I am of course deeply indebted to Wikipedia for filling me in on the expert knowledge needed to write this half-term posting.
But before I do, and to get you in the mood, please consider watching this wonderful curtain raiser to the Disney Stage show “The Lion King”.
The Lion King is a Disney media franchise comprising a film series and additional media. The success of the original 1994 American animated feature, The Lion King, directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, led to a direct-to-video sequel and midquel, a 2019 film remake, a television film sequel, two spin-off television series, three educational shorts, several video games, merchandise, and the third-longest-running musical in Broadway history, which garnered six Tony Awards including Best Musical. The franchise mainly revolves about a pride of lions who oversee a large swath of African savanna as their “kingdom” known as the Pride Lands, with their leader Simba watching over it as “king“. The first three animated films are widely known for being influenced by the works of William Shakespeare, as well as other works based on his material.
So, over the last 2 days at Claires Court Junior Boys, 2 casts of some 90 boys led by our Head of Music Emma Stevenson pulled of 4 showings of the most amazing junior school production I have ever attended. The scale of difficulty cannot be overemphasised, singing in tongues, moving choreographically with mechanical costumes, acting in the spirit of the great emotions the storyline brings and staying in character throughout, one cast of stars being the supporting cast for the other and performing faultlessly for 2 hours. Honestly it brought more than a few prickles to my skin and tears to my eyes. In short, I and 4 audiences were genuinely blown away and of course transported to the plains of Africa, where the story is set.
For the most complex of human activities to be successful, they have to be rehearsed, iteratively repeated for many hours before they become second nature. Early steps are slow, because the new pathways that need to be created linking all the senses, fine and gross motor control and body movements take time to get learned and embedded. We now know this arises because the learning process lays fatty sheaths around the nerve axons, enabling the messages to travel faster, quicker and more autonomously. The hardest thing to learn is to play a musical instrument, yet in turn because it gives you visual and auditory feedback, the repeated hours of practice lay down even thicker layers of insulation, essentially brining mastery to the instrument.
Teaching is not the requirement by the way, but learning and practice are, and in recent UK studies, researches have been able to prove that 3 hours of instrumental practice quickly make you 10-15% cleverer. What’s not to like, I hear you say, and I’d say ‘nothing’ – it’s a slam dunk and we have not needed 21st century research to confirm that which educators have known for generations. What is required is the time, space and culture around children’s learning environment (that’s a grand set of words for school), and that space must be open enough not just for the teaching to happen but for there to be the time and space for the learning to happen too.
Whether you look at my junior or senior school provision, children’s extended day stretches from 8 til 5pm and beyond, with so many opportunities for informal rehearsal and private practice. The science of learning makes it quite obvious that mechanical dragooning can cause troops to stay in line, but that’s not the same as creating a major stage production with 9 and 10 normal mortals, who need to be able to practice their roars and squeaks in their own ways.
It’s of course a huge responsibility to run a school and make sure the environment is fit for learning; it’s a great pride I take in realising that my colleagues are so capable of demonstrating every working week that the evidence of children, boys and girls getting cleverer is self-evident for all to see. In the Lion King, Pumbaa the Warthog teaches us all his core philosophy of life – Hakuna Matata. I leave the lyrics of this for you to read – I’m off on half-term to enjoy my own next steps in the Circle of Life:
What a wonderful phrase
Ain’t no passing craze
It means no worries
For the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy