Is Music Reading Outdated?

A recent article in the Guardian by Charlotte C Gill has raised some interesting questions around problems in music education, and caused a fair amount of controversy too.

In her March 27 column, Gill expresses concern over the problems in class music – uptake in music at A-Level and GCSE has dropped by 9% since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) in 2010, an issue, which we’ve previously covered under the ISM’s Bacc for the Future campaign.

The ISM has been supporting the inclusion of creative subjects in schools after researchers claimed that pressure on students to take subjects included in the EBacc meant that music was being squeezed out. According to a Sussex University study, nearly two thirds of 650 state schoolteachers surveyed said the EBacc meant fewer students were taking GCSE music.

[Image: Tiffany Bailey]

However, Gill asserts that she believes the best way to encourage more children to engage in music is to teach the subject in a ‘less academic’ way. Speaking from her own childhood experience, she says that the problem lies with the focus on notation:

This is a cryptic, tricky language – rather like Latin – that can only be read by a small number of people, most of whom have benefited from private education. Children who do not have the resources, or ability, to comprehend it, are written off. Even when they are capable performers.

This is the statement that has raised hackles – and unlike the other points in her article, Gill produces no statistics to back it up. Gill’s own experience of difficulty with music reading, and the fact she struggled to have her love of music recognised are clear, but do they speak for every other state school child, and can one person’s undeniably frustrating experience ever validate the undermining of an entire subject?

It’s undeniable that elitism and imbalance exist. Just 7% of the UK population attended private school. But Gill’s statement that music is only for the “white and the wealthy” does not add up. If her question is aimed at preferential provision in private schools, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), 29% of its pupils are from a minority background – far higher than the 14% of BAME citizens in British society as a whole.

[Image: Frank R Snyder]

Meanwhile, children from a white background have been found to make significantly less progress in school than their BAME counterparts (Centre Forum). And according the World Literacy Foundation’s 2012 report, 20% of adults in the UK struggle with basic reading and writing, indicating deeper problems in the education system that no amount of soft-soaping will solve.

Gill makes no new points with her comments. Offsted’s 2011 report on music education devoted large sections to the importance of practical music making and performance, with Sistema Scotland reporting that 93% of participants were happier as a result of their involvement in the scheme.

But Ofsted’s report showed out of 300 music lessons observed, only 30 were deemed above average. A tiny 7% of schools in a survey of 90 qualified as ‘outstanding’ providers of effective music education, while 61% were deemed satisfactory or inadequate.

Given that of these 90 schools, 66% were considered to be providing an effective education overall, this figure underlines the desperate situation into which music education has fallen. The weakest year group was found to be Key Stage 3 (years 7 to 9), “A direct consequence of weak teaching and poor curriculum provision.”

The report opposes Gill’s claims that music is seen as too academic, stating that many students see academic music as a soft option. Only those children who have been exposed to culture from a young age, and who have developed proficiency as performers tend to be encouraged to take music at GCSE and A-level. The divide between those deemed suitable to take music is set almost as soon as a child joins the school.

This would seem to imply that in order for a child to progress in music at GCSE and A-level, more provision is needed in primary schools, and that children with parents who are interested in music are at an advantage.

In May 2015, world famous concert violinist and music education supporter Nicola Benedetti argued that:

…needing the child’s approval for what they do in school is just such an alien concept when you’re talking about maths, science, history or English…but suddenly, when you bring music into the mix, it’s: ‘Oh no, we can’t show them anything that they don’t instantly love because that would be like forcing children into something that they don’t want to do.’

Benedetti’s comments underline the tendency, exemplified by Gill’s remarks, to feel that because music is profoundly personal and accesses the emotions, it does not warrant ‘restrictive’ academic study.

Gill’s comments have engendered an angry response from musicologist Ian Pace, who says her claim that music can only be read by a small number of people,

…flies in the face of countless initiatives over two centuries making musical literacy available to those of many backgrounds.

He continues:

As with written language, musical notation enables effective and accurate communication, as well as critical access to huge amounts of knowledge. In many musical fields, those without it will be at a deep disadvantage and dependent upon others.

Pace goes on to say that he agrees that “aural and other skills are equally important as those in notation,” but puts her comments about illiteracy down to “romanticisation,” warning that Gill’s position “could serve to make literate musical education even more exclusive through being marginalised in state schools yet further.”

Another article, also from the Guardian in 2015, actually highlights the fact that instrumental music tuition in the UK is more often than not excellent, but that children and parents are not always made aware of what provision is available to them. Author Sarah Derbyshire states:

We need to focus less on the ‘best’ way to learn and more on the fundamentals of engaging children and young people in excellent music of all kinds – in all settings. The starting point is to define clearly the building blocks of musical learning, which are, to my mind: singing; reading music; access to instrumental tuition (both formal and informal); digital technology; attending live performance; creative involvement in composition; improvisation and performance of their own work.

To look at the genuine problems of music reading, a blog from dyslexia experts Brightstar Learning explains that learning notation may be more difficult for dyslexic students.

Reading music may be more difficult than reading text. For one thing, the written language of music contains signs that are multifunctional, for instance, the line. Lines in music can be vertical or horizontal; they may be long or short: straight or curved; mean something on their own; or need to be combined with other symbols to make sense. There’s no doubt that someone who has a problem with visual discrimination is going to have trouble reading music.

But the blog offers a range of imaginative solutions, concluding simply that:

The main factor in teaching the dyslexic student seems to be pacing the lessons so that the student doesn’t go into overload. It will take the dyslexic student a bit longer to process the information in lessons.

As explained by USA teaching business, Musika, learning to read music is one of the hardest things a beginning instrumentalist will do, but no instrument is mastered overnight, and music reading flows in stages alongside technique. Various programmes have been devised, such as the Colourstrings Method and Suzuki Method, which have structured and specific ways of integrating music reading and musicianship into instrument learning in an holistic way, and every beginner tutor book carries careful instruction in notation.

