Boston Children's Chorus

Voice power – the choirs tackling health and social need

As ministers in the UK push for a Government cross-departmental strategy to support the health and social benefits of the arts, Karen Stretch meets three organisations already transforming lives via the power of singing.

Imagine a choir where the ‘singers’ have never sung before, sometimes have trouble keeping appointments and most of them don’t know anyone else who is there. Chuck in a conductor with a penchant for cheesy warm-up exercises and you could be forgiven for thinking the process is doomed – but this is The Choir with No Name (CWNN), a UK charity set up nine years ago for those affected by homelessness and now with four branches (Liverpool, Birmingham, North London and South London) meeting weekly in cities around the country. Members turn up, rehearse and have a hot meal and a chat afterwards but they also perform and have recorded an album and an EP and toured with Coldplay.

Conductor, Sam Chaplin, was there at the launch of the South London choir in 2012.

‘You’re taking people from believing they can’t sing to them actually singing, doing gigs or a solo and people go on a massive journey,’ he says. ‘The warm-up is very much about making sounds and making a pitch and finding your voice. I do that with incremental growth so I am making small agreements with people. To perform, you have to come out of yourself and share something from somewhere inside.

‘That’s what singing is and the sound from within you comes out and that takes quite a lot of emotional bravery. One reason why people come away from these rehearsals feeling amazing is because anything that helps you to shed your inhibitions and releases dopamine and oxytocin suddenly opens you up to the world and the people around you.’

The Choir With No Name

The Choir With No Name

It’s not to say the music is a quick fix. Homelessness goes hand in hand with other problems such as mental health and CWNN works together with St Mungo’s and Centrepoint among other organisations to help members access the support they need.

‘People are on a journey and sometimes they come for a bit and drop out for a bit because things aren’t always plain sailing,’ says Chaplin. ‘But what is good is that it is a home to the choir and people come back. We try to keep it that you come when you can and there is always a welcome.’

With almost 1,000 people participating in CWNN choirs last year and 76 per cent of them reporting an improvement in their mental health (not to mention 60 per cent finding stability in employment, volunteering or housing since joining the choir), it is evident that such initiatives are doing a fantastic job.

Yet only last month, co-chair of the UK’s All Party Group on Arts, Health and Well Being, Ed Vaizey MP, made an impassioned plea to the Government to engage in the issue and develop a cross-departmental strategy incorporating both health and arts ministers to ensure the promotion and support of such projects.

In July, following two years of and research and discussion from the worlds of academia, health, arts and politics, the All Party Group published an inquiry into the effect of the arts on health.

‘This report provides considerable evidence that arts-based approaches can help people to stay well, to recover faster, to manage long-term conditions and experience a better quality of life,’ said Vaizey at the Commons debate. ‘Arts engagement can have a positive impact at every point in life.’

Mentioning childhood mental health problems that can be prevented or mitigated through early arts interventions, Vaizey also highlighted a growing initiative aimed at the senior end of society, A Choir in Every Care Home run by Live Music Now.

‘This is encouraging music and singing in care homes across the UK,’ he explained. ‘It supports evidence that regular group singing can enhance morale, reduce loneliness and improve mental health. It can also help those suffering with a terminal illness as well.’

A Choir in Every Care Home includes a set of free resources to inspire and support care homes to engage with music

A Choir in Every Care Home includes a set of free resources to inspire and support care homes to engage with music

Chief Executive of Live Music Now, Evan Dawson, couldn’t agree more. Two years into the initiative, A Choir in Every Care Home is really taking off with its practical approach producing impressive results.

‘Even if we had the most enormous Government grant, there is no way that we could deliver professional music leadership in care homes or communities on a scale that the evidence would suggest is necessary,’ says Dawson. ‘We will do as much as we can and we will also inspire and train and support care staff to use music as well. It doesn’t have to be expensive: care staff singing when they get people up in the morning and when they get them dressed. It can be incredibly effective. What they need is permission and encouragement but they also do need support sometimes.’

Live Music Now is training 350 musicians throughout the country to coach and support care staff to deliver interactive music sessions. In each of the 18 care homes where they started the scheme six months ago, all are now using music in their day-to-day lives.

Working in partnership with multiple organisations including the Care Quality CommissionCare England and the Mental Health Foundation, Live Music Now is providing leadership and focus.

The project will continue to develop in the next six months, going into six care homes and introducing a ‘bells and whistles’ music programme, training staff and working with the residents there. With a framework designed by senior staff at some of the big care chains involved – BUPAMHA and the Orders of St John Care Trust – the project will be evaluated by the University of Winchester.

‘My hope is that we will make a really strong case for care homes to invest in this work,’ says Dawson. ‘It doesn’t have to be expensive and actually will save money. The British choral tradition is a precious thing and I think we may have lost the connection between choirs and communities. Of all the social problems that we have, this could be one that we could fix quite cheaply.’

Of course, it’s not just the elderly who benefit from social networking and musical support. Across the pond in Boston, Massachusetts, the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) has been linking communities through music and providing a safe, friendly space for open discussion since 2003. Founded by the former Dean of Boston University’s School of Social Work, Hubie Jones, the not-for-profit choir brings together diverse communities and now has 12 different choirs in five locations across the city. There are 500 children aged from seven to 18 involved, with four out of five receiving financial aid.

Associate Music Director, Robbie Jacobs, moved from his position as Acting Artistic Director of the London Youth Choir to join the organisation only a few weeks ago.

‘As well as being a fantastic musical organisation creating fantastic artistic output with the kids, probably the most important part of this organisation’s work is facilitating conversations about sometimes difficult subjects,’ he says of BCC. ‘We are hearing the students’ point of view and encouraging them to come into contact with students from parts of a city which is a melting point of different cultures.

‘Beyond that, we are having conversations about things that are difficult to discuss and facilitating them as part of the musical process.’


BCC shares programme and impact on New Year’s 2017!

On the day we speak, America is still reeling from the previous day’s news of lone gunman, Stephen Paddock, shooting 58 people dead from the window of his Las Vegas hotel, before turning the gun on himself.

‘I’ve got a group tonight and I would say it’s pretty likely that we will talk about gun control in the context of Las Vegas,’ says Jacobs. ‘That is a current event that is on people’s minds and particularly for a teenager that might be a very scary thing.

‘Here, we will make an environment where people can share their views. There may be a disparity of views in the room and the discussion of that will be empathetic and open so that nobody is going to be shouted down and all views are represented.’

To facilitate such discussions alongside the music, two-hour rehearsals take place twice a week, giving plenty of time to rehearse and create an environment to discuss social change.

‘It couldn’t be further from the idea of a Cambridge choir,’ admits Jacobs. ‘That was my background because I was a choral scholar at Kings [College, Cambridge] and I would argue a lot for the better. In the UK, my experience of working with a youth choir is that we take people from a young age and train them, then an 11-year-old will audition for an intermediate choir and we’ll say, ‘Sorry, you’re not good enough, goodbye’. With BCC, no child is going to be turned away and once you’re in, you’re in till you’re 18.’

As for his future with the choir, Jacobs is excited to see what’s around the corner. ‘It’s very new and quite hard to know exactly what direction it is going in,’ he smiles. ‘I hope it is going to be a life-changing experience for me too!’


Header photo: Boston Children’s Chorus © Gretjen Helene Photography


Dan Willcox, The Choir With No Name, Liverpool

I was at Crisis’s office on a Wednesday which so happened to be the day that The Choir with No Name got together to rehearse. A member of staff asked me along for a rehearsal.

Dan Willcox, The Choir With No Name Liverpool

Dan Willcox, The Choir With No Name Liverpool

I haven’t sung in a choir before this because I was a very isolated person and such things didn’t really interest me at the time.

I am a massive fan of metal, Avenged Sevenfold in particular, but I enjoy all kinds of music. My favourite piece with CWNN is undoubtedly Human by Rag’n’Bone Man. I enjoyed this song when I heard it myself and suggested it for choir and it went down fantastically with the other members during our song selection process.

Singing with the choir makes me feel ecstatic. Whole. It gives me a feeling that I’m part of something so much bigger than myself and that is an amazing thing for me.

Being in choir has given me something to look forward to on a Wednesday evening. It has given me a reason to get into bed on a Tuesday evening and wake up somewhat early on a Wednesday. It gives you people to look forward to seeing. It makes you feel proud of yourself when you smash out a gig or new song in rehearsal.

Join if for nothing more than to get yourself out of the house and watch as you find yourself eager to come back every week. Come for the hot meal cooked by the talented volunteers. Come for the camaraderie. Stay for the amazing singing.


Anna Platman, A Choir in Every Care Home, London

When I was in my previous care home, I asked the Head of Activities if we could have a choir.

Then I moved to this care home – it has the same Head of Activities, Alistair – and joined their choir. Singing with the choir makes me feel happy and helps me get to know people. I’ve sung in choirs all my life, starting at school. I like all music as long as I can understand it. I would encourage others to join a choir – it’s a good feeling.


Abigail Nordan, Boston Children’s Chorus, Winchester

One thing I love about BCC is that we go beyond singing traditional choral music and are able to redefine what a children’s chorus can do. While we do sing some classical music, for most of the year (especially in the upper choirs) we focus on more contemporary pieces that require so much more emotion and power in order to do them justice – and that’s what makes us artists.

Abigail Nordan, Boston Children's Chorus

Abigail Nordan, Boston Children’s Chorus

Last year, my choir

 performed a concert with a theme of gender equality that was absolutely incredible – so much fun! – and we sang my two favorite songs we’ve ever done, Quiet by MILCK and Turn Our Eyes Away by Trent Dabbs and Ruby Amanfu. Those two songs were stunningly powerful.

 So much heart and soul needed to go into them and we rose up to the challenge beautifully –  I think everyone was able to personally connect to the words and put all kinds of emotion into them.

Singing in BCC with my friends, some of which I’ve known since I was a little kid, just gives me a sense of pride and fulfillment that nothing 

else ever has. When you work so hard for so long at something, you bond with people in a way that truly makes you feel like family. Making music clears my head and helps me put things into perspective and just brings me endless amounts of happiness. BCC gives me a sense of clarity, purpose and accomplishment that I can’t get anywhere else.

The atmosphere at BCC is truly one of a kind. I walk into the room and always do a little bit of a double-take because I feel like I am stepping

 into a memory – countless hours of talking and rehearsing and staging in the rehearsal room have made it such a special place for me, like a little sanctuary where I know I can be whoever I want. The discussions that take place in the room have defined the

 person I am today. They allow us to be vulnerable and that helps us all grow closer and trust one another. Even though we are children, we refuse to avoid controversial topics. We work to make sure that all opinions can always be heard and appreciated. While

 BCC makes an effort to make sure everyone’s thoughts are accepted, we do not listen to those that are hateful or oppressive. Everyone at BCC has such a respect for one another and the discussions we have about modern politics make our group incredibly tight-knit.

