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The Decline in Numbers Taking GCSEs in Creative Subjects

Figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications on 22nd August, as GCSE results were announced, showed that although applicants for GCSE Art and Design and Performing Arts increased, overall, the number of students taking GCSEs in Creative subjects, (defined as define arts subjects as Art & Design, Dance, Design & Technology, Drama, Media/Film/TV Studies, Music and Performing/expressive arts), has decreased.

The number of applicants for GCSE Music has dropped a further 2.3% this year, with an overall decline of 18.6% in GCSE intake over the past five years.

This echoes the findings of Dr Alison Daubney in her Music Education: State of the Nation report that numbers of applicants for A Level music are also dropping.

Read more at: https://musicworkshopcompany.wordpress.com/2019/07/01/state-of-the-nation-music-the-appg-speaks-out/

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the ISM and founder of the Bacc to the Future campaign said of the figures:

We are delighted that the uptake of art and design has enjoyed a 9.5% increase and performing arts a 7.7% increase in uptake this year. However, when looking at the wider context, this spike is not enough to correct several years of long-term decline in uptake, nor the issues within the art and design teacher workforce and diminishing curriculum time. We are also concerned that the uptake of other creative subjects is continuing to decline, including music (-2.3%), drama (-0.5%), design & technology (-23%), media, film and TV studies (-12.9%). Overall, since 2014 there has been a 28.1% decline in the overall uptake of creative subjects* at GCSE and a 16.9% decline in creative subject entries at A-Level.

While the Schools Minister is right when saying there has been an increase in the uptake of ‘arts’, this has only been within the art and design specifications. We, therefore, would urge the government to look at creative subjects as separate entities.”

The Cultural Learning Alliance’s analysis show the drop since 2010 with a 25% drop between 2010 and 2018 in Music GCSE numbers from 46,045 to 34,725.

The figures for A Level applications show a steeper decline for music from 2010 to 2018 with a reduction of 42% in music from 8,790 to 5,124.

The figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications also show that there is variation across the country of number of students taking GCSE music, with nearly 50% of GCSE music students living in the South, and just over 20% coming from the North. This is reflected in other Creative subjects with over 50% of applicants in Drama and Performing / Expressive Arts coming from the South with 20% coming from the North.

A Level Music applications mirror the pattern of GCSE applications, with again nearly 50% of applications coming from the South and just over 20% of applications from the North with similar figures for Drama and Expressive Arts.

Research by Birmingham City University, released earlier this year, highlights this issue, identifying ten parts of the country – including Blackpool, Bury and Hartlepool – where there were fewer than five entries for A-level music for the entire area.

Dr Adam Whittaker, a research fellow at Birmingham City University and the report’s lead author, stated:

It is deeply worrying that students in the most deprived local authorities are not able to study A-level music, while other more affluent areas see high numbers of entry.

The study found that independent schools account for a disproportionately high number of A-level music entries.

The report states:

It seems significant that the average class size for many of the entry centres in these local authorities does not exceed the national average of 3.3 students,” the report said, adding that the subject is “disappearing” altogether from schools in deprived areas.

Sources:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2019/05/31/average-a-level-music-class-now-has-just-three-students-study/

https://www.jcq.org.uk/

https://baccforthefuture.com/news/2019/gcse-results-day-2019

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Clara Schumann – prodigy, performer, proponent and pioneer

Clara Wieck was born in Leipzig in September 1819. Although for decades she has been predominantly known as the ‘wife of Robert Schumann,’ her contribution to music as a performer, composer and inspiration was immense.

As a woman in a male-dominated world, she gives us a fascinating glimpse into creative relationships, and perhaps a sense of what other women could and did achieve, despite the familiar list of traditionally male historic composers.

She is to be celebrated for her own achievements, for the support she gave to Schumann and Brahms amongst others, and for the lost voices of many other women who were unable to achieve the same level of emancipation. Notably, while Clara’s work has often been marginalised by claims that her husband was the ‘real’ composer behind her work, she earned most of the money in the Schumann household, which was extremely unusual for the time, and her pieces were more popular than his.

Clara Schumann was a child prodigy. As Schumann’s wife she juggled an international solo career with motherhood to eight children, seven of whom survived infancy. She composed, promoted and inspired a vast amount of music, shaping the 19th century in a way few other artists could. 

Daughter of the ambitions piano teacher and instrument dealer, Friedrich Wieck, Clara Schumann spent the first 25 years of her life in Leipzig. Before her birth, her father had resolved that she would be a great musician. She made her concert debut in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus at the age of nine, her first complete piano recital was in 1830 (age 11) and her first extended tour to cities including Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg, was in 1831.

In 1830, Robert Schumann came to live and study with Weick. Seven years later, when Clara was 18, he asked permission to marry her. Weick objected and did all he could to prevent the wedding, but Robert and Clara went ahead, marrying the day before her 21st birthday, on September 12th 1840. 

From a modern perspective the image of the pushy father who had already decided his daughter’s career path and a man of 20 moving to live in a household where he subsequently married the daughter who had been 11 on first meeting doesn’t scream emancipation. But Clara was ambitious, and within the framework of society at the time, this path allowed her familial and creative happiness.

Her playing was said to be characterised by technical mastery, poetic spirit, thoughtful interpretation, a singing, tone, depth of feeling and strict observance of the composer’s markings. At the age of 13, she was one of the first pianists to perform from memory – standard practice amongst concert pianists today.

It was expected in the 1830s for performers to play their own compositions in recitals and Clara’s early compositions were written to show off her skills as a pianist, including writing for wide stretches up to tenths, due to her large hands.

Clara was just 13 when she began working on her Piano Concerto Op 7 and she performed it just after her 16th birthday at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. The work showcased Clara’s skill on the piano and gives the impression of improvisation. 

The work is being performance at the BBC Proms on Sunday 18thAugust at 7:30pm and will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

One reviewer commented, “If the name of a female composer were not on the title one would never think it was written by a women.” However not all reviews were positive and one critic took issue with the unconventional key changes between movements. His only explanation for this was that, “Women are moody.” Comments such as these may help to explain Clara’s insecurities about her compositions.

While Clara’s ambitions as a concert pianist and composer were naturally hindered by the responsibilities of family life (though she still managed a career total of 38 concert tours outside of Germany), Robert encouraged her to compose. Their musical discourse was intense, and they studies scores, performances and literature together. They would write diary entries to each other, chronicling a significant and intimate narrative of the lives of two artists.

