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Easy Music Games For Parents With Young Children

If you’re looking for some fresh ideas to engage your children with music as lockdown continues, there are hundreds of wonderful free and paid resources online. We’ve already explored some of our favourites. This month, we thought it would be fun to share some ideas from our own Early Years Resources. 

These games are aimed at young children, and are for parents who may be struggling to keep their toddlers busy. They can also be used with primary-age children, and even played with the whole family. We hope you enjoy them!

The first thing to remember is that music making with little children is simple and should be fun. You don’t have to be a ‘good’ singer or a professional musician, or even know very much about music. You just need to have a little confidence and enjoy yourself.

Why make time for music?

Music games help to develop communication skills, physical coordination, confidence and expression. Music can provide a way for your child to learn new skills using play. And it can help you to relax about your own responsibilities, knowing that your child is learning without stress. 

How to get started

Music activities don’t need to be complicated. One of the easiest things you can do together is to put on a recording of nursery rhymes or children’s songs and to clap along.

You can use this idea to create other “body percussion” – stamping, clicking fingers, tapping knees, or using musical instruments such as shakers. This could also be a fun way to explore the sounds of everyday household objects. 

You could use this game to introduce the concepts of loud and quiet, using hand signals to show when the percussion is quiet and when it is loud. 

Your child will have ideas about which pieces should be loud and quiet. You can also encourage your child to have a go at “conducting” loud and quiet. We use the word ‘quiet’ instead of ‘soft’ to avoid confusion with the meaning in terms of texture. 

Developing songs

You don’t have to stick with the traditional version of a song – you can adapt it to make a game. For example, the song, “If you’re happy and you know it” traditionally incorporates different types of body percussion like “clap your hands”, “nod your head”, “stamp your feet”. This can be developed in a number of ways:

  • You can include different instruments – play the bells, play the shaker
  • You might introduce loud and quiet – play loudly, play quietly
  • You could change the speed – play quickly, play slowly

Once the children understand these concepts, they can be combined – play fast and loud, play fast and quiet.

Action songs

Action songs are a great way to develop co-ordination and musical skills. Popular favourites are The Wheels on the Bus, The Farmer’s in his Den, Ring A Ring A Roses, Incy Wincy Spider, Row, Row, Row your Boat and In and Out the Dusty Bluebells. Use your imagination or check out YouTube for inspiration.

Movement activities

Musical Statues is a fun game that is easy to set up and takes little preparation. All you need is a device that plays music. The leader plays the music and the players move around the room and stop, becoming a ‘statue’ when the music stops. Encourage them to find interesting ‘statue’ poses to add to the fun. 

This can be developed into moving in time to the music – a marching tune such as the Grand Old Duke of York, being a floating star for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Another game you can use is to ‘copy the leader’ in time to the music.  The leader (you) begins by clapping in time to a piece of music so that the children can copy. You could use a signal like a foot stamp to make the game more complicated – when you stamp your foot, the children should remain silent – just like Simon Says but without words.

Rhythm activities

Use a ‘name game’ to introduce rhythm. This uses several concepts including keeping time, keeping a regular beat and filling a gap in the music.

Sit in a circle, or opposite your child if there are only two of you, and clap a simple rhythm – clap clap rest rest, clap clap rest rest (When Maria uses this activity in workshops, she uses  clap clap knees knees or clap clap nod nod – as trying to keep the rests full length is tricky.

Once this has been established each person takes it in turn to say their name in the rest.

To introduce this activity, you could say a name in the first rest and ask the child to copy it in the second rest. If the game is a bit limited because there are too few of you, you could make a circle of toys or other familiar objects such as pieces of fruit, and get your child to name them in the rests. 

Listening games

The simplest way to approach listening is to play the children a piece of music then discuss what they think the music was about. Ballet music like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is good for this. Another approach is to engage the children by asking them to draw pictures of what they are hearing.

For an interactive listening activity you need a selection of instruments with 2 of each – such as bells, shakers and castanets. You could prepare these together, making shakers from kitchen items or using some ideas from our blog. Use your imagination! 

The leader (you or the child) hides behind a home made screen and plays an instrument. The other players have to guess which instrument made the sound. In the initial stages the children could match the sound with the instrument, as they become more familiar with the instruments they can match the sound to the name of instrument. You can develop this game by playing two instruments together.

Composition

Don’t be put off by the idea of composition. It’s easy to make a start and allow the children to explore their creativity. You don’t need to be a composer!

The easiest way to start this game is to choose a story that the children know and to create a sound track to the story. This can incorporate voices, body percussion and musical instruments. 

You can create sounds:

  • To set the scene – a forest, the sea
  • For each character – a giant would have a loud slow sound, a fairy would have a fast quiet sound
  • Imitating the sounds within the story – animals, cars, trains

We hope you enjoy trying some of these games with your children!


Images by: Alireza AttariKristina Paparo, Alexander Dummer and Victoria Priessnitz on UnSplash

Our Favourite Home Learning Resources

At a time when more families are engaged in home learning, the MWC team wanted to share online resources that might be useful over the coming months…

General advice on Home Learning

Home Learning UK are sharing their expertise – https://homelearninguk.weebly.com/

MWC’s Maria loves opera for so to find out the best places for streamed opera check out BachTrack’s list – https://bachtrack.com/search-opera/medium=2,3

Explore Folk Music from around the World with https://folkcloud.com


Singing

Need inspiration for some new songs? Check out Sing Up who are currently offering free resources – https://www.singup.org/home-schooling

For families who have budding instrumentalists here is some advice on specific instrument challenges:

Oboists – Parents guide to an oboists reed crisis! https://www.rachelbroadbent.co.uk/post/parents-guide-to-an-oboists-reed-crisis?fbclid=IwAR0b9FMcX8mnibH84EK3ARmwHEtxUmXslao0K2sQ1sPhqlFyUXTGrVe6WGk

Ever wondered how to tune a violin? ViolinSchool have a handy resource to help you https://www.violinschool.com/how-to-tune-a-violin/


Creative Activities

Keeping It Creative with Miss Hodgson – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC04w15zk1qpp1wMVxIUN_BQ/videos?app=desktop

The Roald Dahl Museum has great resources to help children develop their creative writing skills – https://www.roalddahl.com/museum/make-stories

Creative Boom have put together links to lots of fun creative activities at –https://www.creativeboom.com/resources/fun-activities-to-do-at-home-brought-to-you-by-the-wonderful-creative-community/

Felt Tip Pen gives lots of suggestions for Art activities – http://felt-tip-pen.com/art-teaching-resources-you-can-access-anywhere/

Get free ballet Lessons with the English National Ballet – https://www.youtube.com/user/enballet

If you are looking for inspiration for theming activities, visit Teaching Ideas for festivals and celebrations from around the World – https://www.teachingideas.co.uk/events/march

London Bubble have created a free Speech Bubbles resource full of activities for drama at https://www.londonbubble.org.uk/parent_project/speech-bubbles/

64 Million Artists are sharing a daily creative challenge, sign up at https://64millionartists.com/


Exploring Art

Have a virtual day out at the National Gallery – https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/virtual-tours

Explore Tate Modern with Nick Grimshaw and Francis Morris – https://www.tate.org.uk/art/360-video/grimshaw

Visit the Vatican including the Sistine Chapel – http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/tour-virtuali-elenco.html


General Home-Learning Activities

BBC Bitesize includes resources and activities for children and young people from age 3 up – https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize

TTS are offering free downloadable resources for Early Years, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 –https://www.tts-group.co.uk/home+learning+activities.html

Robin Hood Multi Academy Trust has free projects for Early Years, Key Stage 1, Years 3/4  and Years 5/6 on their website. These are broken into weekly tasks. Visit their site – https://www.robinhoodmat.co.uk/learning-projects/

NASA kids club has lots of activities for children – https://www.nasa.gov/kidsclub/index.html


Languages

Duolingo is a free app that supports learning a wide range of languages – https://www.duolingo.com/

Rosetta Stone is offering free access to their resources for the next 3 months – https://www.rosettastone.com/freeforstudents/


MWC’s Artistic Director, Maria loves Reading and History, so here are some recommendations in these areas…

Reading

Audible Stories now has free classic children’s stories – https://stories.audible.com/discovery

The World of David Walliams is offering free audio stories –https://www.worldofdavidwalliams.com/elevenses/

Literary Shed + has free resources for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 – https://www.literacyshedplus.com/en-gb/browse/free-resources

Ok, it’s not quite summer yet, but the Summer Reading Challenge has lots of great resources – https://summerreadingchallenge.org.uk/

The Stay-at-Home! Literary Festival is an international online literature festival running from 27th March until 11th April 2020  – https://stayathomefest.wordpress.com/

And the British Library have great resources and activities linked to children’s books – https://www.bl.uk/childrens-books


History

Did you know you can do virtual visits to museums such as the British Museum? Read their top tips on how to access their amazing collection – https://blog.britishmuseum.org/how-to-explore-the-british-museum-from-home/

The Chester Beatty Museum in Dublin is one of Maria’s favourite museums, visit their virtual museum at https://chesterbeatty.ie/exhibitions/gift-of-a-lifetime/

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has more than 103,500 objects in its online collection – https://www.ashmolean.org/


Mental Health

And of course, supporting children, young people and their families with mental health.

We need to talk about Children’s Mental Health – https://weneedtotalkaboutchildrensmentalhealth.wordpress.com/2020/03/27/tips-to-share-with-children-to-help-them-cope-with-the-new-normal/


N.B. MWC is not affiliated with any of these websites. This list should not be taken as a recommendation for any products or services (and those featured should not claim any recommendation). All data and GDPR rules – and terms and conditions – should be closely scrutinised by schools and parents.

The images used in this post courtesy of Unsplash, by Goetz Heinen, Sharon McCutcheon, Dragos GontariuToa Heftier, Kelly Sikkema, Annie Spratt, Brett JordanNational Cancer Institute

BBC Young Composer 2020

The BBC have launched this year’s BBC Young Composer competition. Previously known as the BBC Proms Inspire Competition and the BBC Young Composer of the Year, the annual competition is open to composers aged between 12 and 18 from across the UK. Winners take part in a development programme and work with a mentor composer on a composition for the BBC Concert Orchestra, to be performed at the BBC Proms in 2021 in a special young composers concert. The closing date for entries to the competition is 5pm on Thursday 11 June 2020.

Former winners

The competition boasts an illustrious list of former winners including Shiva Feshareki, Kate Whitley, Tom Harrold, Alissa Firsova, Mark Simpson, Toby Young, Lloyd Coleman and Duncan Ward. 

Shiva Feshareki won the BBC Young Composer Award in 2004 and has since been honoured with the 2017 Ivor Novello Award for Innovation (formerly known as British Composer Award) and The Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize (2009). She achieved her doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music and her research has contributed to the rediscovery of some of the early innovators of electronic music such as Pauline Oliveros, Daphne Oram and Éliane Radigue. In the 2018 BBC Proms, Feshareki performed Oram’s Still Point for turntables, double orchestra and five microphones with the sound artist and curator James Bulley and the LCO. This performance took place in the Royal Albert Hall; the venue for which the work was written.

Kate Whitley runs The Multi-Story Orchestra with conductor Christopher Stark. Her composition Speak Out, which uses the words of Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, was commissioned by the BBC for International Women’s Day 2017, in support of the campaign for better education for girls. Whitley won a Critics Circle Award in 2018.

Tom Harrold’s recent projects include Nightfires, a commission from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra , a Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra for Emma McPhilemy and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, A Brief Nostalgia for Birmingham Royal Ballet and Queensland Ballet companies, and Unchained, a mini-concerto for percussionist Colin Currie.

Alissa Firsova won the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer competition in 2001. She has since received two world premieres at the BBC Proms: Bach Allegro in 2010 and Bergen Bonfire in 2015. Alongside her work as a composer, Firova is also a pianist and conductor and her triple-debut with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Cadogan Hall in 2013 as director, composer and conductor.

Mark Simpson won the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year competitions in 2006. In the same year he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year – he was the first (and to date the only) musician to win both. Some of Simpson’s composing highlights include the premiere of his first opera, Pleasure, with a libretto by Melanie Challenger, commissioned by Opera North, the Royal Opera House and Aldeburgh Music with performances in Leeds, Liverpool, Aldeburgh and London. He also gave the online premiere of Darkness Moves for solo clarinet, commissioned by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

Toby Young won the Guardian/BBC Proms Young Composer of the Year in 2006 and 2008, going on to win the International ABRSM Composition Competition in 2009. Young’s works have been performed by orchestras such as London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academy of Ancient Music, and choirs such as Westminster Abbey, the Joyful Company of Singers, and the BBC Singers. He is currently Composer-in-Residence with the Armonico Consort, following past residencies with the London Oriana Choir and Reverie and being the featured composer at the Kings Lynn and Stratford Festivals.

Lloyd Coleman works closely with conductor Charles Hazlewood and the British Paraorchestra, the first professional ensemble in the world comprised of disabled musicians. In 2017 Coleman was appointed as their first Associate Music Director and he wrote Towards Harmony for the ensemble. Alongside his composing and performing work, Coleman is also a presenter on TV and Radio including for the BBC Proms.

Duncan Ward won the BBC Young Composer of the Year in 2005 and now spends time both as a composer and conductor. Ward’s recent commissions include an encore for the Bamberger Symphoniker, premiered under Rafael Payare in March 2019 and Rainbow Beats, a work for orchestra for the South African organisation MIAGI (Music Is A Great Investment) was premiered on a major tour of Europe in Summer 2018 in celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centenary including performances at the Elbphilharmonie, Concertgebouw, Berlin Konzerthaus and Verbier Festival.

The competition is a springboard for up and coming composers. Winners and highly commended composers are invited to join the BBC Young Composer Ambassadors, giving an opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship with the BBC Proms. Past winners have received additional commissions from the BBC such as:

  • Tom Harold’s Raze for BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms in 2016
  • Grace Mason’s River for Proms At…Stage@TheDock in 2017 which was commissioned by BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ programme and the BBC Proms to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Handel’s Water Music.
  • In 2018, Alex Woolf’s The NHS Symphony which is a half-hour portrait in music and sound of the National Health Service as it celebrated its 70th anniversary. The work was nominated for an ARIAS Award (the BAFTAs of UK Radio) in the Factual Storytelling category in October 2018.
  • Sarah Jenkins, the 2017 winner was commissioned to write And the Sun Stood Still for the BBC Concert Orchestra
  • Alexia Sloane’s Brink was written for BBC Concert Orchestra and will be premiered on Thursday 19thMarch at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, London. Details at https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ezhn5v
  • The BBC Singers’ commission for International Women’s Day 2020 entitled Seven Ages of Woman features 7 composers including Helena Paish and Electra Perivolaris
  • Mark Simpson is currently Composer in Association with the BBC Philharmonic, works include The Immortal and his Clarinet Concerto

The competition

Each year the compositions are judged by a panel of leading composers and music industry professionals who have a keen interested in finding and developing young talent. This year the judges include Errollyn Wallen, Shiva Feshareki (former winner), Matthew Kaner and the Director of the Proms, David Pickard. More judges will be announced soon.

The judges will assess the submissions based on compositional idea, originality and creativity and entries are judged in three categories:

Junior Category aged 12-14

Junior Category aged 15-16.

Senior Category aged 17-18

(Note: age category is determined by age on the closing date)

To enter, compositions should be uploaded to www.bbc.co.uk/youngcomposer where the applicants have a form to complete alongside submitting the audio composition file. Compositions can include any instrumentation such as voices, acoustic instruments, electronic instruments and computer-generated sounds.

Past participants have highlighted benefits of taking part in the competition such as meeting people with similar interests, having the opportunity to collaborate, working with established composers and hearing their works performed by professional musicians.

So why not enter the competition this year? The closing date for entries to the competition is 5pm on Thursday 11 June 2020.

For more inspiration, listen to works by former winners at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p030pblf

Featured images source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_W.Bubbles%27_Music_Writing_Pen(32869862850).jpg

Creativity in Education

Earlier this month, the Durham Commission published its final report following a two-year review of Creativity in Education.  The Commission is a collaboration between Arts Council England and Durham University. It aims to identify ways in which creativity, and specifically creative thinking, can play a larger part in the lives of young people from birth to the age of 19, both within and beyond the current education system.

The Commission brought together a diverse group from Education and the Creative Industries to act as Commissioners, chaired by Sir Nicholas Serota, CH, Chair of Arts Council England.

It gathered a wide range of evidence from various sources including:

  • A survey of over 1,000 stakeholders from business, education and the arts
  • A survey of headteachers and governors across the country
  • Meetings with stakeholders
  • A review of previous reports and initiatives into creativity and education
  • One-to-one interviews with the Commissioners

This research has enabled the Commission to explore key questions about the relationship between creativity and education such as, “How can creativity be recognised?” “What are the challenges and opportunities when embedding creativity in schools, and in the workplace?” And, “Who should be responsible for promoting creativity across the country?”

