Daisy Dunn

It’s not child’s play

Specialist schools can be the best route... but how do you get a place and what’s the best age to start?

Aldous Huxley observed that ‘Where music is concerned, infant prodigies are almost the rule. In the world of literature, on the other hand, they remain the rarest exceptions.’ This, he believed, was because good literature could not be written without experience of the outside world, while music was the art least connected with reality. ‘Like mathematics,’ he said, ‘it is an almost unadulterated product of the inner world.’

Musicians may dispute the last point, but the fact remains that musical and artistic ability can emerge with dizzying speed. When it does, the question is how best — and how far — to nurture it? Several schools offer a specialised education in music, dance and drama alongside an academic curriculum, letting talented pupils devote time to their creative interests without missing out on a core education. As well as choir schools, there are dedicated music schools such as the Purcell School in London for nine-to-18 year-olds and the Yehudi Menuhin in Surrey offering tailored tuition for musically gifted children aged seven to 18. Dance and drama are the focus at Arts Ed in London, while the Brit School in Croydon and Tring Park near Aylesbury combine vocational with traditional subjects.

Lord Menuhin, a prodigy himself, believed it was important for creative children to have the best teachers from the earliest possible age. As Dr Richard Hillier, headmaster of Yehudi Menuhin, acknowledges, however, it is quite common for a child of seven or eight to have very many passions. Tempting as it is to nurture talent while the brain is still young and malleable, it can be difficult to determine which hobbies will endure. He suggests observing your child closely to gauge the depth of their interests. If your daughter likes Brownies, horse-riding, dance, drama and violin, which is top of her list? If it is violin, does she like performing? Most importantly, does she practise without being told to do so?

Today it is more common to wait until a child is approaching their teens before narrowing their focus.

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