I am

 from a town that is almost all white and there aren’t very many different kinds of people to get to know. When you come from a place like this, it is so easy to be ignorant. Because of our discussions in BCC, I make sure to direct my efforts into creating 

and inspiring social change, even in issues that do not affect me personally. BCC is one of a kind in that we manage to make incredible art with a purpose. When you unite hundreds of kids over a common goal of musical excellence and social change, incredible

 things happen and I believe that’s something that everyone has the right to experience.


About the author

After cutting her teeth on the arts pages of the Burton Mail and the Yorkshire Evening Post, Karen Stretch headed up the launch team for Metro Yorkshire’s arts section before joining its head office in London.

Now a freelance writer and mum of two, she is also a Primary music teacher and a keen explorer of the arts scene in her new home near Bristol.


 

John K Miles © Maisie Hill

Creating a songbook for Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School

Composer and multi-instrumentalist, John K Miles, introduces his ongoing project with City of London Sinfonia for children and young people with mental health issues

In March 2015, I was invited to lead a creative music project for City of London Sinfonia (CLS) at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, which teaches and supports children with mental health issues resident at two London psychiatric hospitals: Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham and Maudsley Hospital in Camberwell. The initial project took place at the Bethlem site and although I had previously led projects in schools, hospices, prisons, homeless centres, special schools and youth clubs, this was a new context for me and I was very much looking forward to it.

The project was for a group of eight Primary/Middle students. It ran for four sessions and took place in two main settings: a classroom and the school’s main foyer, which is like a small-scale school hall with a piano. Each session lasted from 40 minutes to an hour and included some one-to-one work and some whole group work. All sessions were supported by staff and were, by necessity, fluid and responsive to the needs of the participants.

Bethlem Royal Hospital (photo courtesy of Bethlem Museum of the Mind)

Bethlem Royal Hospital (photo courtesy of Bethlem Museum of the Mind)

I try to approach each new composition and performance project with an open mind, ready to respond to what I find. An important part of this discovery process is to create a safe, fun and equitable space where every participant feels like they can make a contribution. This can take myriad forms including playing games, singing songs, clapping, drumming or simply talking.

Knowing that the final concert would include a wonderful string quartet from CLS, I chose to start with some songs that would work well with bespoke string arrangements. The staff at Bethlem and Maudsley are amazingly supportive and their willingness to join in and model collaboration was a crucial bridge to positive participation for the students. It broke the ice and established the beginnings of group cohesion and purpose for the project.

We followed the songs with some creative work using percussion patterns. I often draw on the rich component parts of traditional rhythms and grooves, due to their immediate connectivity and flexibility for a range of creative musical applications, including classical development, improvisation and songwriting. Drumming is also an accessible and direct way into musical non-verbal communication through call and response.

A participatory orchestral commission with Luton Music Service, Orchestras Live and CLS © Chris Lennon

A participatory orchestral commission with Luton Music Service, Orchestras Live and CLS © Chris Lennon

Over the next couple of sessions, we made an instrumental piece together with classroom instruments and wrote a song. I took the work home after each session and developed the material by adding harmonies, editing words, extending sections and creating a structure and arrangement for the string quartet. For me, collaborative composition projects are a balance between the ideas and skills of participants and the extension of those ideas through the professional input of the leader and musicians. The joy and magic of collaboration is often that everybody is able to contribute ideas and emotions regardless of experience or technique. The work is as much about an expression of the human condition as about professional craft and when those two elements come together, it can be electric.

We also made some individual miniature compositions with students who the staff thought might particularly benefit from the work. One participant, whose facial muscles were markedly contorted with physical tension, particularly inspired me. As soon as she played music, her face completely relaxed as if her brain had created a bypass to the root cause of the tension. It was the most striking (positive) physical contrast directly caused through music-making that I have ever seen.

Once the new music was created, two members of the string quartet joined us for the final rehearsal. For a few students, it was the first time they’d heard a professional classical musician play. The effect of an instrument played in close proximity with a beautiful sound and technique cannot be underestimated. It can speak (without words) of craft, dedication and beauty and also directly to the soul. There is immense value when that aesthetic is added into a creative collaboration because it can elevate the collective vision and aspirations of the group.

The final sharing of the work was to parents, friends and staff with a combination of learned songs, a new group instrumental piece and a new group song, supported by the professional CLS string quartet. The quartet in turn played two short pieces of repertoire as part of the concert programme.

It was wonderful to see the impact of music on the students’ confidence and ability to work in a group. Sometimes, the positive effects were marked and striking and, sometimes, they were subtle. For some, it was simply taking part and joining in; for others, it was extending their skills with solo moments or significant creative contributions. In the end, the ownership was shared because we’d all been a part of it and presented the work as a collective.

Developing material during a songwriting project with CLS at St Joseph's Hospice, Hackney

Developing material during a songwriting project with CLS at St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney

This first project was followed by two more in 2016 and 2017, focussing on two separate groups of Primary/Middle and Adolescent students. These two groups shared some material and came together for the final performances. Through the three projects, we began to build a bank of new songs and arrangements for young people and string quartet. It seemed to make sense to begin creating an accessible legacy songbook and audio resource for continued practical music-making and listening in the future.

Since then, funds have been successfully raised by the brilliant CLS team for 18 new projects over the next three years. There are also lots of exciting ideas for collaborating across sites, linking into the CLS seasonal programme and potentially creating a permanent audio and songbook legacy at the hospital museum.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege working at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School. The staff and young people have been an inspiration and it’s a joy to witness the tangible effects of the work come to life. The positive changes to personal confidence, teamwork, cohesion and behaviour have been marked alongside some truly wonderful creativity and memorable, moving performances.


Header photo: John K Miles © Maisie Hill

Due to safeguarding issues, it has not been possible to show images of Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School students.


About the author

John K Miles has composed numerous scores for film and television and written prolifically for theatre, jazz groups, world music ensembles and the classical concert hall.

Concert commissions include On Golden Cap written for the opening of the Olympic Sailing in 2012, The Choice written to open the 2014 Bath International Music Festival and Carnival Suite written for the City of London Sinfonia and Children’s Ensemble, published by Charanga and Music Sales in 2015. His latest work, The Wish, was premiered by the City of London Sinfonia in 2017 and is due to go on tour in 2018.

Commissioned by Orchestras Live and The Mix (Luton Music Hub), The Wish was conceived as a brand new Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and developed by John K Miles and specialist music leader, Claire Henry

John has led myriad composition projects and workshops for many leading arts organisations including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, ENO, Britten Sinfonia, the Roundhouse, Sinfonia Viva and New Dimensions. He is a visiting professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Website: http://www.johnkmiles.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/JKMcentral


 

VCM Foundation

Blog: Music Excellence London Teacher Advocate and Director of Music at City of London School for Girls, Steven Berryman

Guest blogger, Steven Berryman, has worked on a wide range of collaborative projects involving schools, venues, charities and other education providers. Here, he outlines his formula for successful partnership working

Joining City of London School for Girls back in September 2015 was an immense joy as I had visited the Barbican hundreds of times since being a student to see concerts, films, dance and exhibitions.

A John Cage weekend during my postgraduate years sticks in my mind as being the best of those experiences. This was my first opportunity to engage with one composer over the course of a weekend and to attend events in different parts of the Barbican Centre. The Musicircus performance in the foyer spaces was the beginning of my collaborative obsession:

‘John Cage’s Musicircus is simply an invitation to bring together any number of groups of any kind, preferably in a large auditorium, letting them perform simultaneously anything they wish, resulting in an event lasting a few hours. There is no score, no parts, nothing specified except the concept. ‘You won’t hear anything: you’ll hear everything’, Cage said.’ (Peter Dickinson, writing in The Guardian, June 2014)

There were performers everywhere and I was enthralled by how music brings people together. We collaborate so readily as musicians in performance and my own desire to collaborate came from my composing.

I wanted students in my school to work with live musicians as I had done as a student and my initial attempts to collaborate involved bringing players to the school. It’s this authenticity that inspires the pupils and I found this particularly evident in non-Western music. I invited a local Gamelan musician to be resident at the school and we devised new music in groups with the pupils. The Gamelan musician then introduced me to a Nigerian drummer and, through the drummer, I discovered a Taiko group and so on. Collaborating with performers in this way brings a great deal of expertise to a subject in which teachers are expected to know a broad spectrum of musical traditions to help cater for our diverse student body. These performers also bring a whole web of connections; we start to build a library of experts we can draw upon to support musical learning.

The City of London Corporation supports eight schools and January 2016 was the first time these schools worked together to put on a concert at the Guildhall. I was new at my school but embraced the opportunity and saw the potential of working together. It was not an easy task. Emails were sent, responses were few and meetings were impossible to arrange as you never managed to get everyone involved in one room at one time! What helped was having someone at the Corporation take the lead and act as the hub. They helped to ensure communication remained open and chased up those who were slower to respond than others. The concert was a huge success and I was thrilled to see students admire the performances of their peers from other schools. The concert moved to Milton Court in January 2017 – another vibrant and exciting event.

I’ve been relentlessly pursuing other opportunities for collaboration across the City Schools since and, more recently, we have been working with VCM Foundation to run a Young Leaders programme for singers drawn from four schools. This cohort of 30 singers has worked with real purpose to develop singing workshop leadership skills and they’ve flourished working with students from different schools. It took a huge marketing offensive to make it known that the project existed. I recommend not giving up and always looking for alternative ways to get the opportunity known to the school you are targeting. Music teachers are rarely at a desk reading emails so try sending messages to Community Service Coordinators, Heads of Years etc.

Collaboration also happens in the way my department approaches our work with students. We all have different areas of expertise and we strive to make the most of our skills to support the girls effectively. Regular conversations about what and, most importantly, why we do what we do is our greatest source of collaboration. Dr Ally Daubney visited the school in Summer 2016 to facilitate further collaboration as we reviewed our KS3 Music curriculum. She encouraged an entertaining discussion about the ‘whys’ much more than the ‘whats’, helping us develop our curriculum for the year ahead. It is this regular collaboration as colleagues, working with external experts, that keeps us restless and always seeking out new approaches to keep the music curriculum right for the girls we teach today, not the students we taught yesterday.

No amount of emailing can replace a good conversation. I made a big effort to meet local organisations when I moved to the City with a view to developing opportunities to enrich the musical education for the girls. The City hosts a wealth of cultural organisations and the Museum of London has been a joy to collaborate with. We had our first ever Year 7 Music Day working with the Fire of London exhibition as the starting point for creative work. After a morning exploring the exhibition, girls worked in groups, facilitated by a teacher, to develop new compositions that were performed at the end of day. Not only was the student collaboration a pleasure to see and hear but also, as a team of teachers, we were able to collaborate effectively. This took plenty of planning to ensure the schedule worked for everyone.