In 1853, composer Johannes Brahms met the Schumanns. Brahms remained a close friend of both until their deaths, despite the fact that he was in love with Clara.

In 1854, Robert, who had various mental health problems, attempted suicide, and was, at his own request, placed in an asylum. Brahms, who at this point came to stay in their home to offer support, was allowed to visit, but Clara could not visit her husband. She did not see him again until two days before his death in 1856.

Clara was 36 when her husband died, and notably, given this personal tragedy and the loss of her creative champion, all of her compositions date from 1853 or before. She simply stopped composing.  

In later life she said:

I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?

In 1857, after her husband’s death, Clara moved to Berlin. Here, she taught, performed (she played regularly with the violinist Joseph Joachim and others) and edited Robert’s works and letters continuing to support her family.

Having had a direct influence on their compositions, she became known as both advocate and interpreter of the music of Brahms and Schumann. Brahms was always supportive of Clara’s professional career, and she was the first person to publicly perform any of his work (specifically the Andante and Scherzo from the Sonata in F minor, in Leipzig, 23 October 1854).

Clara continued to travel, whilst the children were looked after at home. In 1856 she first visited England, where critics received Robert’s music coolly. However she returned to London in 1865 and made regular appearances there in later years.

She became the authoritative editor of her husband’s compositions for Breitkopf & Härtel. It was speculated that she and Brahms destroyed many of Schumann’s late works which were tainted by his illness, but the Violin Concerto, the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra and the Violin Sonata No. 3, all from 1853, have entered the repertoire, and only Five Pieces for Cello and Pianoare known to have been lost. She was instrumental in getting the works of Robert Schumann recognised, appreciated and added to the repertoire, promoting him tirelessly. Although when she began, his music was unknown or disliked, and the only other important figure in music to occasionally play Schumann was Liszt, she continued until the end of her long career. Those, therefore, who consider Schumann to have been influential on the 19thcentury must look to Clara for the fact that this influence has been realised. 

In 1878 Clara Schumann was honoured at a ceremony in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus to mark her 50th year as an artist.

She died on May 20th, 1896 (aged 76) in Frankfurt.

Her compositions include 29 songs, 3 partsongs, 4 pieces for piano and orchestra, 20 pieces for solo piano, and cadenzas for 3 piano concertos by Beethoven and Mozart; her works are numbered up to Op. 23, with 17 others without opus numbers. She set poetry by: Heine, Rückert, H. Rollet, E. Geibel, Kerner, F. Serre, Goethe, Lyser, and Burns (translated by Gerhard).

Fresh Ideas for Music – Notes from ROH Bridge

Last month MWC’s Artistic Director Maria Thomas shared her thoughts from the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education. This month she takes inspiration from the ROH Bridge’s annual conference, The Thriving Child

Maria Thomas
Maria Thomas

On the 28thJune, the ROH Bridge held their annual conference, The Thriving Child. This year, back at the Royal Opera House following the renovation of the Linbury Theatre, the conference was streamed across the country with people joining from the Lowry in Salford, West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds, the Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham, the Curve Theatre in Leicester and Ocean Studios in Portsmouth. 

Many speakers linked the topic of The Thriving Child to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which was agreed 30 years ago. Key to the discussion was Article 31 which states:

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”

The day began with delegates being welcomed by Alex Beard, CEO of the Royal Opera House before host for the day, Kirsty Wark took charge of proceedings. The day was split into four topics for discussion, the first being, “What affects the ability of children and young people to live, play and learn in 2019 in the UK?”.

Image: jrbelice

The first speaker, Dr Kitty Stewart, Associate Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics and Political Science, gave a very clear view on what impacts young people’s ability to live, play and learn, with family income and investment in support services being key. Dr Stewart shared figures from the National Audit Office demonstrating the cuts to local authority services in England from 2010-11 to 2016-17 showing -50% cut to the Sure Start programme, -66% cut to services for young people, -41% to Arts development and support, -33% to library services and -49% to youth justice. She linked these figures to models that demonstrate the impact of these factors on children and families.

The second talk was entitled Beyond the Secret Garden and was given by Darren Chetty, a teacher, writer and researcher. Chetty raised another central issue for young people accessing the arts – the lack of diversity in children’s literature. He highlighted that 1% of children’s books have a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) main character and only 4% have any BAME characters at all. He told delegates of an experience he had as a teacher where a young BAME person in his primary class wrote about his family in a writing assignment and was told by a classmate, “Stories are about white people.” He raised the point that in education, there is often discussion of “pupil voice,” but he feels it is important to also highlight “teacher ear” to ensure educators are listening to young people. He recommended http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/ as a source for books for young people.

The final speaker in the first session was Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology at London School of Economics and Political Science. Her discussion focussed on young people thriving online and suggested that offline, parents and teachers offer children and young people “scaffolded freedom,” giving them a chance to have freedom within a safe setting. However, she suggested that many parents and teachers feel they do not have the skills to do this online which may lead to them being restrictive in terms of access online for young people, or that young people are continually warned of the dangers online and so self-censor.

The theme for Session 2 was The lived experience of children and young people, and as is traditional at ROH Bridge conferences, we heard from young people. The first was a fabulous performance by the Palace Young Company from Watford Palace Theatre entitled, “We’re Waiting ….” which highlighted areas of concern for young people such as climate change, from advertising, social media, exams and Brexit.

The second part showcased the good practice of Gifted Young Generation based at The Grand Healthy Living Centre in Gravesend. We heard from four young people aged 16 – 18 who run a podcast called Thrive. The teenagers discussed how support from The Grand had given them a voice and helped them to grow in confidence.

The last session before lunch was a general discussion, hosted by Kirsty Wark, about how educators can support young people to thrive.

After lunch, Session 3 focussed on the question, “What role do the arts, creativity and cultural learning play in enabling children and young people to thrive?” The first talk was by Baroness Kidron, Commissioner of the Durham Commission on Creativity and Education, Filmmaker, member of the House of Lords and children’s rights campaigner. She shared some of the findings from the recent Durham Commission on Creativity and Education which will be published in September.

