Ailie Reid is a classical singer and singing teacher who has dyslexia. As part of her PhD studies at the Reid School of Music, she has won a prestigious travel fellowship to research the effectiveness of various music teaching methods for dyslexic students.

I am a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music and have been singing, or training singers, since I was eight. I have toured with opera companies, sung for royalty and performed on BBC television and radio.

I have a wonderful career, despite my dyslexia. Or should that be because of it?

From an early age I encountered difficulties, and many in education told me to stop there and then. But I continued, and succeeded with the help of friends, family and kind teachers.

Recently I attended a course at the University of Edinburgh for dyslexic students. I spoke to a number of students, almost all with harrowing stories of trying to learn music and most ending in disillusionment. A number said they simply couldn’t get to grips with music reading or comprehension and felt it was just too hard a battle.

My research is not only for these people but for the many students I teach and witness struggling endlessly, quietly and in private. They don’t need sympathy, just a chance to help themselves with clear workable strategies and patience. Current evidence suggests that 10-15 per cent of the UK population has dyslexic tendencies.

I started my PhD in 2013 researching strategies to assist dyslexic classical singers, with funding from the Radcliffe Trust, which supports music education. This year I was lucky enough to receive a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship. I will travel to Finland, Switzerland, Hungary, Japan, the USA and Canada to research the music methods of Kodaly, Suzuki, Orff and Dalcroze, and their capacity to enable dyslexic singers’ self-regulating strategies when rehearsing and performing a classical piece.

The British Dyslexia Association held a conference focused on music teaching in February 2014, and I am witnessing changes in music education methods as people become more aware of special educational needs, but more must be done to make people aware not only of the difficulties of dyslexic musicians but also how to aid them.

Video: On the Sunny Side of the Street.

Video: Chil Bel Sogno Di Doretta.

Current evidence suggests that 10–15 per cent of the UK population has dyslexic tendencies.

Through my fellowship I have been studying at the original institutes where the various music methods were established. The workshops and conferences have been inspiring but also drew me to conclude that more research into teaching and metacognitive methods for dyslexic students must be carried out.

I have witnessed some wonderful teaching, including from Professor Toshio Takahashi, a master flute player and teacher at the Suzuki School in Japan, helping a physically disabled child to conduct, which brought me to tears.

Then there was the master singers course at the Kodaly Institute in Hungary, with teachers such as Katalin Halmai and Janos Klezli working with movement and the bel canto technique to fine tune voices, and the Dalcroze masters in Geneva such as Helena Nicolet, helping people to connect with their music with enjoyment and real comprehension.

But there are still teachers and repetiteurs out there who do not believe dyslexia should have any impact on how they teach. So many times I have heard a teacher or singer say, “I can’t help”, “I don’t understand”, “It’s not my job”, or “It’s too difficult”. I hope with my research to tackle some of these problems and give real help to singers, teachers and all those working in the field. I hope to publish my initial findings in a paper in 2015. I also hope to run workshops and eventually to publish a book.

Ailie Reid is keeping a blog of her travels and research, where you can leave comments and contact her. She is available for singing lessons – dyslexic students particularly welcome.
www.dyslexicopera.com

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