I’ve learned lots of interesting lessons through collaboration:

  • Start with a conversation and not an email: meet people and get to know their work.
  • Understand how the other partners in a project work; investigate what systems and procedures shape how they operate and mould schedules to their normal ways of working. Collaboration is more effective when it feels part of everyday life.
  • Be flexible: if you believe in a project, be ready to be the first to make a sacrifice for the greater good and long-term success of it.
  • Be persistent and know the benefits for the pupils – this is the selling point and the ‘why’ behind everything we do.
  • Win over the management: no project will succeed or progress until it’s been sold to SMT. Be clear on the benefits for pupils and work to make any project an extension of your school’s mission/development plan or the mission of the group of schools.
  • Consider the barriers before presenting to the other partners – be ready to have the answers to questions and solve them without them needing to ask.

We get very wrapped up in our own schools and competition between schools can hamper collaboration. We are so much more efficient if we draw on the skills and knowledge of others and we quickly realise all those worries we had are shared by our colleagues in other schools. More often than not, we have a solution to someone else’s problem; we just need to find any excuse to start a conversation and see what we can share.


Header photo: VCM Foundation concert © VCM Foundation. Steven Berryman has worked with VCM Foundation’s Young Leaders programme


About the author

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls.

He has taught in the Junior Departments of the Royal Academy of Music and Trinity Laban and recent education projects include work with Royal Opera House, London Philharmonic Orchestra, NMC Recordings and Rhinegold Education.

For further information, see www.steven-berryman.com.


 

Header photo: Music Generation Westport Children's Choir in rehearsals for A Nation's Voice. Photo © Clodagh Kilcoyne

Music Generation: why music education in Ireland has The Edge

As music services and hubs across the UK struggle to provide tuition on ever-squeezed budgets, a flourishing Irish initiative backed by U2 is kicking down the financial and social barriers to prove music-making is in fine tune. By Karen Stretch

Think Ireland, think music. The jaunty melody of the penny whistle and fiddle and the beat of the bodhrán in a spontaneous, craic-infused gig. But like UK music services and hubs, the Irish provision faced an uncertain future in the aftermath of the economic crash of 2008. Not only traditional sounds but every kind of music-making was threatened with recent pilot projects from Ireland’s music touring and development agency, Music Network, focussing on Donegal and Dublin halted in their tracks.


Enter stage left globally successful rock band, U2, and philanthropic network, The Ireland Funds, with a joint donation of 7m Euros and the ambition to do something about access to music education for children and young people in Ireland.

‘When they were looking at options, Music Network’s national strategy was the one that overwhelmingly appealed to them and which they committed to,’ explains Rosaleen Molloy, National Director of Music Generation, the organisation established in 2010 to continue rolling out the programme and developing the model built on public-philanthropic partnership.

‘This enabled the creation of opportunities in performance music education for thousands of young people in Ireland.’

In fact, the model was developed in a further 12 areas of the country, providing music tuition for 38,000 children and young people annually. This happened in just five years – an ambitious target achieved 18 months ahead of schedule – with five more partnerships in new locations announced in January.

While such achievement and impact is impressive, it’s hard not to wonder what happens when the funds run dry. What hope for countries without a Bono or Adam Clayton prepared to dig into their pockets or donate the proceeds of concerts to the charity coffers as they did with their iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Irish concerts in 2015?

‘One of the goals of philanthropy is for long-term, lasting outcomes to be achieved,’ says Molloy. ‘So this principle of sustainability has always been at the core of Music Generation as it evolved. Currently, U2 and The Ireland Funds’ seed funding is strategically leveraging long-term investment from the Irish Government through the Department of Education and Skills and Local Music Education Partnerships – similar to the Music Hub model in England – ensuring that there will continue to be a future for Music Generation beyond the term of the philanthropic gift and that it will be more than just another short-term project that was only as good as the money lasted.’

There’s no doubting that the model of public-philanthropic partnership that Music Generation is built upon has proven to be a remarkable success, achieving sustainable outcomes on all fronts, most importantly for children and young people.

Music Generation Cork City and Carlow trad orchestra weekend at University College Cork (UCC). Photo © Clare Keogh

Music Generation Cork City and Carlow trad orchestra weekend at University College Cork (UCC). Photo © Clare Keogh

‘The goals of philanthropy are all about bringing about real and meaningful change,’ adds Molloy. ‘Philanthropic giving is from the head and the heart; it tackles the cause of a problem rather than simply easing the symptoms; it provides financial capital to organisations with a vision and a strategic plan; and it focusses on long-term results.’

The 50/50 funding model operated by Music Generation ensures philanthropic investment leveraging matched funding investment from Government and Local Music Education Partnerships. As well as addressing the future sustainability of funding, this promotes local ownership and roots the programmes within local structures and communities. It also means that the initial philanthropic donations are generating ongoing return on investment.

The phenomenal success of this business model has been turning heads further afield too. At last year’s ISME (International Society for Music Education) conference in Glasgow, Music Generation presented the findings from a partnership with Dublin City University’s St Patrick’s College that looks at how the programme is enabling positive and meaningful outcomes for children and young people through music.

Real interest was generated with international delegates who learned how the model of public-philanthropic partnership has allowed Music Generation to develop an entirely new way of thinking about performance music education while offering a framework for future development.

‘In theory, that framework – the vision and thinking behind Music Generation – could be adapted to other contexts,’ says Molloy, ‘though in doing so, it would be important to recognise the central importance of diversity and local ownership.

‘Music Generation has diversity at its core and our many partners interact in multiple different ways at every level of the programme. This diversity – within the structure of the organisation, its processes, music practices and among its participants – is the hallmark of the programme’s success.’

Young Musicians from Music Generation Laois perform at the Post Primary Music Teachers Association Conference

Young musicians from Music Generation Laois perform at the Post Primary Music Teachers Association Conference

That success is evident in the mind-boggling mix of concerts, events, settings and communities that feature on the Music Generation website as a snapshot of the life-changing work that is going on day by day.

‘More than anything, I am incredibly proud of the extraordinary things that Music Generation is achieving for children and young people every day – enabling access and opportunity,’ beams Molloy. ‘We are providing a platform to share skills, practice, passion and experience with families and communities; and bringing together musicians of all ages for transformative musical encounters in countless settings and contexts.

‘It’s difficult to pinpoint any one project as the work crosses such diverse contexts – be it rock, pop, traditional Irish Music, classical, jazz or hip-hop; focussing both on individual music-making and all manner of vocal and instrumental ensembles; catering to children from Early Years right up to age 18.

‘We work in educational, community and arts settings, within healthcare and probation services, at festivals, events and venues. That breadth of reach and the transformative power of music education that we witness in the work, voices and music of the young musicians inspire us every day.’

Pushed to pick out highlights of this epic journey, Molloy mentions some recent successes that are truly astounding in their scope.

On Easter Sunday 2016, more than 300 members of Music Generation choirs joined an ensemble of 1,000 voices to perform live together with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising in Ireland and the world premiere of a new piece by composer, Shaun Davey, One Hundred Years a Nation.

Last April, a choir of seven young musicians travelled to the Sistine Chapel in Rome to perform with U2’s The Edge at a special acoustic concert. In May, three young traditional Irish musicians from County Laois were introduced by Adam Clayton as they performed for guests at The American Ireland Fund’s Annual Gala Dinner in New York.

And in July, a trad orchestra of 25 players was invited to perform at the Worldwide Ireland Funds Conference in Trinity College, Dublin, for guests including former Vice President, Joe Biden, and Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.

‘These are momentous occasions for the young musicians involved and we are tremendously grateful to our donors, funders and partners for enabling those life-changing opportunities,’ she adds.

Young ukulele players from Music Generation Wicklow. Photo © Barbara Flynn

Young ukulele players from Music Generation Wicklow. Photo © Barbara Flynn

It’s hard to imagine how occasions like these can ever be surpassed but there is little doubt there are great things ahead on the Music Generation journey. Its recently published strategic plan outlines goals up to 2021 focussing on core ambitions of Growth, Sustainability and Quality. The organisation’s first phase of work and infrastructure will be consolidated as new experiences and opportunities are created for the musicians of the future.

Already, economic benefits are being seen. There have been 330 jobs created as musicians deliver tuition with investment in learning opportunities for the range of partners involved in the programme, including on-going professional training and development initiatives.

Instrument-makers and providers are also receiving custom from participants, schools and partner organisations involved with projects locally. Regional community, cultural and arts venues are being animated as workshop and performance spaces for Music Generation programmes and events and independent service providers are contracted to support local initiatives, including press and marketing teams, printers and designers, photographers and videographers, project managers and catering companies, among many others.

It’s abundantly clear that the reach of Music Generation goes way beyond that of enabling children and young people to perform. A country once resigned to a patchy music performance provision based on limited resources and a geographical lottery is now reaping the rewards of sustained and focussed investment teamed with smart forward-thinking and partnership.

Not only musical life has been enhanced but also the social and cultural identity of many of the local communities and rural areas in which it is established.

‘Our programmes encourage social inclusion and improve the quality of life for those who access it, either directly or indirectly,’ concludes Molloy. ‘This all generates increased inward investment for Ireland as people want to live and work in a country where quality of life is enhanced.’

Think Ireland, think music. The beat of this Music Generation most definitely goes on.


About the author

After cutting her teeth on the arts pages of the Burton Mail and the Yorkshire Evening Post, Karen Stretch headed up the launch team for Metro Yorkshire’s arts section before joining its head office in London.

Now a freelance writer and mum of two, she is also a Primary music teacher and a keen explorer of the arts scene in her new home near Bristol.

Email: karen@1hub.co


 

Young performers

Are hierarchical attitudes to genre holding young people back?

Anita Holford and Dyfan Wyn Owen find out if young people are being short-changed by genre bias in music education

We live in a century that’s rich with musical diversity. In one week – in the schoolyard, in bedrooms and in living rooms – our children may be exposed to anything from acoustic blues to ambient, from break beat to bhangra, from Chicago blues to contemporary folk – to name just a few genres. In schools in the UK, the music curricula enable teachers to be more pluralistic too. Yet it seems Western classical music continues to be by far the dominant force in music education here – and in the way the media portrays it.

Music education hubs, set up in 2013 in England, are funded by the Department for Education through Arts Council England to work with schools and other organisation to create joined-up music education provision and respond to the needs of young people and schools in their area. However, Arts Council England’s data report on music education hubs in 2013 found that their work was dominated by ‘a core repertoire of mainly classical and chamber music, tiered progression ensembles’ and ‘few examples of hip hop, digital, folk or ethnic/world ensembles’.