The second section was a discussion between Adam Annand, Associate Director and Speech Bubble lead at London Bubble and Dominic Wyse, Professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education at University College London. Adam discussed the work London Bubble do through their Speech Bubbles work, a national primary school drama intervention supporting children’s communication skills, confidence and wellbeing. For more on this watch the video below:

Adam raised the link between how feel and how we communicate. Professor Wyse suggested that it would be good to take the National Curriculum for Music and replace the word “Music” with “English” to move to a more playful approach to teaching language. The speakers discussed the importance of evaluating work to prove its worth and access funding, with Adam leaving delegates with the question: “How do we evaluate the twinkle in the eye of the child?”

The final speaker in Session 3 was Professor Pat Thomson, Professor of Education at University of Nottingham & Convenor of the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy. Her talk was entitled Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement: Arts education for cultural citizenship, and she shared her research in to how teachers use their experience of working with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Tate in developing classroom pedagogies.

The research worked with 30 schools and 1,442 students and highlighted that their findings found the importance of school support in introducing young people to the Arts. The project also showed that students who had worked with these organisations through schools were more likely to become audiences and more likely to become participants in the Arts than the national average. Professor Thomson also highlighted that all children and young people are active cultural citizens, and she likened this to children and young people coming to schools with individual cultural back-packs which hold all their previous cultural experiences. She suggested that educators need to help young people unpack these bags and share these experiences. She also highlighted the importance of “Arts Broker Teachers” who embody what it means to be culturally involved, who talk to their students about their cultural life outside school. She also stressed that her research showed a clear mutual respect between cultural organisations and teachers which enabled them to work together.

In the audience discussion, Janet Robertson, CEO of Action for Children’s Arts, introduced the Arts Back-pack which is currently in a feasibility stage. This is a project which, if implemented, will ensure that every primary school child in the UK has at least five cultural experiences in the school year. It has been proposed to government ministers, representatives from Arts Council England and key individuals within the sector as a way to combat the diminishing role that arts subjects play in schools across the UK. For more information see https://www.childrensarts.org.uk

Having started the day with depressing figures on the cuts to funding for young people, the formal part of day ended on a high with powerful Keynote speaker Akala, Hip hop artist, historian, writer and social entrepreneur sharing his experiences and lessons learnt through these life experiences. He particularly stressed the cost of expulsion to society. His advice to educators is:

  • Be brutally honest with young people
  • Be conscious of your own bias
  • Realise your brilliance … And impact

As is always key at these events, evaluation was needed at the end of day, but the ROH Bridge team gave delegates the chance to approach this slightly differently with young people hosting a number of areas for delegates to reflect on their experience including the “Washing line of Fresh Ideas.”

For more discussion from the conference see #ThrivingChild on Twitter


If you would like to know more about the Music Workshop Company or to book one of our bespoke creative experiences, contact Maria today.

Music Workshop Company Info

50 Years Since Woodstock

August 2019 marks 50 years since Woodstock ’69, the ‘most popular event in music history.’

Held between August 15 and 19 1969, Woodstock took place at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. The festival, which was billed as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’ drew crowds of more than 400,000 people who heard 32 acts performing open-air gigs, sometimes playing through the rain.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Described by singer songwriter, Joni Mitchell as, “A spark of beauty” where half-a-million kids “saw that they were part of a greater organism”, Woodstock has long been regarded as a pivotal movement in both popular music history and within the larger counterculture generation. Rolling Stone listed the festival as number 19 of ‘50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll,’ and in 2017, the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While it wasn’t the first music festival, it was certainly the biggest of its time, and quickly assumed almost mythological status.

The event was recorded via the 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary film Woodstock (and its accompanying soundtrack album), and encapsulated in Joni Mitchell’s song of the same name which became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. 

Performers included Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Santana, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix.

The Effect on Music and Musicians

Woodstock had a powerful impact on rock musicians, folk musicians and those invested in counterculture. This was a transformative time in music. The Beatles broke up in September 1969, though John Lennon’s departure from the group wasn’t announced until April 1970. Janis Joplin died in October 1970 of a heroin overdose, Hendrix in September of the same year of a barbiturate overdose – two of the most influential counterculture musicians gone shortly after the festival where perhaps their fame had peaked.  

The festival advanced the popularity of many budding musicians too, and helped solidify lasting careers. Carlos Santana, now considered to be one of the greatest guitar players alive, has released 25 studio albums since appearing at Woodstock.

The former promoter of Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, Kenny Weissberg, reflects in his 2013 memoir, Off My Rocker:

The music, the sharing, and the collective zeitgeist were all life-changing…Even though I was only 21, I came away from that weekend profoundly aware that anything was possible. From Woodstock on, I embraced the idea of taking chances and following all of my musical dreams. Three days at Woodstock crystallized my life’s path.

However, Pete Townshend of The Who presented an alternate opinion. Despite the fact his band played a career-changing performance at Woodstock, Townshend’s assessment was:

The dream and ideology of rock ’n’ roll was rooted in the idea that this generation, the ‘Woodstock generation,’ were super-luminaries, but I’ve never agreed with that. I always thought that was the biggest crock of s— America has ever come up with.

The Who’s set at Woodstock was interrupted by an anti-war activist, Abbie Hoffman, who grabbed a microphone and launched, mid-song, into a political rant. Townshend hit Hoffman with his electric guitar, pushing him off stage and dispelling any idea of ‘peace and love.’

While the spirit of the festival was very much anti-materialism, and due to ineptitude it took the promoters nearly a decade to recoup their losses, Woodstock was essentially created to make money for its promoters. In the aftermath, the success of Woodstock became a capitalist goldmine. It was immediately apparent to corporate America that this young audience represented a huge untapped market.

The music may have been seminal, and the event undoubtedly changed the way live music developed as an industry, but the overriding nostalgic image of peace, love and freely available drugs certainly wasn’t for everyone. Commenting on a 45thAnniversary feature in the San Diego Union Tribune, singer Billy Joel said:

I went to Woodstock and I hated it. I think a lot of that `community spirit’ was based on the fact that everybody was so wasted. Because everybody was stoned — everybody was passing around pot and acid — and I wasn’t into it… I was there for a night and a day, and then I left just before The Who went on. I really wanted to see them, but it was very hard to because everybody was hopping up and down and banging into you. So I walked out and hitched a ride home.

Woodstock’s place in culture

This was also a transformative time culturally. Barely four months after Woodstock, the utopian bubble burst at the Altamont free music festival near San Francisco. Fans arrived in their hundreds of thousands to hear the Rolling Stones and Woodstock veterans including Jefferson Airplane, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Things took a turn for the worse – the Stones had arranged security for themselves, provided by members of the Hells Angels, leading to some festival goers being beaten, and a young African-American man, Meredith Hunter, who waved a gun, was stabbed and beaten to death. While Woodstock attracted a peaceful, multiracial audience, Hunter’s death stood in stark contrast.