[Image: Grunpfnul]

Looking at these facts as a whole, notation is not the main issue locking children out of genuine engagement in music education. The separate issue of sight reading which is lumped in to Gill’s complaint about the inaccessibility of notation is a red herring.

Success in sight reading is predominantly a mater of concerted practice: Since when a player is sight-reading the muscles are required to react instantly to what the eye sees, and the eye to read several beats ahead of what the hands are playing, the more the player practises this specific skill, the better and easier sight-reading will become. If sight-reading is only approached in a handful of lessons leading up to a grade exam, the child is likely to endure an embarrassing experience causing them to echo Gill’s sentiment, “I can’t sight-read.”

Gill’s article ends with the assertion that,

Diversity breeds diversity, and teaching is where this needs to start.

Again this is not quantified in her previous comments, nor does it follow from her arguments. She sites relevant issues with the wider music curriculum, which are legitimate and ongoing. But she goes on to imply that predominantly white children enjoy a private education and that those at state schools can’t be expected to learn to read music. Both of these comments are naïve and in turn elitist, and wrongly put the onus on the class teacher who is working within a strict curriculum and often with limited resources.

To follow on from Benedetti’s remarks, if a child is interested in creative writing, it does not stifle that child’s expression to teach vocabulary and grammar – expression is enhanced when the student has the tools. A budding artist will remain frustrated if he or she is not taught some of the technique of drawing. To look at Picasso’s later work, one might surmise that figurative technique and study of drawing are unnecessary to make art, but his work was informed by an immense, learned skill in draughtsmanship. Failure to teach the basics actually damages progression and ignorance never aids confidence.

[Image: The Harker School]

Ultimately, while it has less day-to-day application than general literacy, learning to read music is no more difficult than learning to read. While it is not necessary for performers of every genre to learn notation, it is enormously helpful and inclusive to be able to converse in a universal musical language that crosses other language barriers. The sticking point for some may be that music reading is best learned during one-one instrumental or singing lessons, and these are not always available or even desired.

By failing to teach notation, children who want to progress as musicians will become locked out. By pandering to the idea that music is something that everyone can naturally do, generations of knowledge and technique become unavailable. By ignoring the international nature of notation, an inclusive, wholly egalitarian means of creative communication is lost.

How Music Benefits Children

Our guest blog this month is from Dawn Rose, an early career researcher in the psychology of music and dance. Dawn’s background as a professional musician (drummer), music teacher and performing artist has informed her research interests. Following a successful completion of the Music, Mind and Brain MSc. at Goldsmiths, University of London, Dawn continued on to complete PhD. Her doctoral work investigated effects of music education on cognitive, behavioural and socio-emotional domains in children alongside expertise in adults.

This article was first published on theconversation.com.

Popular ideas, such as the “Mozart effect” – the idea that listening to classical music improves intelligence – has encouraged the belief that “music makes you smarter”.

This interest in the relationship between musical aptitude on ability and intelligence has been around for some time. But despite these beliefs being pretty widespread, there is still no conclusive evidence to actually prove that listening to certain types of music really can improve your intelligence.

In 1974, music researchers Desmond Sergeant and Gillian Thatcher said that:

All highly intelligent people are not necessarily musical, but all highly musical people are apparently highly intelligent.

And “apparently” is the key word here, because the evidence regarding musical listening in itself is mixed. Research has shown that listening to music shows an improvement in certain kinds of mental tasks. But these are specifically short-term improvements involving “spatial-temporal reasoning” skills – puzzle solving type tasks.

Listening vs playing

But while listening to music is all well and good, what about actually playing it? Research that focuses on how or if playing a musical instrument can impact on intelligence, often looks at how learning in one area can lead to improvements in other areas – an idea known as “transfer effects”.

This is the idea that learning to play the violin, or the drums, could help children to do better in their spellings or a science project. And this is in part the reason why some parents naturally encourage their children to learn an instrument – because of a belief that it will in some way make them more intelligent.

While some studies have shown how musical training can shape brain development. And that improvements in small motor skills and general intelligence have been linked to musical training. A recent review suggests that actual evidence supporting this idea of “transfer effects” is limited at present.

But despite these finds, there is still a wealth of evidence suggesting musical learning is beneficial. And with this in mind, drawing from my experience as a professional musician (drummer), music teacher and performing artist, I decided to investigate the effects of individual musical instrument learning on aspects of cognitive and behavioural development.

I also looked at the impact on “socio-emotional” development, which includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions, as well as the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others.

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© Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0.

All the children who took part in the study had typical school group music lessons, but half of them had also chosen to learn an instrument individually for the first time that year.

The results showed that children who had started individual music lessons developed a better awareness of their “aim” and “force” in relation to their own motor skills as well as improving their “fluid intelligence” – which is the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns.

This suggests that musical instrument learning encourages the development of a physical sense of self in relation to the how we use objects in the world around us, as well as developing a specific kind of intelligence that is used in problem solving.

Music and social development

lessons_in_brass_dvids208411As part of my research, I also wanted to understand whether parents and teachers noticed any changes over the year in terms of the children’s socio-emotional well-being. The results showed that the children who had chosen to learn an instrument were considered by both their parents and teachers to be less anxious than those who had received only group lessons.

These children were also thought to internalise their problems less compared to the children who had only received the group sessions.

This is also reflected in my research looking at adult musicians, who explained that the “social structures” surrounding musical learning are the bits that they most appreciate, and have had the biggest impact on their lives.

This includes the opportunities to travel, the exchanges of culture among friends around the world, and their ongoing ability to be foster creativity in their lives through music.

Musical learning

It is clear then that music can have a big role to play when it comes to children’s learning. Not necessarily just in terms of intelligence, but also in term of their physical development and social well-being.

Research also shows how musical learning can help children to apply themselves, as well supporting the processes involved in teamwork and appreciation of working towards shared goals.

Valuing music education includes nurturing the development of these abilities, and these skills and mindsets. Which is why developing a culture of creativity and musical learning in our schools should be a key part of children’s lives.