Key Definitions

Key Recommendations

The Commission recommends that a national network of Creativity Collaboratives should be established to allow schools to collaborate in establishing and sustaining the circumstances and environment required for nurturing creativity in the classroom, across the curriculum

1: Establishing Creativity Collaboratives

A key recommendation is that a three-year pilot of nine Creativity Collaboratives should be established in each of the DfE regions with funding from a consortium including DfE, Arts Council and educational trusts, with a view to exploring additional funding from partnerships between DfE, industry and commerce

2: Barriers to teaching for creativity

The Commission recommends that Government, Ofqual and the awarding bodies work together to consider the role of examinations and how scholarship and craftmanship are recognised and rewarded in assessment frameworks.

3: Recognising the value of creativity

The Commission identified that schools who have successfully established and sustained conditions where creativity is nurtured should be championed and encouraged. The Commission suggests that success should be recognised in the Ofsted inspection process and that Ofsted should share good practice case studies of teaching for creativity in a range of subjects and across phases.

The Commission also suggest that Ofsted should also continue to refine the inspection framework to further decrease incentives to ‘teach to the mark’ and that there is more clarity that the inspection process is looking for “teaching for scholarship and craftsmanship, not merely exam-passing.”

Throughout our research, the words most frequently associated with the exercise of creativity were imagination, freedom, expression, collaboration, and problem solving. The research findings also highlighted the importance of curiosity, perseverance and resilience.

4 & 5: Evaluating the impact of creativity

The Commission highlights the benefits to schools of taking part in PISA 2021 evaluation of creating thinking, and recommends that the DfE should support English schools’ participation in this in order to influence and shape future use of the framework.

The Commission also recommends a role for Higher Education institutions, in conjunction with the DfE, to work with the Creativity Collaboratives to “develop research-informed practice to evaluate creativity, looking at how creativity and creative thinking can be identified across disciplines, and how its impact can be measured.”

There need be no conflict between knowledge and creativity in our education system. Indeed, the opposite is the case – creativity is founded on deep understanding. Every meaningful creative breakthrough in human history has been made by people with deep expertise, immersing themselves in the practices and problems of the field and finding new ways to see, act or behave.

6: Digital technologies, creativity and education

The Commission stresses that the English education system should support young people to engage creatively and critically with the digital technology that is now a substantial part of their everyday lives. Suggestions including additional funding from the DfE for training for school teachers in digital literacy and digital creativity, with time and resource committed to it. The Commission also suggests NESTA play a key role, by managing a pilot programme working with a mix of education, business and the cultural sector to explore how digital education in schools can help develop the creative digital skills most in demand by employers.

7: Creativity and the arts in schools

The Commission states its belief that “Arts and culture should be an essential part of the education of every child.” Its recommendations to achieve this include a funded National Plan for Cultural Education to be established by the DfE which will ensure all children access cultural opportunities in school alongside the new Plans for Music Education and Sport.

The Commission also suggests that the DfE should require schools to offer a full national curriculum at all key stages, but in particular at KS3 until the end of year 9 which would include the arts as a substantive part of the curriculum, not as an add-on.

Another recommendation is that the Artsmark scheme awarded by Arts Council England should be reviewed by ACE to make sure the value of creativity, arts and culture in schools is recognised. This should be achieved through ACE working with the DfE to evaluate the current provision of professional development opportunities for teachers in arts subjects and for the cultural workforce and freelancers who work with schools.

8: Creative beginnings: pre-school and the early years curriculum

The Commission identifies the importance of the purpose and place of creativity and teaching for creativity being recognised and encouraged in the early years (0-4). Recommendations include integrating creativity into the Early Learning Goals within the Early Years Foundation Stage by the DfE while establishing and funding effective training and CPD for the pre-school workforce. The Commission suggest reviewing the current Continuing Professional Development opportunities, qualifications and entry routes to the sector by 2021.

The Commission also identifies other key partners in Early Years creativity and suggests that the BBC, other media and broadcasting organisations alongside the DfE, should further develop quality early years content that encourages young children’s creativity alongside literacy and language development.