The first major initiative that’s seen the BBC and music education hubs working together is an ambitious campaign – Ten Pieces – to get school pupils involved in developing their own creative responses to 10 musical pieces – all classical. At around the same time, ABRSM launched its Classical 100 campaign to Primary schools, providing recordings and resources for 100 classical music pieces.

So, even in this richly diverse 21st century, is the message that most children receive from ‘the establishment’ that it’s great to make other types of music but the foundation on which a music education should be built, and the pinnacle of achievement, is Western classical music? And why does this matter?

Melanie Stevens from South Wales, a parent of two children aged 9 and 10, says:

‘I love the fact that my kids are part of the local music service’s music centres and they do enjoy playing orchestral instruments. But I can’t help feeling this, and their music lessons in school, is out of place with their experience of music ‘in the real world’ – and they’re beginning to express that themselves. Perhaps if it was more linked to the music they’re passionate about, it would light a spark and they would be more motivated to learn and progress in music. As it is, I think they’ll drop music as soon as they get to Secondary or at least to their GCSE options.’

Inspiring Music for All, a review of music in schools funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation in 2014, said that ‘there is often a lack of effective connection between music in the classroom and music beyond the classroom’.

Making Music, a report by ABRSM in the same year, found that although increasing numbers of children are playing a wider variety of instruments, particularly pop music instruments, there is a social grade divide in instrument choice. String, brass, piano and woodwind players, for example, are disproportionately from AB households*.

So it seems that many young musicians aren’t receiving the same support and encouragement as their classical musician peers. And for those who aren’t yet making music, there’s a risk that if they’re not inspired by music in school, they’ll see themselves as ‘not musical’ and be lost to making music.

Intrinsic motivation is a holy grail in education so perhaps music can win greater headway by better exploiting young people’s passion for music?

Matt Griffiths, Chief Executive of Youth Music, a charity that invests in music-making projects for children and young people experiencing challenging circumstances, says that:

‘Unless we challenge the accepted notion that some genres are better than others and that one type of musical practice is better than another, we will never really be in a position to give every child and young person access to music education that meets their needs and fosters life-long participation.’


Video: Steel pan music project funded by Youth Music

Jim Pinchen, freelance music educator and Surrey Music Hub Inclusion Manager, agrees:

‘The words, ‘a diverse music offer’, are being echoed at every music education meeting across the country and this is an opportunity to work in partnership to ensure that this is the reality for young people. A cello should be as common in a secure unit as a Kaoss Pad as should Ableton Live Looping in a Wider Opportunities [Whole Class instrumental teaching] session. We have the tools and skills collectively to make this happen and deliver on our promises, however, that may involve a change in culture of our organisations and service.’


Video: What’s challenging the status quo? The Up! Orchestra – Surrey’s first county music orchestra for young people with Special Educational Needs

Change is happening, it seems, but not everywhere and many believe not fast enough: While many music education hubs in England and music services in other countries of the UK have re-shaped their offer, there has been criticism that many are still ‘the old music service’, failing to work in partnership or to diversify their offer.

James Dickinson, Head of Hertfordshire Music Service, the lead partner for Hertfordshire’s hub, says that ‘genres should be threads that link together different [aspects of a hub] … not the end in themselves’ and that hubs need to balance being led by demand and promoting traditional as well as contemporary pathways.

‘There is far more informal music-making [i.e. non-classical] than five years ago so you might ask is there a role for music education to promote, preserve and develop traditional music-making such as youth orchestras so that we’ll see increased levels of UK students going to conservatoires?’

The other extreme, he suggests, is that ‘if young people need to have an active role in their choice of music, if they want to learn the electric guitar rather than the violin, should we just go where the market takes us?’

In reality, he continues, hubs probably have to do a bit of both but it’s not straightforward: ‘Practically, you need to look at local circumstances and respond to those and that includes the availability of staff with specific skills as well as enabling children and young people to make an informed decision that’s right for them. That’s as much to do with supporting people on traditional music-making as informal music-making.’

Pete Moser, CEO of More Music, a community music organisation based in Morecambe, Lancashire, believes that hubs and others need to be more open about these issues and the wider issues they link to: ‘I think there is a mystery about musical genre that is linked to political class issues,’ he continues. ‘I think we could do with being more ‘out’ in our discussions and talk about the differences between the genres and the role that music plays in our lives, have honest discussions and value everything in a particular way.’


Video: More Music, cross-genre work in communities in Lancashire

Perhaps, as Pete says, the key is better, more honest conversations about genres amongst parents, music educators and young people themselves. Letting young people have more of a say in their music education certainly seems to shake up adults’ preconceptions and prejudices around genre – as the BBC has found.

The BBC has a range of initiatives to celebrate and inspire musicians of all genres such as Radio 2 Folk Awards, BBC Young Jazz Musician, Urban Prom and BBC Introducing. So why the focus on classical for Ten Pieces? Ellara Wakely, Senior Learning Manager BBC Proms and London Performing Groups, believes that, actually, BBC’s Ten Pieces has shown just what can be achieved when young people’s creativity is given free reign: ‘One of the main ambitions of the project is to make great orchestral music accessible to all school children in the UK. We felt that the best way to do that was to present it in a fresh, accessible way that teachers wouldn’t be scared to use in the classroom. While it stems from orchestral music, the responses could not have been more varied – from rap to dance, songwriting, even synchronised swimming! The children involved (4 million and counting!) have shown no boundaries in the way that they respond to this music.’

She continues: ‘I think key to that is the fact that children don’t classify by genre; if we can present music to them with a lack of pre-conception – about contemporary music being ‘difficult’ or classical music being ‘boring’ – and allow them to respond to it in their own terms, then they can make their own decisions about it – but they can’t do that if we don’t give them the opportunity to explore it.’


Video: Pop music video on the theme of bullying, inspired by Handel’s Zadok the Priest, created by pupils from Ystrad Mynach Primary School with Lewis School Pengam, Wales 

Musical Futures is a movement to transform music education in schools through learning that’s relevant to pupils. Their recent Twitter chat on hierarchies in music education showed that music educators working within and outside schools are only too aware of the complexities of the issue:

Twitter feed 1Twitter feed 2Twitter feed 3

Perhaps, in order to encourage greater acknowledgement of musical diversity, we all – parents, music educators and young people – need to model ‘good genre diversity behaviour’, respecting diversity, challenging misconceptions, not accepting lazy thinking and prejudice around genres and hierarchies and championing musicians that young people wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to through the mainstream or their education.

*Higher & intermediate managerial, administrative, professional occupations


Header photo: Composer, Anna Meredith, teaching the entire Royal Albert Hall Connect It, her body percussion piece from year 1 of Ten Pieces. Photo © BBC/Guy Levy


 

Voice power – the choirs tackling health and social need

As ministers push for a Government cross-departmental strategy to support the health and social benefits of the arts, Karen Stretch meets three organisations already transforming lives via the power of singing.

Imagine a choir where the ‘singers’ have never sung before, sometimes have trouble keeping appointments and most of them don’t know anyone else who is there. Chuck in a conductor with a penchant for cheesy warm-up exercises and you could be forgiven for thinking the process is doomed – but this is The Choir with No Name (TCWNN), a charity set up nine years ago for those affected by homelessness and now with four branches (Liverpool, Birmingham, North London and South London) meeting weekly in cities around the UK. Members turn up, rehearse and have a hot meal and a chat afterwards but they also perform and have recorded an album and an EP and toured with Coldplay.

Conductor, Sam Chaplin, was there at the launch of the South London choir in 2012.

‘You’re taking people from believing they can’t sing to them actually singing, doing gigs or a solo and people go on a massive journey,’ he says. ‘The warm-up is very much about making sounds and making a pitch and finding your voice. I do that with incremental growth so I am making small agreements with people. To perform, you have to come out of yourself and share something from somewhere inside.

‘That’s what singing is and the sound from within you comes out and that takes quite a lot of emotional bravery. One reason why people come away from these rehearsals feeling amazing is because anything that helps you to shed your inhibitions and releases dopamine and oxytocin suddenly opens you up to the world and the people around you.’

It’s not to say the music is a quick fix. Homelessness goes hand in hand with other problems such as mental health and TCWNN works together with St Mungo’s and Centrepoint among other organisations to help members access the support they need.

‘People are on a journey and sometimes they come for a bit and drop out for a bit because things aren’t always plain sailing,’ says Chaplin. ‘But what is good is that it is a home to the choir and people come back. We try to keep it that you come when you can and there is always a welcome.’

With almost 1,000 people participating in TCWNN choirs last year and 76 per cent of them reporting an improvement in their mental health (not to mention 60 per cent finding stability in employment, volunteering or housing since joining the choir), it is evident that such initiatives are doing a fantastic job.

Yet only last week, co-chair of the All Party Group on Arts, Health and Well Being, Ed Vaizey MP, made an impassioned plea to the Government to engage in the issue and develop a cross-departmental strategy incorporating both health and arts ministers to ensure the promotion and support of such projects.

In July, following two years of and research and discussion from the worlds of academia, health, arts and politics, the All Party Group published an inquiry into the effect of the arts on health.

‘This report provides considerable evidence that arts-based approaches can help people to stay well, to recover faster, to manage long-term conditions and experience a better quality of life,’ said Vaizey at the Commons debate. ‘Arts engagement can have a positive impact at every point in life.’

Mentioning childhood mental health problems that can be prevented or mitigated through early arts interventions, Vaizey also highlighted a growing initiative aimed at the senior end of society, A Choir in Every Care Home run by Live Music Now.

‘This is encouraging music and singing in care homes across the UK,’ he explained. ‘It supports evidence that regular group singing can enhance morale, reduce loneliness and improve mental health. It can also help those suffering with a terminal illness as well.’

Chief Executive of Live Music Now, Evan Dawson, couldn’t agree more. Two years into the initiative, A Choir in Every Care Home is really taking off with its practical approach producing impressive results.

‘Even if we had the most enormous Government grant, there is no way that we could deliver professional music leadership in care homes or communities on a scale that the evidence would suggest is necessary,’ says Dawson. ‘We will do as much as we can and we will also inspire and train and support care staff to use music as well. It doesn’t have to be expensive: care staff singing when they get people up in the morning and when they get them dressed. It can be incredibly effective. What they need is permission and encouragement but they also do need support sometimes.’

Live Music Now is training 350 musicians throughout the country to coach and support care staff to deliver interactive music sessions. In each of the 18 care homes where they started the scheme six months ago, all are now using music in their day-to-day lives.

Working in partnership with multiple organisations including the Care Quality Commission, Care England and the Mental Health Foundation, Live Music Now is providing leadership and focus.