Woodstock presented a place for people who embraced hippie culture to find a sense of deeper community – in that sense the festival became a flagship for counterculture ideals such as equality of race and sex. It was also a place where LSD use peaked – drug taking was seen as a way to protest, to make a political and cultural statement against society, and to have fun whilst doing so.

Issues surrounding Vietnam were very present at the time, and Woodstock was followed in October 1969 by Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam – a massive demonstration and teach-in across the United States against the United States involvement in the Vietnam War.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Woodstock 2019

Fifty years have passed since Woodstock, and society is still struggling with issues of equality, war and community. Under the banner of the utopian nostalgia around the festival, promoters were planning a huge Woodstock 50 event to commemorate.

One of the main investors was Japanese international advertising and public relations joint stock company Dentsu, the fifth largest advertising agency in the world in terms of worldwide revenues (932,680 yen in 2018).

Dentsu explained its involvement, underlining how commercial the music industry has become:

It’s a dream for agencies to work with iconic brands and to be associated with meaningful movements. We have a strong history of producing experiences that bring people together around common interests and causes which is why we chose to be a part of the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival.

However, Woodstock 50 has been cancelled because investors “don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand”. 

50 years on, what has been called a “spark of beauty” and remembered an iconic event that centred on community, social justice and love of music has been relegated to the status of ‘brand’.

Woodstock’s impact on live music has been phenomenal – in terms of musical influence and maybe even more so in terms of the money that non-musicians can now draw from the industry. But the music and political hope that this gathering promised live on.

As, perhaps, does the ideal described by Kenny Weissberg: That anything is possible when enough people believe.

‘State of the Nation’ Music – the APPG Speaks Out

As part of MWC’s wider engagement in music education, Artistic Director Maria Thomas attended two key music education events this month, the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education and the 2019 ROH Bridge’s annual conference, The Thriving Child.

In this blog, Maria shares her thoughts about the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Music Education. We’ll take a look at the findings of the ROH Bridge Conference at the end of July.


“The APPG for Music Education meeting took place on Wednesday 19th June at the Palace of Westminster. The event was Chaired by Diana Johnson, MP for Kingston upon Hull North and Chair and Registered Contact of the APPG. In attendance were a wide range of people engaged with music education, from MPs to Music Hub heads, Conservatoire heads, music organisations, and small charities that support young people.

The first speaker was Ian C. Lucas, MP for Wrexham and member of the DCMS Select Committee. Mr Lucas talked about his experiences of music education in Wrexham and his concerns following the loss of the council run music service. He demonstrated how music is being used to bring people into the town centre through festivals such as Singing Streets. With reference to the work of his wife, who is a music teacher and very engaged with the local music community, he lamented that although it benefits schools, students and the community to put on school shows, Ofsted gives no credit for this work.

Lucas went on to discuss recent reports on Live Music including research from Arts Council England and Youth Music, and Participation in Culture and Sport, published by the DCMS Select Committee. He said that while it is clear all these reports give the same message concerning the value of music education, that message is not getting through to Government. 

When the discussion was opened up to the floor, Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West, said that schools should not be awarded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted unless they have a strong music offer.  Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen stressed that music should not be just about Head Teachers and Heads of Music.

Discussion about Music Hubs flagged up the fact that funding will be ending in 2020 and at present Hubs have no information about future funding. This naturally makes planning impossible and results in a workforce who have an uncertain future.

Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath, explained that the focus on linking sports to health benefits has enhanced the delivery of sport. She suggested that stronger links should be made when it comes to the positive effect of music on mental health. She stressed her concern that music and the Arts are becoming only available to the elite. A suggestion was made that funding for music be ringing-fenced, as funding for sport has been, with a focus on schools working with their local music hubs. MPs agreed to explore this as an option.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the ISM, admitted that there is pressure on finances, but said that music in schools is also being squeezed by time pressures with the focus on SATs and other exams.

One Music Hub raised the point that Music Hubs are tasked with working with every school in their area, but schools are not pressured to work with their local Music Hub. It was also highlighted that some schools that join an Academy chain are told they cannot use their local music hub and must instead use suppliers identified by the Academy chain.

The second panel member, Zena Creed, Director of Communications and External Relations for The Russell Group, updated the attendees on recent developments at the Russell Group Universities, including the changes to their subject choice guidance and the decision to scrap facilitating subjects. She highlighted that the previous approach by Russel Group Universities of highlighting ‘facilitating subjects’ at A-Level had led to confusion and potentially impacted negatively on the number of young people taking Arts A-Levels. Their new website has more specific guidance and is now actively promoting Music and other Arts A-Levels.

The third speaker was Dr Alison Daubney, Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Sussex and author of the recent Music Education: State of the Nation report. She underlined the lack of KS2 and Year 9 music in some schools, and the decline in the number of young people taking GCSE and A-Level music – leading to Music becoming the fastest disappearing A-Level subject. She mentioned that some geographical areas have no A-Level music applications and that the strongest number of applications come from private schools: In essence, there is no equitable access to A-Level music across the country. 

Dr Daubney also discussed the lack of Ofsted reports exploring music, pointing out that where music is discussed, it is sometimes only mentioned in one sentence in the report! She emphasised her concerns that Music Hubs are being expected to be ‘all-things-to-all-people’, delivering early years through to A-Level.

It was mentioned that the system of bell curve marking severely impacted the number of students getting high grades due to the small number of applicants which may encourage high achieving students to select other subjects at A-Level.

Two key concerns for many in the room were the fact that Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum and the impact of the EBacc, something the ISM have been actively campaigning against. The worry is that with no requirement to teach music in Academies and no focus on the Arts in the EBacc, many schools will choose to omit music from the classroom altogether.”

Are you a teacher or music educator? We’d love to hear your response to these points and your ideas for the future of music education. Let us know in the comments or find us on Facebook.

The Female Trailblazers : Women in Electronic Music

Electronic music is music that employs electronic and digital musical instruments and circuitry-based music technology. Pure electronic instruments like synthesisers, computers and the theremin have no sound producing mechanisms like strings or hammers, but electronic compositions also include electro-acoustic elements.