The Scare Factor: Musical Inspiration for Halloween

Music can play on the emotions very strongly; a phenomenon explored throughout music history but more recently and notably manipulated by composers of film and TV soundtracks.

halloween_vintage_05One of the strongest reactions to sounds can be fear. In the run up to Halloween we take a look at some scary music. What inspired the composers and why do these sounds frighten us?

A 2012 article in Time Magazine describes the result of a scientific study to determine why some sounds create a fearful reaction. The research was carried out by Daniel Blumstein, chair of the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA and an expert in animal distress calls, in collaboration with the film composer Peter Kaye.

Blumstein wanted to explore the link between sounds classified as non-linear chaotic noise (animal screams, babies cries and dissonant chords) and the way scary music plays on the ingrained biological reaction that it these sounds provoke. He discovered that horror movie scores frequently used these non-linear noises. The sound tracks for The Exorcist and The Shining, two of the most terrifying classic films ever made, even use recordings of animal screams.

But composers were making use of scary noises long before film existed.

In his opera Don Giovanni, Mozart creates a terrifying scene as his lead character is dragged into Hell.

Earlier in the same opera, the arrival of the ghost of the Commendatory is accompanied by scary chords with silence in between, which heighten the drama of a father back for revenge.

Saint Saëns’ 1874 work Danse Macabre depicts a tale of Halloween horror. According to legend, Death appears at midnight every Halloween. He calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. The skeletons dance for him until the cock crows at dawn when they return to their graves for another year. Saint Saëns illustrates the story with music, using the solo violin to represent death’s fiddle. The work opens with a single note on the harp, repeated twelve times to represent the twelve strokes of midnight. The solo violin enters playing a tritone. During baroque and medieval times, this interval was known as the diabolus in musica – the devil in music. The xylophone is used to represent the bones of the dancing skeletons, imitating the sound of rattling bones.

This short film from Walt Disney’s Symphony is another great example of percussion being used to illustrate dancing skeletons:

Hector Berlioz’s Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath from his 1830 work Symphonie Fantastique is another piece that illustrates a scary story. In his programme notes, Berlioz wrote of his character:

He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath … Roar of delight at her arrival … She joins the diabolical orgy … The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.

This excerpt from Hermann’s Pyscho Suite begins with suspenseful dissonant chords not dissimilar from the energetic dance of Berlioz’s Witches’ Sabbath. It employs heavy use of the semitone figure which also gives the feeling of terror in Jaws. The screaming violins replicate those animal cries that play on our primal instincts, creating a sense of fear and discomfort.

The opening music for the classic horror film, The Shining uses the Dies Irae from Berlioz’s Witches’ Sabbath, overdubbed with eerie sound effects. This is really creepy.

Nightmare on Elm Street composer Charles Bernstein also used dissonance and sound effects to create a really suspense-filled, scary soundtrack. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a move away from traditional orchestral scoring, and apart from a few vocal elements, performed by the composer himself and heavily distorted, this film score is entirely electronic.

This clip of the opening to Tim Burton’s Nightmare before Christmas is interesting in that is includes the music for Disney at the beginning. This is in a major key with no dissonance, with lots of sweet, shimmery sounds and upward scales. It makes the listener feel optimistic and happy, where the music for the song This is Halloween reverts to the scary minor key with lots of low notes and sound effects. This music is not as scary as the soundtracks for The Shining and Psycho – it maintains a light-hearted look at Halloween which works well with the story.

The idea of dead people dancing was used to great effect by Michael Jackson in his famous song Thriller. Scary orchestral effects are used as Jackson turns into a zombie and begins the eerie dance. Otherwise the music is not suspenseful – it does not create a feeling of fear. The main aspect in this is the dance, in which Jackson was a pioneer.

Whereas the Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers was just a bit of pure Halloween silliness. This song is narrated by a mad scientist whose monster, late one evening, rises from a slab to perform a new dance. The dance becomes a huge hit when the scientist throws a party for other monsters.

The song features some inspired low-budget sound effects. The sound of a coffin opening was imitated by a rusty nail being pulled out of a board, the bubbling cauldron is actually water being bubbled through a straw, and the rattling chains were simply chains being dropped on a tile floor.

 

 

Harnessing Potential for London’s Young Talent

The Mayor’s Music Fund mmf (charity no. 1141216) was launched in 2011 in response to a London-wide survey carried out by City Hall, highlighting a number of gaps in provision for school-age musicians in the capital. We hear from Chief Executive, Chrissy Kinsella about the fantastic opportunities provided by the Fund. 

Our vision is that every young Londoner who demonstrates significant musical potential, enthusiasm and commitment to learning an instrument is given the opportunity to develop that potential.

We aim to nurture and encourage young people to progress their musical talent through our Scholarships and Partnership Programmes. The young people who take part in our Partnerships are from diverse social and financial backgrounds, whilst our Scholars are from low-income, often challenging backgrounds.

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Our objectives include collaborating with London’s 29 local authority Music Education Hubs to provide extensive musical opportunities across London’s 33 boroughs. We support high-quality, sustained instrumental tuition for Mayor’s Music Scholars, organise an annual series of playing days providing opportunities for Scholars to create music together, and support large-scale musical collaborations between Music Hubs and professional arts organisations, providing opportunities for aspiring young musicians (aged 8-21) to learn from, be mentored by and perform alongside professionals. We also enable professional musicians and artists to be motivational role models, empowering young people to explore and develop their musical capabilities, which in turn develops their social and emotional well-being and frequently uplifts academic performance. 

Our programmes…

Our four-year scholarships programme is specifically targeted at children who have received some first-access provision, but whose families are unable to pay for them to continue learning, even at this early stage.