The project will continue to develop in the next six months, going into six care homes and introducing a ‘bells and whistles’ music programme, training staff and working with the residents there. With a framework designed by senior staff at some of the big care chains involved – BUPA, MHA and the Orders of St John Care Trust – the project will be evaluated by the University of Winchester.

‘My hope is that we will make a really strong case for care homes to invest in this work,’ says Dawson. ‘It doesn’t have to be expensive and actually will save money. The British choral tradition is a precious thing and I think we may have lost the connection between choirs and communities. Of all the social problems that we have, this could be one that we could fix quite cheaply.’

Of course, it’s not just the elderly who benefit from social networking and musical support. Across the pond in Boston, Massachusetts, the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) has been linking communities through music and providing a safe, friendly space for open discussion since 2003. Founded by the former Dean of Boston University’s School of Social Work, Hubie Jones, the not-for-profit choir brings together diverse communities and now has 12 different choirs in five locations across the city. There are 500 children aged from seven to 18 involved, with four out of five receiving financial aid.

Associate Music Director, Robbie Jacobs, moved from his position as Acting Artistic Director of the London Youth Choir to join the organisation only a few weeks ago.

‘As well as being a fantastic musical organisation creating fantastic artistic output with the kids, probably the most important part of this organisation’s work is facilitating conversations about sometimes difficult subjects,’ he says of BCC. ‘We are hearing the students’ point of view and encouraging them to come into contact with students from parts of a city which is a melting point of different cultures.

‘Beyond that, we are having conversations about things that are difficult to discuss and facilitating them as part of the musical process.’

On the day we speak, America is still reeling from the previous day’s news of lone gunman, Stephen Paddock, shooting 58 people dead from the window of his Las Vegas hotel, before turning the gun on himself.

‘I’ve got a group tonight and I would say it’s pretty likely that we will talk about gun control in the context of Las Vegas,’ says Jacobs. ‘That is a current event that is on people’s minds and particularly for a teenager that might be a very scary thing.

‘Here, we will make an environment where people can share their views. There may be a disparity of views in the room and the discussion of that will be empathetic and open so that nobody is going to be shouted down and all views are represented.’

To facilitate such discussions alongside the music, two-hour rehearsals take place twice a week, giving plenty of time to rehearse and create an environment to discuss social change.

‘It couldn’t be further from the idea of a Cambridge choir,’ admits Jacobs. ‘That was my background because I was a choral scholar at Kings [College, Cambridge] and I would argue a lot for the better. In the UK, my experience of working with a youth choir is that we take people from a young age and train them, then an 11-year-old will audition for an intermediate choir and we’ll say, ‘Sorry, you’re not good enough, goodbye’. With BCC, no child is going to be turned away and once you’re in, you’re in till you’re 18.’

As for his future with the choir, Jacobs is excited to see what’s around the corner. ‘It’s very new and quite hard to know exactly what direction it is going in,’ he smiles. ‘I hope it is going to be a life-changing experience for me too!’


Dan Willcox, 23, Choir With No Name, Liverpool

I was at Crisis’s office on a Wednesday which so happened to be the day that The Choir with No Name got together to rehearse. A member of staff asked me along for a rehearsal.

I haven’t sung in a choir before this because I was a very isolated person and such things didn’t really interest me at the time.

I am a massive fan of metal, Avenged Sevenfold in particular, but I enjoy all kinds of music. My favourite piece with CWNN is undoubtedly Human by Rag’n’Bone Man. I enjoyed this song when I heard it myself and suggested it for choir and it went down fantastically with the other members during our song selection process.

Singing with the choir makes me feel ecstatic. Whole. It gives me a feeling that I’m part of something so much bigger than myself and that is an amazing thing for me.

Being in choir has given me something to look forward to on a Wednesday evening. It has given me a reason to get into bed on a Tuesday evening and wake up somewhat early on a Wednesday. It gives you people to look forward to seeing. It makes you feel proud of yourself when you smash out a gig or new song in rehearsal.

Join if for nothing more than to get yourself out of the house and watch as you find yourself eager to come back every week. Come for the hot meal cooked by the talented volunteers. Come for the camaraderie. Stay for the amazing singing.


Abigail Nordan, 15, Winchester, Boston Children’s Chorus

One thing I love about BCC is that we go beyond singing traditional choral music and are able to redefine what a children’s chorus can do.While we do sing some classical music, for most of the year (especially in the upper choirs) we focus on more contemporary pieces that require so much more emotion and power in order to do them justice – and that’s what makes us artists.

Last year, my choir performed a concert with a theme of gender equality that was absolutely incredible – so much fun! – and we sang my two favorite songs we’ve ever done, Quiet by MILCK and Turn Our Eyes Away by Trent Dabbs and Ruby Amanfu. Those two songs were stunningly powerful. So much heart and soul needed to go into them and we rose up to the challenge beautifully –  I think everyone was able to personally connect to the words and put all kinds of emotion into them.

Singing in BCC with my friends, some of which I’ve known since I was a little kid, just gives me a sense of pride and fulfillment that nothing else ever has. When you work so hard for so long at something, you bond with people in a way that truly makes you feel like family. Making music clears my head and helps me put things into perspective and just brings me endless amounts of happiness. BCC gives me a sense of clarity, purpose, and accomplishment that I can’t get anywhere else.

The atmosphere at BCC is truly one of a kind. I walk into the room and always do a little bit of a double take because I feel like I am stepping into a memory – countless hours of talking and rehearsing and staging in the rehearsal room have made it such a special place for me, like a little sanctuary where I know I can be whoever I want. The discussions that take place in the room have defined the person I am today. They allow us to be vulnerable and that helps us all grow closer and trust one another. Even though we are children, we refuse to avoid controversial topics. We work to make sure that all opinions can always be heard and appreciated. While BCC makes an effort to make sure everyone’s thoughts are accepted, we do not listen to those that are hateful or oppressive. Everyone at BCC has such a respect for one another and the discussions we have about modern politics make our group incredibly tight-knit.

I am from a town that is almost all white and there aren’t very many different kinds of people to get to know. When you come from a place like this, it is so easy to be ignorant. Because of our discussions in BCC, I make sure to direct my efforts into creating and inspiring social change, even in issues that do not affect me personally. BCC is one of a kind in that we manage to make incredible art with a purpose. When you unite hundreds of kids over a common goal of musical excellence and social change, incredible things happen and I believe that’s something that everyone has the right to experience.


 

Creating a songbook for Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School

Composer and multi-instrumentalist, John K Miles, introduces his ongoing project with City of London Sinfonia for children and young people with mental health issues

In March 2015, I was invited to lead a creative music project for City of London Sinfonia (CLS) at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, which teaches and supports children with mental health issues resident at two London psychiatric hospitals: Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham and Maudsley Hospital in Camberwell. The initial project took place at the Bethlem site and although I had previously led projects in schools, hospices, prisons, homeless centres, special schools and youth clubs, this was a new context for me and I was very much looking forward to it.

The project was for a group of eight Primary/Middle students. It ran for four sessions and took place in two main settings: a classroom and the school’s main foyer, which is like a small-scale school hall with a piano. Each session lasted from 40 minutes to an hour and included some one-to-one work and some whole group work. All sessions were supported by staff and were, by necessity, fluid and responsive to the needs of the participants.

I try to approach each new composition and performance project with an open mind, ready to respond to what I find. An important part of this discovery process is to create a safe, fun and equitable space where every participant feels like they can make a contribution. This can take myriad forms including playing games, singing songs, clapping, drumming or simply talking.

Knowing that the final concert would include a wonderful string quartet from CLS, I chose to start with some songs that would work well with bespoke string arrangements. The staff at Bethlem and Maudsley are amazingly supportive and their willingness to join in and model collaboration was a crucial bridge to positive participation for the students. It broke the ice and established the beginnings of group cohesion and purpose for the project.

We followed the songs with some creative work using percussion patterns. I often draw on the rich component parts of traditional rhythms and grooves, due to their immediate connectivity and flexibility for a range of creative musical applications, including classical development, improvisation and songwriting. Drumming is also an accessible and direct way into musical non-verbal communication through call and response.

Over the next couple of sessions, we made an instrumental piece together with classroom instruments and wrote a song. I took the work home after each session and developed the material by adding harmonies, editing words, extending sections and creating a structure and arrangement for the string quartet. For me, collaborative composition projects are a balance between the ideas and skills of participants and the extension of those ideas through the professional input of the leader and musicians. The joy and magic of collaboration is often that everybody is able to contribute ideas and emotions regardless of experience or technique. The work is as much about an expression of the human condition as about professional craft and when those two elements come together, it can be electric.

We also made some individual miniature compositions with students who the staff thought might particularly benefit from the work. One participant, whose facial muscles were markedly contorted with physical tension, particularly inspired me. As soon as she played music, her face completely relaxed as if her brain had created a bypass to the root cause of the tension. It was the most striking (positive) physical contrast directly caused through music-making that I have ever seen.

Once the new music was created, two members of the string quartet joined us for the final rehearsal. For a few students, it was the first time they’d heard a professional classical musician play. The effect of an instrument played in close proximity with a beautiful sound and technique cannot be underestimated. It can speak (without words) of craft, dedication and beauty and also directly to the soul. There is immense value when that aesthetic is added into a creative collaboration because it can elevate the collective vision and aspirations of the group.

The final sharing of the work was to parents, friends and staff with a combination of learned songs, a new group instrumental piece and a new group song, supported by the professional CLS string quartet. The quartet in turn played two short pieces of repertoire as part of the concert programme.

It was wonderful to see the impact of music on the students’ confidence and ability to work in a group. Sometimes, the positive effects were marked and striking and, sometimes, they were subtle. For some, it was simply taking part and joining in; for others, it was extending their skills with solo moments or significant creative contributions. In the end, the ownership was shared because we’d all been a part of it and presented the work as a collective.

This first project was followed by two more in 2016 and 2017, focussing on two separate groups of Primary/Middle and Adolescent students. These two groups shared some material and came together for the final performances. Through the three projects, we began to build a bank of new songs and arrangements for young people and string quartet. It seemed to make sense to begin creating an accessible legacy songbook and audio resource for continued practical music-making and listening in the future.

Since then, funds have been successfully raised by the brilliant CLS team for 18 new projects over the next three years. There are also lots of exciting ideas for collaborating across sites, linking into the CLS seasonal programme and potentially creating a permanent audio and songbook legacy at the hospital museum.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege working at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School. The staff and young people have been an inspiration and it’s a joy to witness the tangible effects of the work come to life. The positive changes to personal confidence, teamwork, cohesion and behaviour have been marked alongside some truly wonderful creativity and memorable, moving performances.


About the author

John K Miles has composed numerous scores for film and television and written prolifically for theatre, jazz groups, world music ensembles and the classical concert hall.

