Pieces of creative writing.

To Keep the Music Playing: Music and Education

Would you believe someone if they told you that a three-year-old could memorise an entire cellphone number? It seems like a stretch. The memorisation of ten separate digits, in a particular order, seems like a tall task for someone who is the tender age of three. But this does seems like it could come in very useful for mother and child should a situation arise when this would be necessary. Interestingly, I have seen this work. But how? 

The answer: music. I personally know a conscientious mother who successfully taught her then three-year-old daughter to memorise her ten-digit cellphone number through the power of music. She made up a sing-song tune, much like you would hear echoing throughout the rooms of a nursery school, and paired the numbers to this tune. The result: a three-year-old who can effectively sing out her mom’s contact details! This is but one case of how music can be used effectively to teach and to learn.

In the iconic 1965 film The Sound of Music, the loveable lead character, Maria, played by the incomparable Julie Andrews, sings, in what is an unforgettable scene in cinematic history, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” And so too are many school classrooms, particularly those of pre-primary schools. Why is this the case? Simply put, music is an effective tool to use in order to teach and learn.

Numerous studies have shown that music education is effective in the development of numerous cognitive domains including intelligence, mathematics, spatial reasoning, reading, writing, and memory[1]. Playing an instrument, or even simply engaging in active listening to music, lights up numerous areas of the brain[2]. One study has shown that after 15 months of learning an instrument, there are even structural changes in both motor and auditory areas of the brain[3]. The brain scan below contrasts the areas that light up in the brain, showing increased activity, of non-musician and musician 9-11 year-olds on simple rhythmic (RD) and melodic discrimination (MD) tasks. It is clear that musicians have more brain activity while doing these tasks[7].


However, one main area of concern for people who research music’s effect on education is the transferability of the skills that music imparts[1]. These are broken down into near transfer effects and far transfer effects: near transfer refers to the immediate skills related to music and music-making such as fine motor skills involved in playing, pitch, rhythm, and creativity to name a few; whereas far transfer refers to the ability of skills gained in music to improve other domains such as mathematics or reading. The near transfer effects are well establish, but the far transfer effects are more difficult to study.

Despite these challenges that researchers face, studies seem to show that music does indeed have far transfer effects. These include an increased IQ, better reading performance, in some cases improvements in mathematics skills, and is even associated with improved school attendance[1, 4, 5]. For special needs children, the inclusion of music in education is even more beneficial as children with reading disabilities showed faster improvement in an eight-week music instruction programme compared to those without such a programme[4].

When you think about it music does have some qualities that are beneficial to learning: active listening, repetition, as well as enjoyment. Taken together these elements enable a learning experience that is enhanced. No wonder a three-year old can then memorise a cellphone number. In a TEDxSydney talk, music educator Richard Gill stated passionately that, “Music evokes, music suggests, music implies, and music opens up the mind of a child in an extraordinary way.”[6]

Unfortunately it is often the case that music education has to continually justify itself to powers that be, such as school policy makers and school management structures. Such is the case with many artistic subjects in a world moving increasingly towards an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields of study. But clearly music still has its place and it is in the best interests of children to include music in their education in some form. It falls to us then, the custodians of children’s futures, the parents, teachers, school managers, and policy makers to really think about the answer to the questions posed in the classic song:

How do you keep the music playing?
How do you make it last?
How do you keep the song from fading too fast?

1 Jaschke, A. C., Eggermont, L. H., Honing, H., & Scherder, E. J. (2013). Music education and its effect on intellectual abilities in children: a systematic review. Reviews in the Neurosciences24, 665-675.
2 Iversen, J. (2015). “Does music change a child’s brain?” TEDxSanDiego Available at:
3 Hyde, K. L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A.C., et al. (2009). Musical training shapes structural brain development. Journal of Neuroscience, 29,3019-3025.
4 Gordon, R. L., Fehd, H. M., & McCandliss, B. D. (2015). Does music training enhance literacy skills? A meta-analysis. Frontiers in psychology6, 1-16.
5 Standley, J. M. (2008). Does music instruction help children learn to read? Evidence of a meta-analysis. Applications of Research in Music Education27, 17-32.
6 Gill, R. (2011). “The value of music education.” TEDxSydney. Available at:
7 Schlaug, G., Norton, A., Overy, K., & Winner, E. (2005). Effects of music training on the child’s brain and cognitive development. Annals-New York Academy of Sciences1060, 219-230


“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” One of many famous quotes by Marilyn Monroe, an iconic sex symbol and talented actress. She has become the paragon of celebrity and she, along with many others, have experienced all sides of fame and have become irremovable subjects of pop culture.