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We work closely with local music services and primary schools in each borough to identify children with potential, enthusiasm and commitment to learning. Scholars must be in Key Stage 2 at the point of nomination, have been learning for at least a year and show potential on their chosen instrument. They receive a programme of around two hours per week via their music service, to include instrumental lessons, ensembles, and other supporting activities. They also have a named mentor to look after their programme, and an instrument to take home if needed. A Head Teacher in Bexley describes the positive effect the Fund has had on one of his students:

Michael was asked about being nominated for a scholarship: ‘Before, I was really naughty at school and now I’m really happy. I’m really good now and can do my work a lot better because of my trumpet.’ This scholarship opportunity won’t just give Michael the chance to become a better trumpet player, but it will give him a greater chance at life and breaking through the barriers of social deprivation.

Our Partnership Projects are large-scale collaborations, working with professional arts organisations to address a specific gap in provision. Previous projects have included an advanced string ensemble programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra in Hounslow and Sutton, a musical theatre orchestra led by the Tri-Borough and Youth Music Theatre UK, a world music ensemble based at the Lyric Hammersmith, run by Musiko Musika, and a jazz-meets-classical project in Hackney, working with the London Symphony Orchestra. One Young Musician’s Training Orchestra participant said:

Being in the Music Theatre Orchestra gave me an insight of how professional ensembles work and it is by far the best ensemble I’ve ever done! My confidence grew and I will continue to strive to improve and more determined than ever.

Success and Impact…

Since 2011, the Mayor’s Music Fund has awarded 375 scholarships across every London borough, representing over 330 schools. The second cohort (scholarships awarded in 2012) has just graduated, taking the total alumni to 140. The impact of our programmes is far reaching: In addition to evidence of higher self-confidence, self-esteem, and improved behavioural, social and academic skills, Music Fund scholars have gone on to win scholarships or places at independent schools such as Christ’s Hospital, & the Forest School, high profile state schools, Junior Conservatoires & London’s Centre for Young Musicians, and at specialist music schools such as the Purcell School and Menuhin School.

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Since 2011 the Fund has funded 28 projects across 29 boroughs, working with over 8,500 young musicians. Three additional projects have been approved for 2016/17, reaching a further 1,000 young musicians.

In total, the Mayor’s Music Fund has awarded over £1.5million directly to support music education in London!

The future…

A meeting of the Government’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee last week heard about the challenges facing regional arts organisations following local authority cuts. Arts Professional reported that Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras said he was “disturbed” by the lack of diversity of young people entering employment as musicians.

At the Mayor’s Music Fund we are passionate about empowering and enabling young people from all backgrounds to fulfil their potential. Over sixty percent of Mayor’s Music Scholars are from BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) backgrounds, and 100% are from low-income families.

It is no surprise that just fifteen percent of state school children learn a musical instrument, as opposed to fifty percent of independent school children. We are committed and dedicated to ensuring that all children who show potential and commitment to learning are given the chance to continue.

We are delighted to welcome a new patron to the Fund in 2016, the recently elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. We look forward to working with his administration to further develop our programmes to ensure all Londoners are given the opportunity to develop their full potential.”

This video gives an introduction to the work of the Fund from the perspective of the students.

For more information about the Mayor’s Music Fund, please contact Chrissy Kinsella, Chief Executive on 020 7983 4258

 

 

Concerts for Babies: Music Without Rules

004This week the Ulster Orchestra announced a decision to grant free entry to under 16’s to their season concerts. This decision was shared on social-media site Facebook alongside a post describing one parent’s experience of taking her child to performances: That she’d had complaints her little girl was distracting other audience members. 

Whilst organisations such as the Ulster Orchestra emphasise that children are welcome, and classical music works to build a younger audience, parents are sometimes put off by the worry that their baby or child will spoil a concert for others. And parents aren’t the only people who feel uncomfortable. Perceptions around classical music can be that it is performed in a stuffy environment; that you have to be the right sort of person to enjoy it. 

Founder of ABC Baby Concerts, Viola Player and Creative Music Leader, Neil Valentine is working to disprove these ideas, and to engage people of all ages in concert-going. He talks to MWC about his work.

“***ring*ring***

***ring*ring***

006Hello? A concert? Today? No sorry, I can’t go to a concert. No way. Why? Well, er, you know, it’s just not for me. I wouldn’t know which one to go to or what to do, and besides, I don’t fit in. No I don’t. It’s the silence you see, and the clapping or not clapping. I feel embarrassed when I want to clap but there’s silence. And it’s the serious faces and fancy clothes. Plus I wouldn’t know what to wear, and anyway all my clothes smell vaguely of baby puke, or worse. No, sorry, another time maybe.

People wonder whether classical music is dying. It isn’t. But what is dying are the perceptions that going to a concert is purely a middle/upper class thing to do, with rules you must abide by. This is happening because we are gradually understanding what we knew as babies and small children. We are remembering that the music doesn’t care how you smell, or whether you clap or not. The music doesn’t mind if you laugh or cry. The music will just be there, hoping that someone, however old or young will be there too, open and willing to hear and perhaps to listen.

Classical music is about connection, and those connections are best served live. Yes talking on the phone is good, but to really understand someone we need to see them face to face, look them in the eye, smile and give them a big hug. That is what we are hoping to achieve with ABC Baby Concerts. We want you and your baby/toddler to come and see us face to face. The music will look you in the eye, smile and give you a great big acoustic hug.

Live music can envelop you. It can surround you the way a recording cannot. Just watch the audience at an ABC Baby Concert, where Classical Music is played to the highest standard for an audience of 50 adults and 70 under 3s.

The music starts, and then………focus. what is that sound? it’s coming from over there. I can hear it. I can feel it, and it’s AMAZING. That is what the faces tell us. And what do these audiences of the future have to teach us? They teach us how to listen. With focus and energy. Responding with their eyes and faces and bodies. They show us it’s ok to be transfixed and absorbed or so excited you just have to move. That it is ok to lose your focus for a bit and enjoy staring at the ceiling only to hear a new piece and …..WOAH. Back to the music.

frida 1It is time we remembered that once music was just music. And people were just people. That a concert was a place where music and people could just be together, however that was. Concert etiquette is a learnt behaviour. There are plenty of stories of how, at a Beethoven Symphony recital the audience was so excited in the finale that they jumped on chairs and shouted and clapped their approval during the performance! Classical music can do that to you. If you let it.