A little history

Electronic music began as early as 1913 with Luigi Russolo’s conceptualisation of the genre and development of prototype synthesisers. While the 1920s and 30s saw the introduction of more electronic instruments and compositions for them, historians credit Russolo with redirecting the development of music, redefining what music could be and how it could be produced. 

Alongside the liberating emergence of jazz, the ideas in electronic music affected the way technology was uses to mix noise and sound. These concepts subsequently fed through the work of composers like Stockhausen and Cage, and into popular music, making ‘electronic’ one of the single biggest influences on 20th century music. 

As the genre developed, artists such as Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Depeche Mode, Tiësto and Armin Van Buuren have all come to be considered as its pioneers. However, despite its modernity, electronic music seems to share an age-old and anachronistic characteristic with both its classical counterpart and with the tech industries: There’s very little acknowledgement of the contribution of female composers and performers. 

In an otherwise fairly thorough discussion of the genre, Wikipedia explains how electronic instruments offered expansions in pitch resources that were exploited by advocates of microtonal music. Examples include Charles Ives, Dimitrios Levidis, Olivier Messiaen and Edgard Varèse. Percy Grainger used the theremin to abandon fixed tonation, and Russian composers such as Gavriil Popov treated the instrument as a source of noise in otherwise-acoustic noise music.

But where are the women?

Improving the profile of women

As in classical music, much has been done in recent decades to redress the balance, and to give a voice to women composers and musicians, and this work continues.

In 1998, Austrian music producer, Techno DJ and feminist, Susanne Kirchmayr aka Electric Indigo (born 1965) launched the web-based database Female:Pressure. Female:Pressure provides an international platform for female DJs, producers and artists involved in electronic music and was created to promote mutual support and communication, and to provide a source of information about artists. The database contains links to all kinds of electronic musicians, ranging from noise, free, electro-acoustic, contemporary new and beat orientated to soundscapes, field recordings and installations.

Female:Pressure has also undertaken three studies (in 2013, 2015, 2017 and with a fourth in 2019) of electronic music festivals around the world. This research looks at numbers regarding gender and clearly demonstrates the disconnect between talent and gender equality. In 2012, only 9.2% of acts performing at festivals were female. By 2017 this had increased to 18.9% – a notable improvement, but nonetheless far short of the 75.4% representing male performers.  

Image: https://femalepressure.wordpress.com
Image: https://femalepressure.wordpress.com

As well as Female:Pressure, a number of UK websites are developing and increasing their activities. These include:

Yorkshire Sound Women Network

This website includes resources such as a lesson plan on the history of women in electronic music

Women in sound/women on sound network 

Sounding the Feminists– an Irish-based, voluntary-led collective of composers, sound artists, performers, musicologists, critics, promoters, industry professionals, organisations, and individuals, committed to promoting and publicising the creative work of female musicians.

Symposiums and events are also looking more closely at equality whilst still focusing on electronic music, art, installation work and research. In particular, the research centres at Middlesex and Goldsmiths Universities are doing important work in this area.

Some Great Women Pioneers of Electronic Music

Lituanian-born Clara Rockmore was instrumental in the development of the theremin. Mainly performing on violin and theremin, she worked alongside Léon Theremin. As she had absolute pitch – the ability to identify any note on hearing it- she helped the inventor to refine his instrument for performance use. Rockwell’s recommendations, which translated into actual modifications, included increasing the sensitivity of the pitch antenna and lowering the instrument to make the player more visible. 

The German-American pianist, Johanna M. Beyer (1888 – 1944) was the brains behind Music of the Spheres, the first known score written by a female composer entirely for electronic instruments. 

Daphne Oram (1925 – 2003) was a British composer who was involved in early experimentation with ‘musique concrete’ – a type a type of music composition that uses recorded sounds such as sounds from nature, the human voice and digitally produced noise as raw material. In this genre, sounds are often altered using audio effects and tape manipulation techniques.

Oram was also the first woman to direct an electronic music studio. She co-founded the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop Sound Effects Studio with Desmond Briscoe in 1958. And she was the first woman to design and construct an electronic musical instrument.

Wendy Carlos, born in 1939, was one of the earliest composers to promote the use of the synthesiser. Now overused, the instrument initially provided an important step in introducing electronic music to audiences. Carlos’s work can be heard in many popular movie scores including Tron, The Shining, and A Clockwork Orange. 

Delia Derbyshire (1937 – 2001) was another British musician and composer who was a pioneer at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. She is most noted for composing the original theme for Dr. Who in 1963 – one of the first tracks ever to be produced entirely using electronic instruments. 

Suzanne Ciani (b. 1946) is an American musician, sound designer, composer, and record label executive. Initially trained as a classical pianist, she studied masters in composition, as well as taking evening classes in acoustics, the psychology of acoustics, and computer music. Before she found success as a composer, she spent some time living on the floor of Philip Glass’s basement. In the 1970’s she worked on advertisements for Coca-Cola, Merrill Lynch, AT&T and General Electric. Few people at the time understood what the Buchla synthesiser could do as it lacked a keyboard and this gave her creative freedom. The sound of a bottle of Coca-Cola being opened and poured was one of Ciani’s most widely recognised works and was used in radio and tv commercials in the late 1970s. She continued to pioneer electronic music and in June 2018, Ciani and producer KamranV released LIVE Quadraphonic, a live album documenting her first solo performance on a Buchla synthesiser in 40 years.

Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) was an American composer and accordionist. She was central to the development of experimental and post-war electronic art music. A founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre, she also served as its director, and taught music at Mills College, the University of California San Diego (UCSD), Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Oliveros formulated new music theories, wrote books and explored new ways to focus attention on music including her concepts of “deep listening” and “sonic awareness”.

Other women of note include Éliane Radigue, Laurie Spiegel, Laurel Halo, Maryanne Amacher and Laetitia Sonama. Their achievements are too many to list here.

Musicians current in International Electronic Music by Country:

Ireland: Dr Ann Cleare, a composer using electroacoustics

Belgrade, Serbia: Svetlana Maras, who runs Electronic Studio Radio Belgrade

U.S.: 

Sister (electronic music composer and DJ) 

Kinds of kings– electroacoustic new music composers – 

Germany: Luz Diaz, who runs Room for Resistance, a Berlin-based queer femme forward collective focused on community-building and creating safer space & visibility for underrepresented artists in dance music.