The painting entitled “Marilyn” by Andy Warhol is a famous piece of pop art created in 1962. Pop Art developed in the mid-1950s and draws on recognisable images from popular culture. Pop artists elevated commonplace objects to fine art. Andy Warhol’s work usually commented on the condition of society. He was fascinated with society’s obsession with fame and noted that this obsession was almost religious.

Marilyn, however, was treated by society in a similar way as an everyday object: used then thrown away. Maybe this was one of the comments Warhol was making. Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926 in Los Angeles. In 1946 Monroe had her break and signed her first film contract, changing her name to Marilyn Monroe and dyeing her hair blonde. Within a decade she had become a coveted international star despite her insecurities as an actress.

Fame was something Monroe had to deal with on a daily basis. She found it difficult to deal with strangers obsessing over her.  Fame placed a magnifying glass to her life but she did, however, realise that fame is fickle. Fame also contributed to the failure of her three marriages.

In the end she shocked the world when she was found dead in 1962 at her Los Angeles home. Speculation began that she was murdered but official reports claimed it was a suicide caused by barbiturate poisoning, a drug used for treating depression. It is believed that twelve people killed themselves within one day of hearing their favourite star was dead. One victim even wrote the note, “If the most wonderful and the most beautiful soul in the world thinks she has nothing to live for, then what do I have?”

So what makes so many people obsessed with fame? An American psychologist discovered that in the 1950s 12% of children agreed with the statement “I am an important person”. By the end of the 1980s that figure changed to 80%.

People constantly aspire towards fame. They do not realise that fame can control an individual and can manifest self-doubt. Fame can corrupt and destroy.  Stars are humans too and also have problems. They are chewed up by the public and either swallowed or spat out – constantly judged and evaluated.

Lady Gaga, pop superstar, has many references to fame in her work. Last year she released a fragrance called Fame. It is the first ever black perfume. One of its components is the belladonna flower, which is poisonous. Lady Gaga explained the fragrance saying, “It’s black like the soul of fame, but invisible once airborne.” She is making a comment on the darker side of fame.

Not everyone deals with fame in the same way, take Princess Diana. She was born Diana Spencer in 1961 and became a Lady in 1975. She married Prince Charles, heir to the British throne and had two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. She was a favoured member of the British royal family. Diana used her fame to serve the people. She supported many charities and worked with people in need.

She divorced Prince Charles in 1996 but  continued to support charities and help raise awareness. She used her celebrity status to help contribute to a more compassionate world. She also had her insecurities – suffering from bulimia and depression. While in Paris on the night of 30 August 1997 her car was trying to evade the pursuing paparazzi. The car crashed. She died a few hours later in a Parisian hospital. Had it not been for her fame and the world’s obsession with her, she might have still been alive today.

Quite interestingly Elton John wrote a song called “Candle in the Wind” in 1973 in honour of Marilyn Monroe. He rewrote the song in 1997 as a tribute to Princess Diana. In this version he calls her “England’s rose” and says, “Now you belong to heaven and the stars spell out your name.”

Fame gives one an exceptional amount of power. They can choose to use it for the betterment of the world or they can manipulate it for personal gain. Fame is like a drug, it seems to provide brief euphoria but in the long run it can be very damaging. As Andy Warhol once predicted quite succinctly, “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” What will you do with your fame?

The Exit

Jarred Fameux was seated at his mahogany desk. Every novel and every play he had conceived was written at this desk, by his own two hands as well. He never opted for the digital route to start off his works. Every draft he had created was first hand-written, then, only once he was contented with the draft, was it typed.

He started nibbling on the tip of his plastic pen. It was an indication of arcane, contemplative thought. He had just completed writing the first chapter of his autobiography. In doing so, he realised how arduous it actually is to accurately capture the events of one’s life. He had dedicated his entire life to writing novels and plays. He had lived his dream; he had done what he had felt was his destiny.

He stopped chewing on the pen as his mind began to search the histories of his life. He thought back to his grade eight classroom. That is when it all began. That is when he wrote his first essay. The feeling that creating a story gave him was something he had never felt before. It manifested itself from deep within and it inflamed the candle of passion inside of him.

He shifted on his chair and smiled reminiscently. He placed his pen neatly on the desk, stood up and went to his study window. As he opened it a cool breeze found its way inside. He sat back down, picked up his pen and began tapping it against the blank page. The page reminded him of his life before writing – bare.

