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Primary Music lessons

james rhodes instrumentsJames Rhodes is launching an instrument ‘amnesty’ so people can donate their unwanted instruments to schools. Photograph: Channel 4

"Imagine if this was a PE class and instead of using footballs and rugby balls they made their own equipment. It just wouldn't happen in a million years, " says the classical pianist and TV presenter James Rhodes in his new series Don't Stop the Music. He's standing in the hall at Roysia middle school in Hertfordshire watching pupils perform a number from the musical Stomp on improvised instruments which include laundry baskets, dustbin lids, margarine tubs and tin cans.

But as music teacher Amanda Mitchell points out, as she shows him the school instrument cupboard – which contains a broken cello, a trumpet, a few recorders and a set of tubular bells made out of copper piping – with a budget of only £2.20 per child for music, she just has to manage.

In the Channel 4 series, which starts next week, Rhodes explores the "shocking state" of music education in schools in England and launches a campaign to reverse what he sees as "years of neglect". While he visited "30 or 40" schools as part of his research, the programme focuses primarily on St Teresa's, a Catholic primary in Essex which, prior to Rhodes's arrival, had no instruments and no budget for music. "There were no general music lessons – music lessons would entail having another lesson, maybe history or geography, and having a CD on in the background … so nothing about composers or how to read music, " he recalls.

The two-part programme, filmed over a nine-month period, follows Rhodes as he works with 22 year 5 children who are given instruments, free tuition and opportunities to hear live music – with apparently impressive results.

In the first episode, the children go into the school hall for assembly and find the Southbank Sinfonia sitting there."You see their faces, literally hands to their mouths, just stood there being assaulted by this music – and they sit down, some of them are crying, their mouths open, " says Rhodes recalling the programme.

"I remember thinking, 'Within a couple of weeks, you guys will be doing the same thing – you will be playing in assembly, in an orchestra.' And they didn't believe it, the teachers didn't believe it, the parents didn't believe it … 17 days later, they played Beethoven in assembly."

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