Holland: New Emergences

Further reading:

https://mixmag.net/feature/the-women-whove-shaped-electronic-music

https://thevinylfactory.com/features/the-pioneering-women-of-electronic-music-an-interactive-timeline/

Wikipedia’s list of female electronic musicians, composers, and sound artists who work in the various genres of electronic music, and the musical groups of which they are members: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_electronic_musicians

This blog is written with thanks to Semay Wu for much of the information about the current position of women in electronic music.

Melody Amongst the Cacophony

June 11 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Helen Tobias-Duesberg. 

Helen Tobias-Duesberg

Tobias-Duesberg produced a large and varied body of work. She was respected by her contemporaries and her work was regularly performed, yet few recordings exist and her name is not familiar.

It would be easy to draw the obvious conclusion that this is because of her gender. The contribution of so many talented and successful women in the Arts has been marginalised. However the promotion of female composers ‘for the sake of it’ seems unhelpful in redressing the balance. It could also be argued that her origins in the former Soviet Union might play a part, though she spent most of her working life in the US. With those considerations in mind, the reason for this blog is that June 2019 marks the centenary of the birth of an interesting composer.

Born in Suure-Jaani, Estonia, then part of the Soviet Union, Helen Tobias was the youngest daughter of the composer Rudolf Tobias. She never knew her father, except through his music, as he had died from pneumonia in October 1918.

Whilst his may not be a familiar name outside of Estonia, Rudolf Tobias was noted as the first Estonian professional composer. After his death his achievements were celebrated by the erection of monuments in Haapsalu and Kullamaa, the renaming of a street in Tallinn, and his name was given to the Children’s Music School in Kärdla. In 1973, the centenary of his birth, a museum was opened in Selja, Käina Parish in the house where he was born.

Helen Tobias studied music composition at the Tallinn Conservatoire (now known as the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre). Her teachers were Artur Kapp and Heino Eller. She graduated in 1943 as an organist, and went on to further study at the Berlin University of Music.

During World War II she met Wilhelm Duesberg, a journalist who was to become her husband. He was imprisoned on numerous occasions for writing stories critical of Adolf Hitler, and died of a heart attack shortly after the war. At the time of his death he was in a Stuttgart courtroom preparing to testify against several Nazi war criminals.

In 1951, Tobias-Duesberg moved to the United States. Sources describe that it was then that she began composing music, although her training had been as a composer as well as an organist. The music she wrote was a far cry from much of the contemporary work at the time. In fact, in a swipe at the direction of classical music in the 1960’s and 70’s, Leonard Bernstein described her as a female composer who,

…dares to be original and musical at the same time, while all the men run around writing intellectual cacophony.”

He had a point. Her Requiem is described by allmusic.com thus:

A hybrid of the neo-Baroque and neo-Classical styles she absorbed in the middle decades of the twentieth century, though some aspects of Romanticism are evident in her instrumentation and presentation. Bach’s cantatas are the most pronounced influences, though Duesberg’s forays into fugue seem at times closer to Beethoven’s forceful counterpoint in his Missa Solemnis. But because this Requiem seems designed for practical use — specifically for the Estonian Bethany Church of New York — Duesberg’s use of traditional techniques is perhaps intended more for the congregation’s spiritual comfort than as a clever pastiche.

The writer also describes her shorter chamber works as “intellectually stimulating,” mentioning the “darkly chromatic Sonata No. 1 for violin and piano and the comical Suite for woodwind quintet, both of which reveal more of Duesberg’s character, since imitation of past models is replaced by her own ingenuity and craft.”


“Blessings” from Requiem:

Little is recorded about her personal life or feelings about political issues, other than the connection with her husband, but notably, during the Civil Rights Movement, she played the organ at Friendship Baptist Church in Harlem, the church where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. served as a guest preacher.

The full list of her works is extensive, and the comment from Bernstein indicates a relatively high profile, yet as previously mentioned few recordings exist. Although her work has been performed on major concert stages in the United States, Canada, and Europe as well as the Aspen, Ravinia and Spoleto festivals, her online discography reveals only two CDs; Through the Seasons, made a year after her death, and the album containing Requiem,Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, and Suite for Woodwind Quintet, recorded in 2005. Compositions include violin and cello sonatas, string quartets, song cycles, concertos, and a wide range of choral works. She also reworked and edited some of her father’s work.

Helen Tobias-Duesberg died on February 4th in the US. She was laid to rest alongside her father and grandfather in her native Estonia.


Image of the composer used as featured image is taken from: https://www.emic.ee/helen-tobias-duesberg

Arts Council, England’s ‘Shaping the next 10 years’ report – An overview

From October 2018 to January 2019, Arts Council, England (ACE) held an open consultation across the country designed to listen to perspectives from across the sector and beyond. The aim of the study was to understand the challenges and opportunities, generate new ideas, and problem-solve together. The results of this report will inform the development of ACE strategy for the next ten years.

The consultation sought the views of a wide range of stakeholders. Arts organisations, museums and libraries of all scales as well as funders and policy makers, local authorities and children, young people and their parents and carers, were all involved in voicing their ambitions and concerns.

To engage with as wide a range of participants as possible, ACE ran an online platform. It also held a series of 37 workshops: 20 external sessions with 1,248 participants and 17 sessions for 197 Arts Council staff. Additional sessions focused on the views of children and young people up to the age of 25.

The consultation explored “the case for change”.

Six key areas were identified across the arts and culture sector:

Image taken from Arts Council Document

Image taken from Arts Council Document

The Findings 

The online research findings demonstrated that over 70% of participants agreed that 5 out of the 6 areas listed in the image above are key issues. 95% of respondents agreed with the statements, “There are still widespread socio-economic and geographic variances in levels of engagement with publicly funded culture,” and, “Across the population there are significant differences in how ‘arts and culture’ are defined, understood and valued.”

53% of participants also felt that, “Many cultural organisations are retreating from innovation, risk-taking and sustained talent development.”

The report comments:

Some respondents felt that artists and cultural organisations are committed to both innovation and talent development but, in the face of financial pressure and high levels of accountability, they need support in taking the sorts of risks that are essential to innovation. Conversely, some responses centred on the sector being bolder than many other industries and that historically the most significant and innovative art has happened during times of flux and uncertainty.

ACE ‘Shaping the Next 10 Years’ Report

In undertaking the study, ACE aimed to hear feedback on its proposed priorities.