By the time he had left university he had four plays and two novels published. His works were applauded for capturing such true emotional states. The grief, pain and bereavement he had experienced in life were not lost. He used them in his writing to create more unadulterated narratives.

A tinge of guilt washed over him. He realised he had received numerous standing ovations for the play about his father’s death. This was one such example of many. Maybe writing was his way of dealing with the grief, but one day he would have to face the reality he had twisted into fiction. The day had come.

He suddenly stopped tapping the pen. His head dropped slowly. He watched a microcosmic teardrop make contact with the blank page. The paper absorbed it quite willingly. It was absurd. His only companions were the dusty books lining his bookshelves and conceited newspaper reviews of his works written by pretentious critics.

This was his epiphany: he had always risked something greater while writing and perchance this is what made him so passionate and unique. While he was busy creating credible characters, he had turned himself into a character. The man he was writing about was not himself – it was a character. His characters had lived to their fullest; he had not. He had lived his dreams through his characters, like parents live their broken dreams through their children. He was now an aged man.

He picked up the pen hastily. He wrote down his favourite line by his favourite playwright. He closed the soft-cover book gently. He stood up lugubriously. He walked out of his study and down the corridor. Thirteen minutes later there was a slight breeze which blew the book open. The ink was still fresh. In black, bold ink were the words:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.

He would have chuckled to himself had he seen the wind had blown the book open on that page. He would have, but at that precise moment a thud of a chair hitting the ground reverberated through the hollow corridors of the house. Another breeze, slightly stronger this time, crept through the house. Its momentum was broken by the body hanging lifelessly in the kitchen above an overturned chair.

This was his exit. Not with a bang, but with a lifeless thud of a chair.

Reflective Essay: The Pearl

It may seem a cliché to say I remember that day like it was yesterday, but there is a reason for clichés: they hold truth. I was in a decrepit house situated in a small village that was too insignificant to even be considered in demographical statistics. It was the type of place where everyone knew everyone yet everyone was a stranger.

The memory is engrained into my psyche. It was a Sunday afternoon. The sky was clear but in the distance I could see a storm approaching. The evil moved rapidly and began to envelop the beauty. It was summer so storms were not unusual, but something about the approaching storm made me anxious. It was as if my animalistic instinctual nature had caused this response. It was a feeling of wanting to flee, like bucks and birds do when they sense an approaching tempest. I heard the fleeting sound of crows and the distant howling of jackals in the hills.

It was then that I saw the eye. The eye of the storm. It was huge. Swirling. I felt confused. I had never experienced such a storm, I had only heard about such occurrences. As the storm began I, as if by instinct, ran into the basement of the house. There was a small window in the basement where I was able to view the storm from just above ground level.

I saw a dark funnel punch its way through the clouds. A tornado. It touched down about one hundred meters from the house. I could hear the vicious howling of the wind. Trees were being ripped up, torn apart and discarded. Pieces of metal from surrounding structures became flying pieces shrapnel. A chuck hit the basement window startling me into a further panic. A diagonal crack stretched across the window. The whirlwind came closer and closer. I heard the roof of the old house rip off. I suddenly felt a strong force hit my body and then…

I woke up.

I was sweating. My heart was pounding. It was early morning. I realised it was all a dream. No, a nightmare. The thing which was most striking was my epiphany: I had awoken from one nightmare into the next. A nightmare much more real: reality.

I sat up in my bed and contemplated the nightmare. I found it unnervingly parallel to my own life. I remember a teacher once told me that the rich symbolism in dreams can be interpreted to tell you more about your subconscious mind. I realised the storm and the tornado that was in my pasture of life was all the hate that I had to endure in my life as a result of being different. This destructive tornado had destroyed many, torn lives apart and left remnants that needed to be rebuilt, often over many years. Just as the tornado is part of nature, so too is hate part of the human being, but that does not make it any less destructive.

At the beginning of the dream the sky was clear just as my life was and although I knew the storm of hate was inevitably going to happen, I still felt fearful. When the tornado hit, I tried to protect myself by going into the basement, the basement within my own life, a place of self-consciousness and withdrawal. My basement allowed only a small window from which to view the approaching hardship.

I got out of my bed and walked over to my bedroom window. The curtains were still drawn. As I opened them I saw the cloudy, grey, sombre sky. I was staring at the clouds when something beautiful happened. I saw a speck of blue emerging. The clouds were clearing, the storm of reject was passing.