If you’re a baby, that could mean having your nappy changed or throwing a tantrum to the sounds of Brahms, if you’re a toddler perhaps its dancing to Chopin or colouring a picture of a ‘cello to some Bach. If you’re a parent, perhaps it means just sitting cuddling your kids to Schubert. Whatever you are, whatever the music is, a concert is a place where you can go and spend some time with some music. And when that music is played by professionals who understand that sometimes you just have to leave and yes it was necessary to feed him 3 noisy rice crackers in a row, then you can just be too. Be whatever you need to be.”

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To find out more about this new concert series in the South of England, please visit: http://www.facebook.com/ABCConcerts

 

Bridging the Musical Gap

Across the UK there are outstanding young musicians whose financial circumstances are a real barrier to achieving their full musical potential. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, more than 2.5 million UK children currently live in poverty, and of these, 350,000 are not able to pursue a leisure activity or hobby such as learning a musical instrument due to a lack of available finances. It is estimated that, as a result of deprivation, between 600 and 1000 children with exceptional musical abilities are lost to our society every year.

Future Talent was founded in 2004, co-created with The Duchess of Kent. The Duchess spent 13 years teaching music in an East Hull primary school and has first-hand experience of the challenges young people face in learning an instrument. Over the past 10 years the organisation has worked with and supported many talented young musicians from across the UK, helping them realise their dreams.

The Music Workshop Company team talk to Future Talent’s Craig Titley about musical excellence without boundaries…

What is Future Talent?

“We support exceptionally talented young instrumentalists and singers up to the age of 18, who, due to financial hardship, low aspirations and lack of opportunity would otherwise struggle to realise their musical potential. We provide a bridge for young musicians from low-income backgrounds to enable them to study at junior conservatoires and ultimately give them the option of a career in music.

(c) Alex Harvey-Brown, Poppy cropped

Our ambition is to make it possible for young people to make a career in music of all genres, whatever their start in life. There’s still a lot of work to do, but with the right level of support at the right time in the development of a young person’s musical journey, a career in music doesn’t have to be an unachievable pipe dream.”

Why is this important?

“The Making Music report, published by Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in autumn 2014, makes it clear that sustained, progressive music education sadly still tends to be the preserve of children born to wealthier parents. The cost of lessons and instruments is cited as a major barrier.

There is a particular need for our work in the current climate. Some low-income families face a stark choice between supporting the musical talent of their child and feeding their family. This level of financial hardship creates a culture of low aspiration, which in itself adds significant barriers to success in the music industry.”

How does it work?

“Through an annual application and audition process, we identify young people who most need our support.

We estimate that many parents of talented musicians spend in the region of £11,500 a year on singing or instrumental lessons, junior conservatoire, youth orchestra or choir and other training course fees.

The families of the young musicians we support are means-tested to determine financial need. It is a real challenge for them to find the money to give their child the same opportunities that children from wealthier backgrounds can take for granted.

We also offer advice and mentoring, which are vital to help the young musicians progress towards their goals. We don’t just provide funding, we offer performance opportunities, involve the musicians in events and masterclasses, and tailor the support to nurture each individual towards a career in music.”

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Without the funding and opportunities that Future Talent has provided over the last four years, it would not have been possible for Alex to have achieved all that he has in music. Your support has opened many doors, which would otherwise be unimaginable.

In September 2014, Alex was offered the Andrew Lloyd Webber music scholarship to study his A-levels at Eton College.

What do you provide?

“We provide a Bursary Programme through which we respond to each individual young person’s needs; for example, a bursary might help a young musician and their family to buy a new instrument, take lessons, and attend workshops, specialist music training courses and summer schools. Young musicians who are able to demonstrate financial hardship are able to apply for up to £3000, which can be used in a lump sum, perhaps paying for an instrument, or over a period of 3 years where it could fund instrumental lessons. ”

FT_10-29Without the financial bursary of Future Talent it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for me to finish my last and incredibly important year in Junior RNCM. I would not have been able to take my Grade 6 Musical Theory Exam, and I would have had to do without the guidance of my JRNCM tutors in the run-up to my training in conservatoire. The bursary has allowed me to conclude this very important phase in my musical education in a positive manner.

“We also offer career advice. The musical world can be daunting for the young musicians we support. Future Talent staff work closely with children, families and teachers to negotiate instrument prices and recommend courses. We set goals and maintain regular contact with each young person and their family, selecting appropriate performance and audition opportunities to increase their confidence and help them discover and plan their individual music journey and potential career path.

This may seem basic, but it is actually vital work and can make a real difference. Unlike children from wealthier and better-connected backgrounds, most of the young people and their parents with whom Future Talent works do not know about opportunities that exist to develop their careers, nor do they know how to access them. Through our practical and ongoing support we give these young people the best possible chance for their talent to develop.”

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 Adam O’Shea, a tenor, received a Future Talent bursary in 2008 enabling him to accept a place at Chetham’s School of Music where he studied with mezzo-soprano Helen Francis, an important step in his music development. Thanks to that opportunity, he went on to study with the renowned tenor Adrian Thompson at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and is now beginning to make a name for himself as a young singer:

Adam O’Shea gives a courageous and skillful performance – Bachtrack review of Workshopera’s new opera: Boys of Paradise

My aspirations for the future have only been made stronger by Future Talent, who have encouraged and supported me in my ambitions. I think Future Talent has been the best thing to happen to me all year and I truly owe so much to this wonderful organisation – Adam O’Shea

“We also offer mentoring and performance opportunities. We have strong partnerships in the musical profession; mentors and partners who have worked with Future Talent young musicians to date include Danielle de Niese, Natalie Clein, Vasily Petrenko, Chloë Hanslip, Lesley Garrett, Guy Johnston, Laurence Cummings, Tine Thing Helseth, the Rambert Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder. The musicians with whom we work would simply never have the opportunity to meet, work and perform alongside such inspirational musicians without our help. Many of these young people lack confidence. Contact with professional musicians of this calibre sends them a powerful message and gives them a strong sense of self-worth. As well as masterclasses and training, we also provide opportunities for young musicians to shadow professional players, rehearsing with organisations including the Hallé and Rambert Orchestras.”