The top three priorities that emerged, as identified by participants, are:

  • The creative and cultural lives of all children and young people are recognised and nurtured (3rd)
  • A nation that  supports and celebrates culture and creativity of every kind (2nd)
  • People from every background benefit from public investment in culture (1st)
Image taken from Arts Council Document

Image taken from Arts Council Document

What is culture? What is creativity?

As is often the case when there is discussion about art, culture and creativity, the consultation threw up questions about what is meant by these terms. 

The report states:

There was some support for as broad a definition as possible, encompassing activities that are, or will be, relevant and accessible to everyone. It was recognised that continued flexibility will be necessary to meet the requirements of a population with changing and evolving interests.

One workshop participant commented:

The Arts Council should broaden its definition of what arts and culture are – it should be fluid rather than fixed, and we should listen [to]  what people think… rather than telling them.

Priority – People from every background benefit from public investment in culture

In discussion of the priority, “People from every background benefit from public investment in culture,” many participants agreed the importance of cultural organisations working together and with local communities to create and develop cultural experiences that involve a far wider range of people.

A key theme in discussion about this priority was equality of opportunity relating to provision of equal access for all the population to arts and culture. This included the importance of children having equal opportunities to experience art and culture, particularly through schools.

Other points identified here include:

  • Local, community or place-based activity
  • Levels of funding and investment
  • How culture is defined
  • The role of diversity or diverse perspectives in ensuring this outcome is met
  • The impact that arts and culture can have in areas such as health and wellbeing
  • How communications can be maximised to engage with the public and create a greater sense of relevance/ownership
  • The importance of data and research in helping to understand the issues within the sector, and in monitoring progress

Priority – A nation that supports and celebrates culture and creativity of every kind

In discussion of the priority, “A nation that supports and celebrates culture and creativity of every kind,” the workshops raised the concept of ‘everyday culture’ and covered discussion of both professional and amateur culture encompassing all communities, lifestyles, ages and levels of experience and quality. Key challenges were the equality of opportunity and advocacy.

There should be national pride in the existence of great art, funded by public money, reaching those for whom it makes a difference. We all have hundreds of stories of great art inspiring children to speak for the first time, reconnecting elderly people with their communities, bringing happiness to newly arrived migrant families who feel isolated, creating a place for care leavers to develop a talent – publicly funded art shouldn’t always require a social outcome, but its value is not being properly advocated and I think the public are more sympathetic to this than politicians might think…

Quote from online participant

Other challenges identified included:

  • The role that specific investment programmes could have within this outcome
  • How data and evidence can be used to demonstrate the impact of the arts and culture
  • The importance of embedding cultural creative education within schools
  • That the ambition for high-quality work and excellence in the arts and culture should not be lost

Some respondents also noted the importance of creating new partnerships and collaborating with communities and existing local organisations.

Priority – The creative and cultural lives of all children and young people are recognised and nurtured

Perhaps, most importantly for those involved in arts education, the priority, “The creative and cultural lives of all children and young people are recognised and nurtured,” discussed the challenges of school curriculum including the impact of the EBacc and the focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) rather than STEAM.

The report states that the sessions with children and young people showed that respondents feel “strongly that there should be more opportunities and space for children and young people to realise their creative potential through better access to expertise, resources and inspirational activities for all.”

Creative education is the future – what role can ACE play in this? [The] curriculum [is] not fit for purpose to equip creative thinkers for the future.

Quote from online participant

Other areas discussed in relation to this priority include:

  • Listening to children and young people
  • The importance of highlighting to young people the viability of a career in the arts and cultural sector
  • The question of where young adults come under this outcome
  • The need to demonstrate the benefits of the arts and culture (whether to children and young people or parents)
  • The importance of partnerships in supporting a strong cultural offer
  • The development work that could be required to equip educators to teach creatively
  • The role of local authorities and Government within any work in this area

Schools need to be engaged more with local cultural providers, for example: museums should host regular sessions with schools so that cultural institutions are embedded within the children’s minds from a young age.

Quote from online respondent

To read the report in full visit Arts Council, England’s website.

Featured image attributed to Tiffany Bailey (source wikicommons images)


The Music Workshop Company is run by a dedicated team who are passionate about music education and like to keep abreast of issues current in the music industry. If you want to share a project with us as part of our monthly guest blog, get in touch today.

Alternately, if you would like to know more about engaging your students in our accessible, inclusive workshops, email or call us for a chat on 0844 583 8131!

Music Workshop Company, https://www.music-workshop.co.uk


Talent Drains and Unequal Opportunity: The State of Music Education in the UK

On the 19th March 2019, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) published their Live Music Report. Drawn together following interviews and reviews of material from the media and other sources, the report covers four key areas:

  • The Live Music success story
  • Problems in the ticketing market
  • Challenges facing music venues
  • Threats to the talent pipeline

This research comes hot on the heels of Music Education: State of the Nation, a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the University of Sussex, which was published in February 2019. 

Abandoned music classroom, image Tiffany Bailey

Image: Tiffany Bailey 

The fourth area of the new DCMSC report explores some of the challenges facing the music talent pipeline and makes some recommendations. It draws on a wide range of sources of information, from interviews with the Royal Albert Hall’s Artistic and Commercial Director and input from the Musicians’ Union to an interview with Noel Gallagher taken from the Daily Record.

It covers a number of key areas that are adversely affecting the talent pipeline, including music education in school, the music curriculum, the impact of the EBacc, the work of Music Hubs, sustainable income streams, and access to employment opportunities after Britain leaves the EU.

The discussion around music education highlights that not all professional musicians have studied music in a formal setting but agrees that for some disciplines, formal music education is necessary. The report states:

Music is compulsory in the national curriculum up to the age of 14; however, we have heard concerns about a ‘policy clash’ in music education, with the consequences of the English Baccalaureate, the rights of Academies to diverge from the national curriculum and local authority funding cuts leading to a ‘postcode lottery’ in the quality of music education.

Abandoned music classroom, image by Clay Gilliland

Image:Clay Gilliland

The fact that music lessons are not a compulsory part of the curriculum in all schools is contentious and has been debated for some time. This issue was highlighted in Music Education: State of the Nation:

The entitlement to school music education was recently reaffirmed by the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb:  

‘… high-quality arts education should not be the preserve of the elite, but the entitlement of every child. Music, art and design, drama and dance are included in the national curriculum and compulsory in all maintained schools from the age of 5 to 14.’