As I walked away from the window and started to get ready for life, I realised that although I had been subjected to such hate and rejection over the years, I knew there would be a clear sky on the other side of the storm. I tied my shoelaces of faith, picked up my bag and walked out of the front door. The sunshine splashed over my smiling face. I stepped out into the world a braver, more confident man. The world was my oyster and I was the pearl.

Editorial: You are what you are worth

Class divisions are evident in modern society and have most likely existed since the dawn of time. It is a burden of society and such divides create formidable pressures within a country, particularly for those at the bottom of the pyramid.

In the Elizabethan era there was the Great Chain of Being, placing God at the top and the ‘lesser’ people at the bottom. Four hundred years later and society still has distinct divisions. Take the townships – for example – in our own country. Often an informal settlement lies next to a highly developed urban area, such as Alexander Township which lies right on the doorstep of Sandton. Quite a juxtaposition.

Most class divisions are based on one concept: wealth. The more one has the higher up one is. More likely than not, once you are in a class you are there for life. Take the slums in India for example. The occupants are supposedly the scum of the earth and will most likely never change their societal status. Quiet interestingly though are those that do manage to shatter the status quo. These individuals manage to demonstrate a few common traits such as courage, bravery, determination and, of course, a helping hand from Lady Luck.

Class divisions establish an important mechanism for effective functioning: order. Everyone should be entitled to, and have, all basic human rights, but as long as currency exists so too will classes. Imagine a world with no classes. Most likely a picture of a red Communist flag comes to mind.

Not much can be done to prevent class divisions. Money is the greatest dictator of them all. But do not fear. Defying the odds is an option – at a price of course: hard work, dedication and a great deal of luck.


I stand in front of the big, ebony door. It’s cold and it’s raining. My full-length trench coat barely contains my body’s heat. I am enveloped by fear. I knock on the door thrice. I am transported back to the orphanage.
It was a bitterly cold and rainy day in 1986. I was six years old. I’d just been dropped off at the third orphanage in my lifetime. I was guided to my new room through the narrow corridor of the derelict house by the matron. My decaying suitcase I carried contained every possession I owned. That was when I first met him. He introduced himself as Thando – he was a black boy about my age, my roommate. He had a short afro. His clothes were noticeably old and he’d outgrown them. That didn’t seem to stifle his spirit.
The big, ebony door opens swiftly. A man stands on the threshold. His hair is completely white. He is wearing a black butler’s coat.
“How may I help you?” He has a slight British accent.
“My name is Warrick Tomilson. I’m here to see Mr Dunst. Is he available?”
“Mr Dunst does not see anyone unless they have made an appointment.”
“Please. I’ve been looking for Mr Dunst for some time now. I just need to have one minute with him. It is important.” My voice is shaky and I sound desperate.
“Well,” he says hesitantly, “come inside and I shall see what I can do. This way please.” He leads me into the vast entrance hall. “Mr Tomilson,” he says gesturing towards a black sofa, “if you would please take a seat and wait here.”
I sit down in the sofa and admire the wooden chessboard on the table beside me.

The year was 1992. I was playing chess with Thando in our room. He and I were best friends by then. Our bond was indescribable. Thando and I both hated being orphans – the idea that someone gave us up was unbearable. Neither of us knew our biological parents. I knocked over Thando’s king. “Checkmate.” He gave me his trademark smile.

Just as the memory of knocking the king over fades, the butler walks back into the room.
“Mr Dunst will see you shortly, Mr Tomilson.”

“Warrick Tomilson,” I said, laughing at the small booklet in my hand with an awful photograph of my face. It was 1996. Thando and I were sixteen and we had just received our first ID’s. The orphanage we had been staying at for the past few years was closing down. We had one month left. Thando and I got onto the topic of our biological parents as we were walking back from the Home Affairs office.
“I want to find them,” I said in a determined voice near the end of our conversation.
“Warrick, my friend… if you have determination you can do anything.” He smiled, exposing his mouth of white pearls.

Thando’s words echo in my head as I hear the looming footsteps walk towards where I’m seated. A man dressed in a black suit with a grey shirt and a black tie walks hurriedly into the room. We make eye contact. He has tears in his eyes. I know this is the moment of fear all orphans experience in this situation. The fear of being rejected – again. He steps closer to me. I stand up. He manages to let out two words which I’d longed for all my life, “My son.” After a moment of hesitation we embrace. I feel his warmth. I rest my head on his shoulder and close my eyes. I know I have just found my real father.