How Does Musical Education Benefit Schools? Insights from the Firdaus Orchestra

The Firdaus Orchestra, an initiative of Expo City Dubai, an all-female orchestra comprising more than 56 musicians from 28 countries and mentored by the internationally renowned and multi award winning composer A.R. Rahman, made its debut at Expo 2020. The Orchestra was established under the guidance of Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, CEO Expo City Dubai. Today the ensemble continues to showcase the magic of orchestral music to the region and seeks to inspire a new generation of musicians in the Middle East.

In this interview with Monica Woodman, Conductor of the Firdaus Orchestra and Brittany Wood, Manager of the Firdaus Academy, EdDesign Mag get to learn about how musical education helps in schools. Woodman and Wood talk about how music can also serve as a means of emotional expression and regulation, providing children with an opportunity for self-expression and stress relief.

How is musical education included today in schools – is it a general curriculum, additional? What are the after-class options?

Brittany: Music education in schools varies depending on the institution and curriculum. In many schools, music is included as part of the general curriculum, particularly in the primary levels. However, the depth of music courses definitely varies from school to school. In some cases, music classes may be offered as an additional elective or extracurricular activity rather than being a mandatory part of the curriculum. This often depends on the resources available to the school and the priorities of the educational institution. Many schools offer after school lessons as an option for their students but again, this is optional and frequently an additional expense passed on to parents.


How to create a great musical infrastructure in schools? 

Brittany: Creating a great musical infrastructure in any school would need careful planning and consideration of various factors including budget, space, curriculum goals, and student interests.

The number of instruments to purchase would vary for each school based on their student’s interests. If the school wants to maintain a band or ensemble program, they need to ensure that there are enough instruments for group rehearsals and performances. Additionally, they would need to consider the space requirements for rehearsals, as well as the storage and maintenance of instruments.


HMC Architects have constructed a separate building for music classes at Los Gatos Saratoga School in California. The one-story music building, with an area of 1,450 square meters, is intended for the school program “Music and Orchestra”. This building houses modular soundproof rooms, large halls for ensembles and percussion instruments, rehearsal spaces, and rooms for storing instruments and uniforms. Everything, from ceilings to floors, has been designed to provide students and staff with the best tools for teaching, learning, and enjoying music.

Photos from the website

How to deal with acoustics and what kind of materials to choose to design the music block?

Acoustically, any rehearsal or performance space needs to help control the sound and reverberations of the room. There are materials like acoustic foam or panels that can help with this. But generally, you want to avoid hard, reflective surfaces like glass or concrete because it causes the sound to bounce around the room.

All in all this is not something that is accomplished overnight and really needs to include your school’s music educators, as they are the best people to advise on the individual and unique needs of your school and its students.


The setup cost for a school's musical program depends on several factors, including the type and quality of instruments. Establishing a high-quality program can have a wide cost range, spanning from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's essential for schools to prioritize their needs based on available resources and align them with long-term goals for the music program, considering this investment can be phased in over time.
Brittany Wood, Manager Firdaus Academy, Expo City, Dubai
Brittany Wood


How did you come to realize the significant role of music in early childhood development, and what inspired you to focus on fostering it through the Firdaus Orchestra?

Monica: Music has been woven into the fabric of my entire existence. Commencing my professional musical journey at the age of 7, I've been immersed in the world of art throughout my life. Through firsthand experience, I've witnessed the profound impact of music on both children and adults. Beyond enhancing creativity, coordination, and multitasking skills, music and art forge a deeper connection with our authentic selves, tapping into our most sensitive sides.

Numerous studies affirm that individuals raised in environments rich in art, music, and literature emerge as better professionals, emotionally stable, cognitively advanced, and notably, more empathetic—a quality that fundamentally enriches society. Motivated by these insights and fueled by my passion for art, our remarkable team and I have collaborated to establish a nurturing space for growth and interaction for children at Firdaus.


Architect Daniel Valle was tasked with reconstructing the existing music classroom at the German school in Seoul: to improve the acoustic capabilities of the room and come up with a design that would turn the music classroom into a performance hall and auditorium. Daniel Valle proposed an efficient and creative storage system for musical instruments and other objects. He also added two mobile rehearsal booths to the room. 

Photos from the website Daniel Valle

What motivated the Firdaus Orchestra to create the Mini Maestros event, and how do you believe it enhances the musical experience for young children and their parents?

Monica: The Mini Maestros concert was an engaging, educational event featuring a chamber orchestra designed for early years children and their parents. For the first time in the region, a concert was put together by members of the Firdaus Orchestra with the aim to create an interactive musical experience that stimulated young minds while providing entertainment and learning opportunities for both children and adults.

