having children.

Does she sign? My sister went to an ‘oral’ school for the deaf where she was taught to speak and lipread. In the 1940s and 1950s signing was frowned on but more recently there has been a move to ‘total communication’ which is the use of all methods, writing down, finger spelling and British Sign Language (BSL) as well as speaking and lipreading. Even deaf adults who were taught orally, eventually learn to sign as this is the best way to communicate with other deaf people. Also signing is a useful skill for times when an interpreter is used, for example in a GP appointment or hospital consultation/operation.

A few pointers now for recognising the deaf and communicating with them.

1. Deaf people do not respond unless they have face to face contact. If someone does not respond, rather than think they are rude, consider they may be deaf.

2. Always face the deaf person and WAIT until they are looking at your directly before speaking.

3. Get the deaf person’s attention before starting to speak by waving to them or touching their arm.

4. Don’t shout.

5 Speak normally but with clear open mouth movements. Speak slowly though and do not let words ‘run together’. Separate the words clearly.

6 If you can’t learn BSL, at least learn some finger spelling so that you can spell out difficult words.

7. Try to use simple language and only essential words while still speaking in sentences. Deaf people cannot follow you if you elaborate your speech.

8. If you see they do not lipread a word, repeat it slower and more clearly. Failing that try another word which may be lipread more easily.

9. Write down information if they cannot lipread or do not understand.

10 Make sure your face is in a good light. Do not have your back to the sun or the window.

I hope this has been useful. Please comment on what is my first Deaf blog.