Concert commissions include On Golden Cap written for the opening of the Olympic Sailing in 2012, The Choice written to open the 2014 Bath International Music Festival and Carnival Suite written for the City of London Sinfonia and Children’s Ensemble, published by Charanga and Music Sales in 2015. His latest work, The Wish, was premiered by the City of London Sinfonia in 2017 and is due to go on tour in 2018.

John has led myriad composition projects and workshops for many leading arts organisations including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, ENO, Britten Sinfonia, the Roundhouse, Sinfonia Viva and New Dimensions. He is a visiting professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Website: http://www.johnkmiles.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/JKMcentral


 

Changing lives one song at a time: The Choir with No Name

Rachel Clare introduces the UK-based choral charity working with people affected by homelessness

Ever wondered why you feel so good after belting out Bohemian Rhapsody or why hitting the high notes alongside your choir colleagues leaves you grinning from ear to ear? It’s because singing is really good for you and over the past nine years since The Choir with No Name first opened its doors to people affected by homelessness, we’ve seen first-hand the remarkable impact singing together can have on the lives of our members.

The Choir with No Name is a small charity running choirs for people who’ve experienced homelessness and marginalisation in London, Liverpool and Birmingham (with plans to expand across the UK in years to come). We rehearse once a week and sit down together afterwards for a hot meal. Our choirs are free, with no audition, and are therefore 100% accessible to anyone who needs a place to belong, regardless of circumstances. We perform at a wide variety of venues across the country, including the Royal Festival Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall and Brighton Dome – we even sang for the Duke of Cambridge at London’s Guildhall! We also run outreach singing workshops at homeless day centres, hostels and services for people at risk of homelessness such as refugees and vulnerable women or those with mental health problems and addictions.

The reasons why someone might become homeless and the challenges they face once in that position are about much more than a lack of housing. People often have a range of additional challenges, including relationship breakdown and bereavement, substance dependency and, even when rehoused, they may feel alone and socially isolated. This is where our choirs come in.

Joining The Choir with No Name can be the first step towards building enough self-confidence to get back on their feet and away from homelessness long-term. Through being part of a supportive choir community and singing with others, members’ beliefs about their capabilities are fundamentally challenged and changed. They get to experience the myriad health benefits of singing together as well as an opportunity to develop new skills, make genuine, lifelong friendships, have fun and leave their troubles at the door once a week. They start to feel better about themselves, regain a sense of self-worth and are then more able to take on life’s other challenges – such as enrolling in recovery services, living independently, getting involved with community life and engaging with education or employment. The Choir with No Name’s members often describe our choirs as ‘family’. It’s so much more than just a group of people coming together once a week to sing – they are also a life-changing support network and a huge catalyst for positive change.

Ronnie was a member of our North London choir:

‘I’ve been coming to The Choir with No Name on and off for a few years now. I’d never sung in a choir before so I had no expectations but from the moment I walked in, everyone was so warm and welcoming. It was a really great place to go and not be judged, where everyone looked you in the eye and actually treated you like a human. The crucial thing is that singing makes you feel good. No matter how bad your week’s been, you go to choir, have a sing and you feel better. It gives you something to look forward to.

‘Last year, things had got pretty desperate. I was sleeping rough and then moved into a notorious hostel barely fit for human habitation. I’ve had depression all my life so I was at my lowest point at that time. It was the worst year of my life but I made it and The Choir with No Name was a large part of that.

‘In the space of a year, I have gone from a desperate situation that I saw no way out of to living in my own flat, graduating from House of St Barnabus Employment Academy, receiving counselling for my depression with a future ahead of me. I owe a lot of that to The Choir with No Name for giving me the confidence, belief and opportunity as well as the support and friendship from the people I have met there. My life has changed beyond recognition. Every day, I wake up and pinch myself.

‘When you’re homeless, so much of what you experience strips you of your dignity. The Choir with No Name gave me hope and optimism. It gave me my dignity back.’


To celebrate the power of singing together to change lives, The Choir with No Name is inviting people to be part of All Together Now! 2017.

We want to show the world how singing together can be a powerful catalyst for positive change and raise enough money to ensure that we can continue to offer life-changing support to people affected by homelessness for many years to come.

We are calling on choirs, vocal groups and singers across the UK and beyond to put on an All Together Now! fundraising event for us this term in the lead-up to the festive season. Carol concerts, ‘Come and Sing’ events, sing-a-thons, karaoke parties, street busks or even just a whip round at choir rehearsal – you name it – if it involves people coming together to sing, then it gets a thumbs-up from us.

For inspiration, here are some of the All Together Now! events choirs have already hosted for us this year.

The Choir with No Name genuinely changes lives and we are working hard to raise enough money to make sure we can continue to sing loud and proud well into the future. We are really excited about getting people together to celebrate the power of communal singing for a fantastic cause. So if you sing in a choir or just enjoy singing in the shower, why not get together, sing your hearts out and be part of something SINGsational this term…

Click here to get involved or visit choirwithnoname.org/alltogethernow.


About the author

Rachel Clare is Fundraising & Communications Manager at homeless choir charity, The Choir with No Name, which runs choirs for homeless and marginalised people in the UK.

She has sung all her life and can’t imagine a more inspiring and hopeful organisation to be involved with!


 

Can arts and culture change young lives in Sierra Leone?

The mission of Global Arts Learning Action is to encourage and enable lower income countries to place arts learning at the heart of their education systems, and to mobilise the world’s educators and artists to support these endeavours. The organisation believes that more, better learning through dance, film, literature, music and theatre can help to transform children’s life chances and give them the skills and qualities that will help them thrive. Art-rich learning can also nurture vibrant civil societies where creativity and freedom of expression are valued.

Global Arts Learning Action’s co-founder, Joe Hallgarten, visited Sierra Leone earlier in 2017 to discuss how the organisation could offer practical support to schools, teachers, pupils, artists and politicians. Here, he describes the reception he received during his visit.

I got used to the noise but never quite adjusted to the heat. Whilst, by the end of my too-short first-ever week in Freetown, I could happily navigate the madness of Lumley Junction, I was still sweating as much on day seven as on day one.

Arts education remains a very low priority in every education system in the world. Whilst the Sustainable Development Goals are galvanising education reforms in low-income countries, reforms are tending not to prioritise the arts in national curricula, assessments or depictions of effective pedagogy. Given the extraordinary and immediate challenges that countries like Sierra Leone face in terms of pupil enrolment, teacher quality and, above all, literacy levels, this may not be surprising; but it may also be a missed opportunity. There is evidence from around the world that high quality arts learning can help address these very challenges.

I was invited to Sierra Leone by two school groups — Educaid and Rising Academies — to explore how our idea might work in a particular context. As well as meeting with teachers and pupils, I discussed our emerging plans with government officials and artists, entrepreneurs and politicians. It was clear from day one that education is an issue which Sierra Leone’s citizens care deeply about. On one day, newspapers led with stories of unpaid teachers. On another, headlines revealed accusations of exam board corruption. I had read about Sierra Leone’s low school completion rates, especially amongst girls, its high levels of illiteracy and its chronic lack of education funding. But as I saw schools which creatively converted classrooms by day into dormitories by night for the most vulnerable children, or which only had ancient books and blackboards to work with, I far better understood the daily challenges that students and teachers face across Sierra Leone.

As well as encountering the generosity of so many people in Freetown, I was also heartened by the way people engaged with and offered critical insights to what is still a very half-formed idea. It’s so difficult to summarise all my thoughts, but here are three insights:

First, in terms of the arts and culture, Sierra Leone has a rich, impressive history to draw on, and a growing artistic talent base which could be harnessed to support schools. A strong tradition of making great theatre has been undermined by the civil war and Ebola. Visionaries such as Charlie Hafner are doing their best to sustain and grow these traditions, in difficult circumstances. Similarly, Ballanta Academy is keeping both traditional and modern music-making alive amongst young people in Freetown. Many people I spoke to, including younger artists and filmmakers, were passionate about Sierra Leone reviving stronger expressions of its own cultural outputs, rather than accepting the increasing domination of Nigerian culture in particular. Global university Limkokwing has recently opened a new campus in Freetown, working with the government to provide scholarships for over a thousand students to study creative and IT-related degrees and diplomas.

Everyone from the Minister of Culture to Esther, the young gospel singer I met outside the Ministry, saw the arts as fundamental to the regeneration of Sierra Leone, and to the ongoing quest to promote the civic values that provide the best insulation against any return to civil conflict. As renowned theatre academic and former Minister of Information, Professor Cecil Blake, asserted, ‘arts can be a powerful force for social change in Sierra Leone’.

Second, whilst resources and capacity are of course an issue in almost all schools in Sierra Leone, the biggest barrier may still be the curriculum and assessment systems. Although the arts is included in primary schools, assessed through the ‘creative and practical arts’ track at BECE/lower secondary, and an optional strand for the WAACE, the curriculum is in urgent need of an update. It favours knowledge and understanding  –  for instance, of types of animal hides  –  over the nurturing of any creative responses or expressions. Young people in Sierra Leone don’t lack curiosity –  far from it. But at school, they tend to lack the space and encouragement to pursue this curiosity and express their ideas and emotions.

Third, both pupils and teachers are very keen to experience more arts learning opportunities in and out of school. Many teachers I met told me of the teachers whose arts teaching inspired them as pupils. They were also keen to tell me about their own artistic interests and talents  –  from rapping to poetry, drawing to dance. They were desperate to bring these interests into their teaching, so they could inspire pupils in similar ways. Teachers in Sierra Leone are widely criticised for old-fashioned methods and a lack of commitment, but the teachers I met were motivated and ready to learn and teach in different ways.

So I returned to the relative cool of London much more optimistic about the chances of success and impact in Sierra Leone. It seems that there is an appetite amongst both educators and artists for a new programme that builds on existing initiatives, is locally owned and encompasses curriculum innovation, teacher training, and new school-artist partnerships. Over the next few months, we’ll be talking to more people in and outside the country. We hope to return in December, having secured support from global foundations and companies, and work with local partners to co-design a programme that can start from 2018.

So imagine if, over the next generation, the arts became central to all young Sierra Leonean’s lives, in and out of school. What might be the impact and benefits, for young people themselves and for Sierra Leone’s society? How might we get there? And how could you, as citizens, parents and educators, contribute? As one of Sierra Leone’s most successful musicians, Emmerson, said to me, ‘We artists are here, we are ready to help’.