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How do you measure the impact of your work?

“Future Talent has a great track record in finding these young people and transforming their chances of succeeding in the music industry. Where appropriate, we will work with each child for up to three years, providing long-term support for greater impact. Our programme represents quality, rather than quantity. We focus on significant outcomes to transform the lives of a select number of exceptionally talented young musicians. A number of organisations exist to provide opportunities at a basic standard to enable large numbers of children to engage with music, and this approach can be a wonderful introduction to the music, but it rarely provides meaningful long-term transformative life changes. At the other end of the spectrum, there is support in place for young professional musicians who have already reached a high level of playing. Future Talent occupies a niche position to bridge the gap between these two approaches. We aim to make a real difference by providing holistic support to young people with exceptional musical talent; people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to shine.

We continuously evaluate our work and measure its impact. Our young musicians write reports of their progress every six months, and we receive annual reports from mentors, monitoring progress against the goals we set with the young people.

We measure long-term demonstrable musical achievements and career progression. Of last year’s award recipients, five were offered places at a conservatoire. Others hold positions in national ensembles including National Youth Orchestra, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, National Youth Brass Ensemble and National Wind Orchestra. Ninety seven percent of our young people have passed their grade 8 exam with distinction and our musicians have won prestigious competitions and awards including Royal Overseas League, Young Drummer of the Year, British Flute Society Young Artist, and the ABRSM Sheila Mossman Prize for highest graded exam mark in the UK.”

Joy Becker came to Future Talent seven years ago, as a 14-year-old violinist, struggling with confidence. With our help she went on to become leader of both Junior RNCM Orchestra and Hallé Youth Orchestra and a member of National Youth Orchestra. Joy has just graduated from conservatoire and is now working on the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra’s professional experience scheme.

“As our work continues over a longer period, we are increasingly able to see the long-term impact of our intervention in the early stages of these musicians’ careers.”

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Future Talent will be accepting applications for a 2016 bursary from Monday 28 September. Visit the website, futuretalent.org, for an application form and further details.

 

 

Teaching with Technology: A Community Vision

The Music Workshop Company is focused around the community aspects of music making, shared experiences and direct musical engagement, but technology is opening up new opportunities within music learning. As the Internet becomes ingrained into every aspect of life, Simon Hewitt Jones, Director of ViolinSchool, is exploring the potential of online learning. We catch up with Simon to ask how he sees the future of violin teaching…

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 10.48.08We recently held the final concert for ViolinSchool’s Summer Orchestra Project, which was streamed live on the Internet. We had students joining us from the USA, Australia, Germany, South Korea, and probably other places I’m not aware of. One of our American students, who I’ve been coaching via video exchange, even made it there in person. She came straight from the airport to be at the concert.

Image Courtesy of Sandra Rouch

Image Courtesy of Sandra Rouch

I think it’s no coincidence that we had such a wide and international audience, because I believe something is changing in the world of learning. In fact, in the past few months, I’ve noticed a profound change in how people approach learning the violin. This came home to me when, earlier the same week, a majority of our London students chose to take their lessons via video in our new virtual classroom, rather than brave the tube strike that brought much of central London to a halt. Once the technology is set up, the student and the tutor are carried away by the work they are doing. The technology gets forgotten, and it’s all about the learning.

What most people care about is improving their violin playing and music skills, and having strong relationships with their tutors and fellow learners. But those relationships are not confined just to one medium or one type of tuition. I’m not suggesting lessons via the virtual classroom as a replacement for lessons in person, but, without a shadow of a doubt, I can say that we are seeing better and better results when learners take advantage of a broad mix of tuition options. Personal coaching, group lessons, online classes, the orchestra, and online courses all have their part to play in providing a rounded experience and giving each learner greater perspective about their learning.

Image Courtesy of Tristan Jakob-Hoff

Image Courtesy of Tristan Jakob-Hoff

As our use and understanding of digital technology grows, we’re increasingly providing guidance to students around the world, so far in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. And our students there are asking exactly the same questions as we do here in London:

  • How can I become a better violinist?
  • How can I become a better performer?
  • How can I become a better musician?

For everyone there will be a different, personal answer to these questions, but we all share the same challenge: To improve how we learn, and to improve how we think, in order to improve how we make music.

There are two guiding forces that have driven ViolinSchool over the past few years: Community and creativity. Every day, I am inspired by the enthusiasm and imagination of the ViolinSchool community. It’s truly a group of creative thinkers who love to learn. The stronger that community is, and the stronger the individual connections within it, the more we will benefit from each other’s experiences, and the more we will learn. We don’t want geography to be an obstacle to that. We want to help violinists everywhere by building relationships with people all over the world. We believe that anyone, regardless of age, experience or geography, should be able to enjoy the wonder of making music with the violin.

I’ve identified three key things to help us get there.

1) The learner is empowered

Learning the violin should be a joyful, creative journey, which is why we reject dogmatic, ‘guru-style’ violin teaching. Our ideal is to teach every student to teach themselves.

2) Geography should be no obstacle

Yes, there are times when you just have to be there, but there are also times when you can achieve the same results online. It can be easier, cheaper and faster for someone in the Australian Outback, the Rural MidWest, or even Essex, to learn technical skills via an eLearning module, before coming to a lesson.

It’s also a really effective approach. You can get so much out of a lesson when the foundations of technique and theory are already there.

3) Technology makes our community better connected

What excites me about digital technology in education is not the technology itself: That novelty wears off after a few days or weeks. What excites me about technology in education is how it can bring a community together. When the community is broader and better connected then it’s easier to share our knowledge and understanding, and we all become enriched by the diversity of peoples’ experiences.

