The essential role of creativity

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If we want to live in a better world, then we would do well to pay more attention to creativity, says Marion Gibbs

Young people are truly amazing. I was very fortunate after Easter to be able to attend the National Youth Orchestra’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall.

This is amazing orchestra comprises more than 160 extremely talented young musicians, who meet together for intensive courses several times a year and then perform across the UK. This April they followed up their performances with a series of musical workshops at local schools, to inspire others to become as passionate about music.

Three girls from our school were playing in the NYO this Spring and it was a real privilege to be at the London performance. 

Not for these youngsters a bland and simple repertoire: first, they performed Percy Grainger’s challenging piece The Warriors, written in 1914. It is rarely performed because it requires a huge company including seven or eight percussionists and three pianists, who have to be capable of jumping up and striking very precisely the strings inside their piano with drumsticks or some such. It was great to see one of our students performing this feat! 

This was followed by some Bartok and a new piece by a young Korean composer. A stunning performance all round.

This weekend, our school orchestras and choirs performed a brilliant concert at St John’s Smith Square. Our three year 13 music scholars each played a concerto, or part of one: Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No1, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 3, and Bruch’s Kol Nidrei on the viola. 

These are girls who attend a “normal” school and are working hard towards their A levels in a range of subjects. Yet, many of the audience compared them favourably with music graduates or professional players. Young people can achieve great things and many of them have great talent. Sadly, we hear too little about this.

Creativity – music, drama, art, dance, creative writing and such like – is gradually being squeezed out of the standard curriculum, both in primary and secondary schools. We in the independent sector are very fortunate to be able to devote time to creativity and to resist the pressures to provide a narrower curriculum. However, it is not just independent schools who care about and produce talent in these fields, state school colleagues are continuing to fight against the tide. 

Wearing another hat, I am a long-standing trustee of the Arvon Foundation. Arvon is the brainchild of the late poet, John Moat, who believed in the importance of unleashing young people’s creativity. 

The Foundation now provides residential writing courses for not only school groups but also young people from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds. 

The work that these young people produce is incredible. Some have written poetry or prose about their experiences as refugees or being uprooted to another country and the tension of operating in two or more different languages. 

Others enjoy the “Writing the Game” course, which has a special football connection and is great for inspiring reluctant male writers. I really do believe that everyone has talent of some sort, what is needed is for it to be unlocked and nurtured. 

Some critics declare that we now live in a technological world where electronic devices and rapid communication are king. But one only has to look at how creatively (for good or ill, wisely or rashly) young people use and exploit such media to express their ideas, post video clips or montage, design bits of programs or upload their music or mood boards, to realise that technology and creativity are not incompatible. 

Creativity is not only about expressing oneself but is also about communicating. If we want to live in a better world, then we would do well to pay more attention to creativity. 

  • Marion Gibbs is head of James Allen’s Girls’ School in south London.


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