About the author

Joe Hallgarten is Co-Founder of Global Arts Learning Action and Senior Associate with the Innovation Unit. Occasionally innovating, frequently winging it. Fickle with his views.

twitter.com/joehallg


 

Music Generation: why music education in Ireland has The Edge

As music services and hubs across the UK struggle to provide tuition on ever-squeezed budgets, a flourishing Irish initiative backed by U2 is kicking down the financial and social barriers to prove music-making is in fine tune. By Karen Stretch

Think Ireland, think music. The jaunty melody of the penny whistle and fiddle and the beat of the bodhrán in a spontaneous, craic-infused gig. But like UK music services and hubs, the Irish provision faced an uncertain future in the aftermath of the economic crash of 2008. Not only traditional sounds but every kind of music-making was threatened with recent pilot projects from Ireland’s music touring and development agency, Music Network, focussing on Donegal and Dublin halted in their tracks.

Enter stage left globally successful rock band, U2, and philanthropic network, The Ireland Funds, with a joint donation of 7m Euros and the ambition to do something about access to music education for children and young people in Ireland.

‘When they were looking at options, Music Network’s national strategy was the one that overwhelmingly appealed to them and which they committed to,’ explains Rosaleen Molloy, National Director of Music Generation, the organisation established in 2010 to continue rolling out the programme and developing the model built on public-philanthropic partnership.

‘This enabled the creation of opportunities in performance music education for thousands of young people in Ireland.’

In fact, the model was developed in a further 12 areas of the country, providing music tuition for 38,000 children and young people annually. This happened in just five years – an ambitious target achieved 18 months ahead of schedule – with five more partnerships in new locations announced in January.

While such achievement and impact is impressive, it’s hard not to wonder what happens when the funds run dry. What hope for countries without a Bono or Adam Clayton prepared to dig into their pockets or donate the proceeds of concerts to the charity coffers as they did with their iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Irish concerts in 2015?

‘One of the goals of philanthropy is for long-term, lasting outcomes to be achieved,’ says Molloy. ‘So this principle of sustainability has always been at the core of Music Generation as it evolved. Currently, U2 and The Ireland Funds’ seed funding is strategically leveraging long-term investment from the Irish Government through the Department of Education and Skills and Local Music Education Partnerships – similar to the Music Hub model in England – ensuring that there will continue to be a future for Music Generation beyond the term of the philanthropic gift and that it will be more than just another short-term project that was only as good as the money lasted.’

There’s no doubting that the model of public-philanthropic partnership that Music Generation is built upon has proven to be a remarkable success, achieving sustainable outcomes on all fronts, most importantly for children and young people.

‘The goals of philanthropy are all about bringing about real and meaningful change,’ adds Molloy. ‘Philanthropic giving is from the head and the heart; it tackles the cause of a problem rather than simply easing the symptoms; it provides financial capital to organisations with a vision and a strategic plan; and it focusses on long-term results.’

The 50/50 funding model operated by Music Generation ensures philanthropic investment leveraging matched funding investment from Government and Local Music Education Partnerships. As well as addressing the future sustainability of funding, this promotes local ownership and roots the programmes within local structures and communities. It also means that the initial philanthropic donations are generating ongoing return on investment.

The phenomenal success of this business model has been turning heads further afield too. At last year’s ISME (International Society for Music Education) conference in Glasgow, Music Generation presented the findings from a partnership with Dublin City University’s St Patrick’s College that looks at how the programme is enabling positive and meaningful outcomes for children and young people through music.

Real interest was generated with international delegates who learned how the model of public-philanthropic partnership has allowed Music Generation to develop an entirely new way of thinking about performance music education while offering a framework for future development.

‘In theory, that framework – the vision and thinking behind Music Generation – could be adapted to other contexts,’ says Molloy, ‘though in doing so, it would be important to recognise the central importance of diversity and local ownership.

‘Music Generation has diversity at its core and our many partners interact in multiple different ways at every level of the programme. This diversity – within the structure of the organisation, its processes, music practices and among its participants – is the hallmark of the programme’s success.’

That success is evident in the mind-boggling mix of concerts, events, settings and communities that feature on the Music Generation website as a snapshot of the life-changing work that is going on day by day.

‘More than anything, I am incredibly proud of the extraordinary things that Music Generation is achieving for children and young people every day – enabling access and opportunity,’ beams Molloy. ‘We are providing a platform to share skills, practice, passion and experience with families and communities; and bringing together musicians of all ages for transformative musical encounters in countless settings and contexts.

‘It’s difficult to pinpoint any one project as the work crosses such diverse contexts – be it rock, pop, traditional Irish Music, classical, jazz or hip-hop; focussing both on individual music-making and all manner of vocal and instrumental ensembles; catering to children from Early Years right up to age 18.

‘We work in educational, community and arts settings, within healthcare and probation services, at festivals, events and venues. That breadth of reach and the transformative power of music education that we witness in the work, voices and music of the young musicians inspire us every day.’

Pushed to pick out highlights of this epic journey, Molloy mentions some recent successes that are truly astounding in their scope.

On Easter Sunday 2016, more than 300 members of Music Generation choirs joined an ensemble of 1,000 voices to perform live together with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising in Ireland and the world premiere of a new piece by composer, Shaun Davey, One Hundred Years a Nation.

Last April, a choir of seven young musicians travelled to the Sistine Chapel in Rome to perform with U2’s The Edge at a special acoustic concert. In May, three young traditional Irish musicians from County Laois were introduced by Adam Clayton as they performed for guests at The American Ireland Fund’s Annual Gala Dinner in New York.

And in July, a trad orchestra of 25 players was invited to perform at the Worldwide Ireland Funds Conference in Trinity College, Dublin, for guests including former Vice President, Joe Biden, and Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.

‘These are momentous occasions for the young musicians involved and we are tremendously grateful to our donors, funders and partners for enabling those life-changing opportunities,’ she adds.

It’s hard to imagine how occasions like these can ever be surpassed but there is little doubt there are great things ahead on the Music Generation journey. Its recently published strategic plan outlines goals up to 2021 focussing on core ambitions of Growth, Sustainability and Quality. The organisation’s first phase of work and infrastructure will be consolidated as new experiences and opportunities are created for the musicians of the future.

Already, economic benefits are being seen. There have been 330 jobs created as musicians deliver tuition with investment in learning opportunities for the range of partners involved in the programme, including on-going professional training and development initiatives.

Instrument-makers and providers are also receiving custom from participants, schools and partner organisations involved with projects locally. Regional community, cultural and arts venues are being animated as workshop and performance spaces for Music Generation programmes and events and independent service providers are contracted to support local initiatives, including press and marketing teams, printers and designers, photographers and videographers, project managers and catering companies, among many others.

It’s abundantly clear that the reach of Music Generation goes way beyond that of enabling children and young people to perform. A country once resigned to a patchy music performance provision based on limited resources and a geographical lottery is now reaping the rewards of sustained and focussed investment teamed with smart forward-thinking and partnership.

Not only musical life has been enhanced but also the social and cultural identity of many of the local communities and rural areas in which it is established.

‘Our programmes encourage social inclusion and improve the quality of life for those who access it, either directly or indirectly,’ concludes Molloy. ‘This all generates increased inward investment for Ireland as people want to live and work in a country where quality of life is enhanced.’

Think Ireland, think music. The beat of this Music Generation most definitely goes on.


About the author

After cutting her teeth on the arts pages of the Burton Mail and the Yorkshire Evening Post, Karen Stretch headed up the launch team for Metro Yorkshire’s arts section before joining its head office in London.

Now a freelance writer and mum of two, she is also a Primary music teacher and a keen explorer of the arts scene in her new home near Bristol.

Email: karen@1hub.co


 

Are hierarchical attitudes to genre holding young people back?

Anita Holford and Dyfan Wyn Owen find out if young people are being short-changed by genre bias in music education

We live in a century that’s rich with musical diversity. In one week – in the schoolyard, in bedrooms and in living rooms – our children may be exposed to anything from acoustic blues to ambient, from break beat to bhangra, from Chicago blues to contemporary folk – to name just a few genres. In schools in the UK, the music curricula enable teachers to be more pluralistic too. Yet it seems Western classical music continues to be by far the dominant force in music education here – and in the way the media portrays it.

Music education hubs, set up in 2013 in England, are funded by the Department for Education through Arts Council England to work with schools and other organisation to create joined-up music education provision and respond to the needs of young people and schools in their area. However, Arts Council England’s data report on music education hubs in 2013 found that their work was dominated by ‘a core repertoire of mainly classical and chamber music, tiered progression ensembles’ and ‘few examples of hip hop, digital, folk or ethnic/world ensembles’.

The first major initiative that’s seen the BBC and music education hubs working together is an ambitious campaign – Ten Pieces – to get school pupils involved in developing their own creative responses to 10 musical pieces – all classical. At around the same time, ABRSM launched its Classical 100 campaign to Primary schools, providing recordings and resources for 100 classical music pieces.

So, even in this richly diverse 21st century, is the message that most children receive from ‘the establishment’ that it’s great to make other types of music but the foundation on which a music education should be built, and the pinnacle of achievement, is Western classical music? And why does this matter?

Melanie Stevens from South Wales, a parent of two children aged 9 and 10, says:

‘I love the fact that my kids are part of the local music service’s music centres and they do enjoy playing orchestral instruments. But I can’t help feeling this, and their music lessons in school, is out of place with their experience of music ‘in the real world’ – and they’re beginning to express that themselves. Perhaps if it was more linked to the music they’re passionate about, it would light a spark and they would be more motivated to learn and progress in music. As it is, I think they’ll drop music as soon as they get to Secondary or at least to their GCSE options.’

Inspiring Music for All, a review of music in schools funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation in 2014, said that ‘there is often a lack of effective connection between music in the classroom and music beyond the classroom’.

Making Music, a report by ABRSM in the same year, found that although increasing numbers of children are playing a wider variety of instruments, particularly pop music instruments, there is a social grade divide in instrument choice. String, brass, piano and woodwind players, for example, are disproportionately from AB households*.

So it seems that many young musicians aren’t receiving the same support and encouragement as their classical musician peers. And for those who aren’t yet making music, there’s a risk that if they’re not inspired by music in school, they’ll see themselves as ‘not musical’ and be lost to making music.

Intrinsic motivation is a holy grail in education so perhaps music can win greater headway by better exploiting young people’s passion for music?

Matt Griffiths, Chief Executive of Youth Music, a charity that invests in music-making projects for children and young people experiencing challenging circumstances, says that:

‘Unless we challenge the accepted notion that some genres are better than others and that one type of musical practice is better than another, we will never really be in a position to give every child and young person access to music education that meets their needs and fosters life-long participation.’

Jim Pinchen, freelance music educator and Surrey Music Hub Inclusion Manager, agrees:

‘The words, ‘a diverse music offer’, are being echoed at every music education meeting across the country and this is an opportunity to work in partnership to ensure that this is the reality for young people. A cello should be as common in a secure unit as a Kaoss Pad as should Ableton Live Looping in a Wider Opportunities [Whole Class instrumental teaching] session. We have the tools and skills collectively to make this happen and deliver on our promises, however, that may involve a change in culture of our organisations and service.’