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Since last January, ViolinSchool has been rolling out a program of learning resources. We’re committed to building on the great traditions of violin pedagogy that have developed over the last 300 years. We’ve grown up with the treatises of Galamian and Carl Flesch and the studies of Kreutzer, Sevcik, Dounis and others, and we’re now on a mission to update those traditions for today’s new generation of students. We’re working to revitalise violin pedagogy in a way that caters for every experience level in a fun, enjoyable way, from complete beginners to music college students and professionals.

We are steadily producing a wide array of studies, technical exercises and videos, as well as downloadable sheet music, in-depth guides and articles. We’re currently stepping up our production, so that by the end of next year ViolinSchool will provide one of the most comprehensive learning resources about violin playing that’s available anywhere.

But what excites me most about these new tools is the eLearning Modules that we’ve been developing, and which we’ll start releasing this summer as part of our new eLearning trial. These interactive study modules, which are informed by my research at the Royal Academy of Music, break down technical, musical and performance-related topics into a series of clear, easy-to-understand principles. We present the principles in the form of what we call ‘Learning Objectives’ – things our learners need to do in order to acquire specific skills.

ELearning has been used successfully for many years across a wide range of specialist areas, but it’s never been done properly before for the violin. The beauty of the eLearning Modules is that they provide students with a clear understanding of how the whole jigsaw of violin playing fits together. As students become more aware of how they do what they do, their playing becomes more consistent and their confidence increases. Because they have a clearer understanding of how they’re progressing, they get more out of lessons and coaching sessions.

Wherever our students are, whether in London or somewhere thousands of miles away, we look forward to welcoming them in our new digitally-connected community, and helping them to develop their playing to the fullness of their potential!

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ViolinSchool’s eLearning trial runs through to September and beyond. If you are interested in asking about any aspect of the work at ViolinSchool, or would like to take part in the eLearning trial, you can contact the team by emailing support@violinschool.org

Body Percussion – You Make the Music

Body percussion is a brilliant way to warm up for a music workshop, and a useful tool for creating music in a group. It is incredibly accessible; the human body is an instrument every participant possesses. It is also valuable for internalising fundamental musical concepts including rhythm, beat and tempo.

I love Body Percussion because it’s a high energy, very accessible art-form. Seeing the amazing ideas that workshop participants come up with is brilliant, as is the reaction when they see what is possible when making beats on your body!

Ollie Tunmer, Body Percussion specialist and MWC Workshop Leader

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As a group warm-up activity, body percussion stimulates circulation and creates an energy in which it is impossible to feel self-conscious. As a musicianship tool, it provides strategies to equip students with a collective sense of pulse, memory for different rhythms and the opportunity to full engage with the musical material.

In composition it provides an inspiring way to explore sound, rhythm and the physical relationship with music.

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It is also an engaging way to explore the music of World cultures. The folk traditions of many countries include the use of body percussion. The Juba, or hambone dance from West Africa became a traditional dance among African-American slaves in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Slaves were forbidden from owning rhythm instruments for fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming. Instead they created music using body percussion, stamping the feet, slapping and patting the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks. This percussive dance, originally known as “Pattin’ Juba,” would be used to keep time for other dances. Steps had incredibly descriptive names such as “Yaller Cat,” “Pigeon Wing” and “Blow That Candle Out.”

Other traditions that use body percussion include the palmas, or intricate hand claps in Spanish Flamenco music, tap dancing and Ethiopian armpit music.

Body percussion works on the same basis as any percussion instrument, but uses the body to create the different vibrations and sounds. These can include:

  • Stamping the feet on the floor
  • Patting the thighs with open palms
  • Clicking the fingers
  • Clapping the hands
  • Patting or knocking the chest
  • Slapping the cheeks with an open mouth
  • Clicking the tongue

Inhaling and exhaling air, and various vocal noises including grunting and whistling can add to the repertoire of tones, and sounds can be adapted to create different effects. For example, clapping the hands in different positions will change the pitch and resonance.

Body percussion can be performed solo, but it is exhilarating as an ensemble activity, both to performers and audience members. The well-known percussion group Stomp use a combination of non-traditional, junk percussion instruments and body percussion in their performances.

Body percussion has many possibilities. It can be adapted for any age and ability. It can be introduced into a diverse range of workshops, from African Drumming or African Songs, to Composition workshops. It can be used as a warm-up, an icebreaker or a full workshop.

You can use existing games and ideas or create your own.

Watch composer Steve Reich Steve Reich explain his piece Clapping Music, and the inspiration behind it.

Here are some simple ideas from the Music Workshop Company to get you started.

Warm up

This can be done seated or standing.

Start with a copying activity. Start with four beats to establish a beat. Clap a rhythm that fits into a four – beat bar. Keeping to time the group should repeat the rhythm.

Gradually make the rhythms more complex. If the group doesn’t quite catch one of the rhythms, repeat it once or twice. Don’t comment on whether the repetition was correct or not, just repeat it.

Keep talking and instructions to a minimum, but make eye contact with every member of the group.

Start to add other body sounds; knee slap, click, stamp, chest…

Vary the dynamics, but keep the pulse the same throughout.

This warm-up can be developed by getting participants to create their own rhythms for everyone to copy. Either ask for volunteers or working round the group.

Body percussion

Vocal activity

Try making up a call and response vocal activity using speech and percussive vocal sounds.

Participants can take it in turn to lead this game, and it can be varied using different tempi and dynamics, or by adding more physical sounds such as stamping the feet and clapping hands.

Body Percussion Patterns

Begin to build up a body percussion piece by setting up an eight beat pattern, such as this:

Feet       Feet

Leg        Leg

Belly     Belly

Clap

This can be developed in a number of ways, for example as an ensemble piece using similar ideas to Reich’s Clapping Piece.