Mini Maestros proved in actions our statements about the power of music, about inclusivity, diversity and inclusion. Mini Maestros was not a Firdaus Orchestra concert, but a concert were everyone, children, parents and the orchestra were protagonists, and where we demonstrated the immense bond that unites music and society.


As a conductor, how do you tailor the musical selections for children to make them both engaging and educational in events like the ‘Mini Maestros’ concert?

Monica: Crafting musical selections for children involves a meticulous and thoughtful process. It's not just about choosing pieces that are engaging but also ensuring they hold educational value. This task demands considerable time and extensive research, as we recognize the significant responsibility of shaping a meaningful musical experience for young minds.

This involves extensive discussions within the team and then refining our musical selections under the guidance of our award-winning mentor, A.R. Rahman. We are also truly grateful for the support of Expo City Dubai and Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, CEO Expo City Dubai without whom the realization of these projects would not have been possible. 


I have big dreams for Firdaus. I envision the Firdaus Orchestra playing a pivotal role in inspiring and nurturing young musicians, serving as a catalyst for them to view music as a serious and fulfilling career path. My aspirations for Firdaus extend beyond regional boundaries, aiming to transform the music scene not only in our country but also on a global scale.
Monica Woodman, Conductor of the Firdaus Orchestra, an initiative by Expo City, Dubai
Monica Woodman


Can you elaborate on the unique stimulation of brain areas by music and how it contributes to the cognitive development of children?

Brittany: Music is unique in that it accesses and engages many different parts of the brain. While learning to play an instrument, children are processing auditory information as well as engaging motor and kinaesthetic senses. This can improve their ability to differentiate between sounds, recognize patterns, and process language. Learning or memorizing musical pieces can enhance memory skills and improve attention span and concentration. This is particularly beneficial in academic settings, where strong memory and attention skills are essential for learning and academic achievement. By participating in musical activities or playing in an ensemble children learn to collaborate, communicate effectively, and develop empathy and social skills.

Music can also serve as a means of emotional expression and regulation, providing children with an opportunity for self-expression and stress relief. One of the most remarkable aspects of music's impact on cognitive development is that music training has been shown to induce structural and functional changes in the brain, including increased gray matter volume in areas associated with auditory processing, motor coordination, and executive functions.


Kuang Jen Catholic High School in Taiwan utilizes a flexible learning space for music lessons. The music class, named Resonance Valley, integrates ample space for rehearsals and performances, alongside an area for theoretical classes and movable furniture. The north-facing staircase is designed for choirs; an educational podium is installed in the south; tables and chairs are positioned in the center of the room, which can also serve as a stage for performances. Acoustic panels, typically stored on walls, can be converted into classroom furniture; one side of the panel features a wooden acoustic board, while the other side is stainless steel. Simple yet sturdy stools were selected as classroom chairs; when hung on the walls, these stools contribute to a rhythmic acoustic structure.

Photos from the website Taiwan Design Institute


Can you share insights into the planning and execution of the ‘Mini Maestros’ concert, especially in creating an inclusive space for musical exploration for both children and adults?

Brittany: Brining Mini Maestros to life involved a lot of planning. We wanted to ensure that the concert actively engages not only children but also their parents.

We chose a wide range of musical pieces to include familiar songs from movies, but also real classical pieces that might challenge their ears a little more. The next step was to create colourful visuals that would be projected during the concert. After many rounds of rehearsals, instrumentation, planning seating arrangements to ensure maximum experiential learning we were able to create a space for parents and children that was fun and exciting but also educational.


Starting in classical vocals, I transitioned into theatre and musicals, cultivating expressiveness crucial for storytelling. Through physicality, vocal nuances, and character embodiment, I use these tools to captivate Mini Maestros and school concert audiences. My performing background enhances connection, engaging listeners and making the concert experience immersive.
Brittany Wood, Manager Firdaus Academy, Expo City, Dubai
Brittany Wood


In what ways does comprehensive music education contribute to cultivating the passion of aspiring young musicians, and how does Firdaus orchestra and studio address this aspect?

Brittany: Comprehensive music education covers diverse styles and genres, emphasizing hands-on learning through instruments, choirs, and creative activities like composition and improvisation. Performance is also an integral component.

At Firdaus, we strive to support music education in the region, and we do this by supporting music educators. We have developed a series educational support materials called Tune to Learn, which uses the music of The Firdaus Orchestra to reinforce musical skills and concepts.

We take the orchestra's music to local schools, offering live performances for students. This allows them to meet musicians, explore various instruments, and experience diverse musical pieces. This is often a source of inspiration for young musicians who may not have experienced a live orchestral performance before. As we grow, we hope to help develop educational programming as well as workshops and masterclasses that are specifically geared towards young aspiring musicians in the region.


Photo on the cover: Kuang Jen Catholic High School (from the website Taiwan Design Institute).


March 2024

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