Change is happening, it seems, but not everywhere and many believe not fast enough: While many music education hubs in England and music services in other countries of the UK have re-shaped their offer, there has been criticism that many are still ‘the old music service’, failing to work in partnership or to diversify their offer.

James Dickinson, Head of Hertfordshire Music Service, the lead partner for Hertfordshire’s hub, says that ‘genres should be threads that link together different [aspects of a hub] … not the end in themselves’ and that hubs need to balance being led by demand and promoting traditional as well as contemporary pathways.

‘There is far more informal music-making [i.e. non-classical] than five years ago so you might ask is there a role for music education to promote, preserve and develop traditional music-making such as youth orchestras so that we’ll see increased levels of UK students going to conservatoires?’

The other extreme, he suggests, is that ‘if young people need to have an active role in their choice of music, if they want to learn the electric guitar rather than the violin, should we just go where the market takes us?’

In reality, he continues, hubs probably have to do a bit of both but it’s not straightforward: ‘Practically, you need to look at local circumstances and respond to those and that includes the availability of staff with specific skills as well as enabling children and young people to make an informed decision that’s right for them. That’s as much to do with supporting people on traditional music-making as informal music-making.’

Pete Moser, CEO of More Music, a community music organisation based in Morecambe, Lancashire, believes that hubs and others need to be more open about these issues and the wider issues they link to: ‘I think there is a mystery about musical genre that is linked to political class issues,’ he continues. ‘I think we could do with being more ‘out’ in our discussions and talk about the differences between the genres and the role that music plays in our lives, have honest discussions and value everything in a particular way.’

Perhaps, as Pete says, the key is better, more honest conversations about genres amongst parents, music educators and young people themselves. Letting young people have more of a say in their music education certainly seems to shake up adults’ preconceptions and prejudices around genre – as the BBC has found.

The BBC has a range of initiatives to celebrate and inspire musicians of all genres such as Radio 2 Folk Awards, BBC Young Jazz Musician, Urban Prom and BBC Introducing. So why the focus on classical for Ten Pieces? Ellara Wakely, Senior Learning Manager BBC Proms and London Performing Groups, believes that, actually, BBC’s Ten Pieces has shown just what can be achieved when young people’s creativity is given free reign: ‘One of the main ambitions of the project is to make great orchestral music accessible to all school children in the UK. We felt that the best way to do that was to present it in a fresh, accessible way that teachers wouldn’t be scared to use in the classroom. While it stems from orchestral music, the responses could not have been more varied – from rap to dance, songwriting, even synchronised swimming! The children involved (4 million and counting!) have shown no boundaries in the way that they respond to this music.’

She continues: ‘I think key to that is the fact that children don’t classify by genre; if we can present music to them with a lack of pre-conception – about contemporary music being ‘difficult’ or classical music being ‘boring’ – and allow them to respond to it in their own terms, then they can make their own decisions about it – but they can’t do that if we don’t give them the opportunity to explore it.’

Musical Futures is a movement to transform music education in schools through learning that’s relevant to pupils. Their recent Twitter chat on hierarchies in music education showed that music educators working within and outside schools are only too aware of the complexities of the issue:

Perhaps, in order to encourage greater acknowledgement of musical diversity, we all – parents, music educators and young people – need to model ‘good genre diversity behaviour’, respecting diversity, challenging misconceptions, not accepting lazy thinking and prejudice around genres and hierarchies and championing musicians that young people wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to through the mainstream or their education.

*Higher & intermediate managerial, administrative, professional occupations

Girls Rock London

Girls Rock London: Challenging the under-representation of women in music head on

In 2017, a unique music project for girls and women, Girls Rock London (GRL), received investment, mentoring and support from Sound Connections’ Innovate programme. The funding enabled GRL to centre the voices of young women in the design and facilitation of its work and to act as mentors during its Summer camps, Camp Co-ordinator, Geraldine Smith, explains.

Juwon Ogungbe and Haringey schoolchildren in rehearsals for 'Ignatius Inspires' © Nadeem Ali, www.thesweetspace.com

Did you know your music could light a fire? About ‘Ignatius Inspires’

In November 2017, composer and musician, Juwon Ogungbe, worked in collaboration with artists and young people from across Haringey to present two performances celebrating the life and work of Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), an abolitionist icon and the first Black composer ever to have his music published in Britain. Here, he reflects on the process.

Participants at Tri-Music Together's three-day course, 'Championing Music in the EYFS', at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

Tri-Music Together – one hub’s foray into Early Years music provision

With music education hub funding restricted to five- to 18-year-olds, what happens in the Early Years? EY music specialist and Tri-Music Together EYFS Strategic Lead, Nicola Burke, introduces Tri-borough Music Hub’s bold initiative

I am currently the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Strategic Lead for Tri-Music Together, a two-year Early Years (EY) music project taking place within three West London boroughs (the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham; and the City of Westminster) via the Tri-borough Music Hub. The aim of the project is to improve the music provision for children from birth to five years across EY settings within the Tri-borough area.

Although the National Plan for Music Education (NPME) acknowledges that ‘music teaching starts in the Early Years’ (Department for Education, 2011, p.9), music education hub (MEH) funding from the Department for Education (DfE) is for children from aged five i.e. national policy does not include music-making in the EY. It would be useful to clarify when the funding for five-year-olds starts – children turn five while in their Reception year; therefore, do these five-year-olds receive funding from the DfE while in Reception or is the reality that funded music education actually starts in Year 1?

Nicola Burke and Jessica Pitt

Nicola Burke (right) with Dr Jessica Pitt (left), the evaluator on the Tri-Music Together project

As a passionate advocate of music in the EY, Stuart Whatmore, Head of the Tri-borough Music Hub (TBMH), was keen to explore how the hub could provide music education in the EY across the Tri-borough. Although EYFS is outside the MEH remit, Stuart strongly feels that children in the EYFS have the right to quality musical experiences. By providing music in the EYFS, he also feels that this could better link with Key Stage 1 music provision to ensure better progression and the joining-up of skills.

Like Stuart, I strongly feel that it is every child’s right to have access to quality musical experiences from birth. The fact that the NPME begins at age five is a huge disservice to children from birth to age four.

Even though EY is outside the NPME, I feel that a MEH should be exploring how they can support this age group. People often discuss why there is a need for EY music provision but the same question is rarely asked of Primary or Secondary music provision. Music is, in my opinion, a fundamental aspect of humanity; the concept, therefore, that music provision begins at age five is very peculiar.

Stuart is doing something innovative by exploring how a MEH can support music in the EYFS. Although it is outside his remit, he has taken responsibility to support this important age group. In recent discussions I have been involved in, the focus of the conversation has been around why a MEH should offer EY and it is refreshing for me to work alongside a Leader who is not questioning ‘why?’ but exploring ‘how?’

Through meetings and discussions with partners of the TBMH, the Tri-borough Early Years Music Consortium (TBEYMC) was created. The consortium consists of 14 partner organisations:

  • The Royal Albert Hall
  • Wigmore Hall
  • The Royal College of Music
  • Tri-borough Music Hub
  • The Voices Foundation
  • Chickenshed Kensington & Chelsea
  • Creative Futures
  • Inspire-Works
  • Musichouse for Children
  • The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Children’s Centres
  • The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Children’s Centres
  • Westminster City Council Children’s Centres
  • Tri-borough School Standards Education Service
On stage at the Wigmore Hall

Onstage at the Wigmore Hall for Tri-Music Together’s end of Year 1 celebration day

The consortium was awarded £100,000 by the national charity, Youth Music, to deliver the EYFS project and I was delighted to be appointed EYFS Strategic Lead in July 2016.

The focus of the Tri-Music Together project is on workforce development. We are aiming to develop EY music practice by offering a range of CPD for EY practitioners and teachers and for musicians working in EY. Reflective practice is at the heart of the project and we are all learning from each other at each step of the way.

The project is for:

  • Those working in maintained schools and nurseries
  • Those working in children’s centres
  • Those working in private, voluntary and independent settings
  • The music practitioners who work with the TBEYMC partner organisations

The initial stages of the project involved a mapping exercise to obtain a clear picture of the current music provision in EY settings and the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) needs of EY practitioners, teachers and music practitioners.

Following this initial stage, we have commissioned a range of training sessions to respond to the needs identified from the mapping exercise. Throughout the two years, the project will deliver a host of CPD sessions for EY practitioners, teachers and music practitioners. The CPD sessions include bespoke modelling sessions taking place in settings and centralised off-site sessions:

  • Specific training for EY practitioners to develop knowledge and understanding of music and EY music-making
  • Specific training for TBEYMC music practitioners to develop knowledge and understanding of child development, pedagogy and EY music-making
  • Sessions for TBEYMC music practitioners and EY practitioners coming together to discuss, reflect and share to develop practice
Championing Music in the EYFS at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

Championing Music in the EYFS at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

A unique and innovative aspect of the project is that it is providing bespoke CPD sessions to address the specific needs of the EY practitioners and the specific needs of the music practitioners. Opportunities to access training such as this are rare. Musicians who are interested in working in EY have little opportunity to access courses to enable them to understand child development and pedagogy. Similarly, EY practitioners and teachers do not receive training on children’s musical development within their child development tuition.

The EY is often considered to be an ‘easy and fun’ age group to work with. Indeed, it can be fun but the rapid human development within this age group is like no other; it is, therefore, not easy and requires deep understanding, knowledge and expertise.

Partners of the TBEYMC along with other music organisations and people across the country are lobbying for EY to be included in the NPME. Tri-Music Together is being looked at by Youth Music as a beacon project for MEHs. Brighton & Hove Music Hub is about to embark on an EYFS project, also funded by Youth Music, and we are currently in conversation with the hub’s Head, Peter Chivers, discussing and sharing strategies.

It is our vision that when EY is included in the NPME, the strategies that we have explored throughout the Tri-Music Together project can be shared and explored by the other MEHs across England.


Header photo: Participants at Tri-Music Together’s three-day course, ‘Championing Music in the EYFS’, at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith


Tri-Music Together


References

Department for Education, (2011). The importance of music: a national plan for music education. Department for Education.


About the author

Nicola Burke has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Music Studies from the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC).

She has worked extensively as a music specialist in a range of Early Years settings and on a range of action research projects across the country. She has written and delivered courses for a range of authorities and organisations, working with both early years educators and parents. She is an Associate of the British Association for Early Childhood Education and a member of MERYC England (Music Educators and Researchers of Young Children).

She strongly feels that everyone is born musical and an integral part of early childhood is music-making. Nicola created the award-winning Tune into Listening free online resource and has also been published in Teach Early Years and Nursery World magazines.

Website: www.musicforearlyyears.co.uk