Watch some body percussion performers and use your imagination to create your own rhythms, sounds and games. You can even develop ways to notate your piece, deciding on symbols for each sound and rhythmic pattern, and finding creative ways to write them down in your group.


Contact the Music Workshop Company to book your Body Percussion Workshop and begin your exploration of musical possibility!

A Year in Music Education

The Music Workshop Company has had a positive and exciting time in 2014. We’ve worked with participants we’d not met before, designed brand new workshops, revisited some of our previous clients and thoroughly enjoyed facilitating a whole bunch of creativity and music making.Family

Much of the recent emphasis on music and music education in the media falls on the lack of funding faced by professional musicians and music educators, and the failure to make space in the curriculum for this valuable educational area. MWC is passionate about music education, and determined to have a positive impact through music workshops.

In order to give a sense of exactly what the Music Workshop Company is about, we’ve put together a round-up of some of our 2014 highlights: Our year in music education.

We got off to a flying start in January with a Rock School Workshop at Thomas Deacon School where we’ve worked before, and our first visit to Clarendon Fan Court Preparatory School for a Composition “Rock ‘n’ Roll” workshop.

“I was really pleased with the way the workshop leader got the children working as an ensemble from the start. Even as a whole year group, it made them focus on working together for the rest of the day. The material and songs chosen to demonstrate the points the workshop leader was making was relevant to the children, and he made sure everyone was included and involved at every stage of the day. I would most definitely recommend The Music Workshop Company to colleagues.” Claremont Fan Court Prep, Esher, Surrey, January 2014

We also had the opportunity to work with Ealing Mencap Group.

“The musician (Sarah) was very organised, well prepared, and had a very pleasant manner which our young people with learning disabilities seemed to appreciate. She was able to engage some people who find this very difficult and ran the session to meet their varying needs. I was impressed with her.” Kathryn White, Ealing Mencap, January 2014

photo-15In February, we enjoyed meeting past, present and future clients at the Rhinegold Music Education Expo at the Barbican. You can read all about the Expo in our blog post. We’ll be there again in March 2015 and look forward to seeing you if you can make it.

Our projects for March included a Music Composition project based on “Differences” at Milton Court Primary School.

“The children were thoroughly engaged in the workshops …a fun day was had by all … overall a very enjoyable experience.” J Pearn, Milton Court Primary, Sittingbourne, March 2014

We also led our first Community Orchestra project with Yardarm Folk Orchestra & Sussex Orchestra.

“The experience was seamless from the start and the workshop itself was brilliant. The Music Workshop Company immediately understood our problems at our initial enquiry … booking the workshop was simple and everything ran like clockwork. The workshop identified and dealt with the main problems which are faced by the two orchestras that participated. The pace and style of presentation were very appropriate and they were delivered in a capable and confident manner which held everyone’s attention throughout. This is definitely the most valuable activity that our orchestra has done since its formation.” Malcolm (Yardarm) and Eileen (Sussex) Orchestras, Benfleet, Essex, March 2014

Also in March we had our first of two visits to one of our longest standing clients, Newstead Wood School, with a West African Drumming Workshop. African Drumming is one of our most popular workshops for both adults and children, and it brings a surprising number of benefits. Read about the impact of drumming on confidence and well-being in our blog post.

In April, we got involved in the ISM’s Protect Music Campaign, and had a brilliant time at Clarendon Ongoing Opportunities, a group we have been working with for several years.

“High levels of engagement and listening with a group involving some with severe learning disabilities, young people were given ownership and variety” Thomas Hillman, Clarendon Ongoing Opportunities, April 2014

In May we visited our good friends at the Harpenden Gateway Club. We have run workshops for the group since 2007!

Harpenden Gateway Mencap May 2014 025-300x225“Thank you so much for your wonderful music workshop at Gateway last week.   Our members thoroughly enjoy your visits, as indeed the turnout that evening showed!” Natalie Chaston, Harpenden Gateway, May 2014

We returned to Newstead Wood School in June for their annual Composition Workshop leading to a performance at their school concert. You can read about this project in more depth here.

We also had a fabulous time at Story Wood School with a Samba Workshop.

“Enjoyed the range of instruments and putting them together as a Samba band- it sounded great! Very positive and enjoyable!” Rachel Marsh, Story Wood School, June 2014

Then we had another amazing day with West Mercia Brownies. It was great to be invited back!

July was a busy month with school workshops, holiday club projects and a corporate project, including a fun day at the Oak Tree Centre in the Lightmoor Village Centre for the Bournville Village Trust working with participants from aged 3 to 13.

photo-14During the school holiday in August, we spent a hot, sunny day in Fairlands Valley Park, Stevenage taking part in a music day. We worked with participants of all ages in our family workshops.

And as the new school year began we worked with children and parents at Lostock Gralam Church of England School, to write a new school song, which you can listen to on our audio page.

“A very enjoyable experience for both adults and children in school. The finale where we shared the song was fantastic!” Lostock Gralam Church of England School, September 2014

We got more great feedback from one our October workshops:

“The children were introduced to new instruments and had the chance to play them…. All the children enjoyed the interactive style of the workshop.” Laura Burton, Moseley Church of England School, October 2014

And in the October half-term, we were lucky enough to spend a day at the Elgar Birthplace Museum working with families to create new pieces of music. It was a real privilege for the workshop leaders to work in the home of one of England’s greatest composers, and the workshop was brilliant fun. The pieces we created there are also available to listen to on our audio page.

“A big thank you for the lovely event you ran last week.” Lily Dean, Elgar Birthplace Museum, October 2014 

Body percussionIn November we visited Wyvil Primary School to celebrate their Latin American Day, and as the end of term approaches we have a whole host of workshops to look forward to, and plenty of creative ideas for next year.

Thank you to all our clients and participants for making 2014 a truly memorable year.

We are always open to receiving last-minute enquiries if we are available to run a workshop for you, and we are taking bookings for the New Year. Contact us to arrange your custom-built workshop today. We are looking forward to making music with you!

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