Sally Alexander has dreams, big musical dreams.
She is launching an independent, private secondary school in Acocks Green, where the curriculum will be taught around music.
Having spent 10 years in the Caribbean, forming a successful youth orchestra and string school in Antigua, she has witnessed first-hand the impact music can have upon learning.
“Learning to play an instrument is a very social skill, it’s all about teamwork and discipline,” says Sally, 38, from Kings Heath.
“There’s lots of scientific research that shows just how good playing an instrument is for the brain. It gives children such a great sense of accomplishment. It builds their social skills as pupils who can play help those who are just learning. Learning music can even help children on the playground. I’ve seen them so often come out of their shells when they are part of an ensemble.”
Sally was introduced to classical music at a very young age.
“My mother and father weren’t particularly musical but they loved music,” she explains.
“I grew up going to see orchestras, ballets and operas, and started playing the cello and the piano when I was about seven.”
She went to a private school then studied music at Durham University.
But it was a holiday in the Caribbean not long after graduating that changed her life.
She recalls: “I went for a two week holiday and ended up stretching it to 10 years. I’d spent some time travelling on a gap year and my mum gave me a bit of a three-line whip to bring myself home and find a proper job. I went to the airport but when I got to the check-in desk I said ‘I don’t really want to go on the aeroplane, I want to go back to my hotel’.
“That’s what I did.”
There, Sally went on to meet a local man, got married and had two children.
She was asked by the governor general if she could put together a youth orchestra.
“The people of Antigua are very musical but they don’t play much Western classical music, it’s more steel pans and Salvation Army style bands.
“It’s sounds like a bit of a cliché but I started off with five children in a shed with no music and some worn-out instruments – and we grew to be a 30-strong orchestra with 20 on the waiting list.
Sally returned to the UK when her daughters Kiera and Michelle were six and four, after separating from their father. She got a PGCE to enable her to continue to teach here but wanted to use her unusual experience to start something new and exciting for the city.
“I’ve not been overly happy with the way music is taught in the majority of schools,” says Sally, who is now divorced. “Many children go for a few music lessons, take an exam and that’s it.
“I decided I wanted to open a school that was music based, where everyone played an instrument so they could have the experience of being part of a group.”
Kimichi – named after Sally’s daughters – is due to open next month.
With her strong links to the Caribbean and France, where her mother now lives, Sally hopes Kimichi will be a global school, with foreign exchange trips and lessons skyped overseas.
“There’s all sorts of exciting stuff we can do now in education,” says Sally. “That’s why I wanted Kimichi to be a private school so that we could have as little to do with the government as possible. I’ve kept our fees down to £2,000 a term, which is around half the average price of a private school term.”
* The new term starts on September 9. To find out more, visit www.kimichischool.co.uk .