Here Nick Gibb specifically states that the national curriculum is only compulsory in maintained schools. In 2017, 77% of primary schools were local authority schools while only 31% of secondary schools counted as ‘maintained’ (Fullfact.org). These statistics do not include private schools. The reality is, 69% of local authority secondary schools do not have to teach music as part of the curriculum.

The DCMSC report raises a number of problems with this. For example, there is the real concern that students are not being made aware of the wide range of opportunities in music (e.g. sound engineer and tech careers), leading to a potential future ‘talent drain’ in all areas of the industry.

Discussion of the EBacc links to the findings of Music Education: State of the Nation highlighting that 59% of nearly 500 schools surveyed think that the EBacc has had a negative impact on the provision and uptake of music.

The State of the Nation report compares GCSE music entries from years since 2014/15, showing the drop in applicants:

Change in music uptake and exam entries between 2014 and 2018

This image clearly shows the change in cohort size and change in music entries. Compiled from Department for Education data. Taken from “Music Education: State of the Nation” report.

The DCMSC report also raises the challenge of Music Hub provision stating that although 700,000 children were taught to play a musical instrument through a Hub and 89% of schools benefited from Hub support, quality of Hub provision is not of a consistently high quality.

To address this, Darren Henley, CEO of Arts Council, England confirmed that investment will be made to “build quality measures” into the Hub system. The DSMSC recommends that, “as part of its review into the effectiveness of the existing National Plan for Music Education, the Government should conduct a thorough study of where provision by Hubs is good and where it could be improved.” It also highlights the importance of Hubs receiving sufficient financial resources and workplace expertise for evaluation of their work and impact.

In the final recommendations, the DCMSC report focuses on a few key suggestions for music education.

One recommendation states that it welcomes Government’s intention to review the music curriculum, recommending,

The Government’s independent expert panel should engage musicians from different genres, stakeholders from across the music industry, and young people to ensure the new model music curriculum reflects how people make and consume music in the modern age, as well as the industry’s skills-needs now and into the future.

Another focusses on the EBacc and states: “

We repeat the call for arts subjects to be added to the EBacc to ensure all students benefit from a creative education at GCSE

Sources

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/733/73302.htm

https://www.ism.org/images/images/FINAL-State-of-the-Nation-Music-Education-for-email-or-web-2.pdf

https://fullfact.org/education/academies-and-maintained-schools-what-do-we-know/

The New Tradition

How the National Youth Folk Ensemble offers opportunities for young musicians

The National Youth Folk Ensemble was set up in 2016 by the English Folk Dance & Song Society to provide a progression route for talented young folk musicians. Ensemble members experience intensive residential courses where they create new arrangements of folk tunes, guided by inaugural Artistic Director Sam Sweeney and a team of leading folk artists. 

Watch this film to find out more: 

During the courses, which are funded by Arts Council England, the tutors support the young musicians to develop their individual musicianship and ensemble skills in an environment of creativity and collaboration. 

National Youth Folk Ensemble playing instruments

Elye Cuthbertson, aged 14, melodeon: 

I discovered folk music for the first time when I attended a course at Cecil Sharp House when I was 9 years-old, and I loved it! So I kept going, and later joined the London Youth Folk Ensemble. When I first watched the National Youth Folk Ensemble perform, they blew me away and inspired me to try to take my folk music to the next level. Since then, the Ensemble has taught me a lot about my own solo playing and playing in a group. The tutors are great at challenging us beyond what we thought we could do and they guide us really well, while letting us contribute our ideas and make the decisions. On the last residential course, they helped prepare us for our gig, but they emphasised the point that it was our gig, not theirs! We were also encouraged to think about how we play music: that it’s the small, subtle ‘nuances’ that really give a tune its life. I’ve also learned a lot just from playing with the other young people. It’s not often you get about 20 talented folk musicians under the age of 20 (or even 60!) all playing together! But when it happens, I think it’s pretty magical.

One important aim of the Ensemble programme is to raise the profile of folk music by taking it to new audiences. During our most recent residency, in Giggleswick, North Yorkshire, the Ensemble performed for local school children and we collaborated with youth music charity NYMAZ to film the concert for an online audience. 

National Youth Folk Ensemble on stage

Visit www.connectresound.live/watch to view the film and download the teachers’ resource pack. 

Sean Spicer, aged 16, harmonica:

The Giggleswick concert was terrific. We played five numbers that we had arranged together, from Winders Hornpipe to the experimental Apple Processional written by fiddle tutor Emma Reid, which had an eerie improvised introduction. Even though this was my first public performance with the Ensemble and I was slightly nervous as we went on stage, my butterflies were soon replaced by exhilaration. It was very special to play collaboratively in a unit, and having such a supportive and enthusiastic audience of school students brought the performance to life. It is rare in a folk audience to see so many young faces. With the live stream also going out across the country, it really felt as if we were making a connection and spreading the message.

National Youth Folk Ensemble on stage

Another aim is to improve practice in folk music education, and we are encouraging the Ensemble members to develop skills as educators and leaders. 

Rowan Collinson, aged 17, 5-string fiddle 

For me, performing with the National Youth Folk Ensemble is one of the best feelings in the world and this gig was particularly special. Working with NYMAZ, we had a brilliant opportunity to showcase folk music to children and young people in the theatre and online. This made it a very different experience to a normal gig and it was great to be able to include interactive workshop sections to really engage with our audience. Actively demonstrating how we took a tune from an old manuscript and created an arrangement really involved the audience, and they all seemed to enjoy clapping and stamping the different rhythms of 3/2 hornpipes and jigs!

Of course, interacting with an audience is quite a challenge – there are no second chances! The tutors helped us prepare, working not just on the music but also on our stage presence and confidence to communicate with the audience. We had an amazing session with musician and theatre practitioner Tim Dalling who helped us to really be ourselves on stage.

It was amazing experience to share something that means so much to us with a new young audience in such a dynamic and innovative way. I really hope this concert has inspired children across the country to get into folk music!

Young musician with five string fiddle

If you are interested in learning more about folk music, or are inspired to apply for the National Youth Folk Ensemble, come along to a free Youth Folk Sampler Day! These are creative workshop days for 14-18 year olds, with optional auditions, taking place across England in May half-term. 

Visit www.efdss.org/youthfolk to book your free place. 

All images by Camilla Greenwell courtesy of the National Youth Folk Ensemble.


If you are interested in finding out more about the Music Workshop Company’s range of bespoke experiences, or would like to be featured in our guest blog, contact us today.

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