9: Creative opportunities out of school hours

The Commission also states its belief that in-school opportunities to develop creativity should be complemented by a range of opportunities to take part in creative activities outside of school hours. They recommend that Arts Council England work in partnership with youth sector organisations and social services to align and build on existing out of school provision to be creative in the arts, sciences and humanities. Routes identified include Saturday Clubs, Music Education Hubs, existing Arts Council programmes which support out of school hours activity, and the National Citizens Service.

10: Beyond school: creative opportunities and experiences in the world of work

The Commission identifies that young people need to be better prepared for the changing world of work particularly requiring the creative capacities that employers are looking for and which will enable them to be “resilient and adaptable, to pursue portfolio careers and engage in lifelong learning.” The Commission highlights that qualification frameworks should appreciate the value of creativity for the current and future workforce.

It suggests a review of the existing opportunities for developing creativity as a key capacity in emerging T level qualifications and existing Apprenticeship Standards by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

Full report available at 

Click to access DurhamReport.pdf

Composing the Future

On 1st October 2019, Sound and Music announced the findings of their National Music Educators’ Survey, Can Compose. The report, which is based on responses from over 500 educators, is the first of it’s kind to look specifically at creativity and composers.

Sound and Music believe that composing should be a core element of every child’s music education – and 97% of their respondents agreed.

One of the areas of the report is the identification of 5 key barriers (from the over 600 barriers that were reported) that prevent young people’s progression in composing:

  • Many young people lack the skills, knowledge and confidence to compose their own music
  • There are concerns about the relevance of opportunities for young people 
  • Many educators lack support and training in how to teach composing 
  • There is limited, patchy and unequal access to resources and opportunities 
  • Composing as a core part of music education is undervalued 

These are worrying findings for those of us who believe in the importance of opportunity for creativity and access to music for young people, however not a great surprise to the MWC team who see a wide range of musical opportunities for young people in schools in many areas, but speak to teachers who do not have the skills to teaching composition or do not have access to the necessary resources.

Sound and Music suggest that these findings point to the need for changes in perceptions, provision, practice and policy.

As well as identifying the barriers to young people composing, Sound and Music’s report also identifies 5 outcomes to address the barriers:

  • There should be more opportunities for young people to compose in and out of school 
  • Opportunities for young people to compose should be more relevant and diverse 
  • There should be improved provision of training, support and resources for educators, music education hubs and schools 
  • There should be improved progression pathways through better networks and signposting 
  • More value should be placed on composing

Sound and Music state:

“We want to see a world where more young people have the opportunity, skills and confidence to create their own music; where their creativity and imagination can flourish; and where the composers of the future, key to the success of many of the UK’s creative industries, are nurtured.”

This is a sentiment that we, at MWC, fully support.

Key Findings

Key findings from the report include:

97% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that creating and composing music should be a core element of music education

96%  of respondents agreed that creating and composing music enables children and young people to develop their identity and their wellbeing

97% of respondents also agreed that there should be more opportunities for students to compose their own music

Young peoples’ confidence and performance opportunities

An important point for consideration is that young people’s confidence in composing declines throughout their time in education up to the age of 16. By age of 16 and over, the confidence in composing seems to return a little, however, the number of young people participating in music education in schools at this stage is a very small proportion of all young people. One concern is that many students lack confidence in themselves as composers and worry about being judged. The report suggests this lack of confidence to experiment and make mistakes when learning to compose has its roots in a number of the issues identified throughout the survey. The report further suggests that this lack of confidence is compounded by the systemic deprioritisation of composing compared to performing.

Also highlighted in the Sound and Music report is the fact that opportunities for young people to hear their own compositions performed live are extremely limited. The research found that there is a mismatch between students composing and works being performed.

Teachers confidence and CPD

The research suggests that teachers and educators are not accessing training and Continuing Professional Development focused on composing with only 41% of respondents reporting that they had received composing-focused Continuing Professional Development (CPD) within the last 5 years. Educators seem to value to CPD with 45% of respondents agreeing that “CPD for themselves and colleagues” that be the activity that would most benefit young people. Linked to this is a lack of confidence in educators regarding assessing composing, particularly for exams. Educators’ confidence can be undermined by exam boards’ assessment methodologies, which are not always perceived to be reliable or transparent.

As educators do not always feel confident teaching composing, the report found that schools increasingly rely on external music tuition to fulfil curriculum and examination requirements, which particularly impacts composing,

The question “what would most benefit young people to compose music?”, 38% of those respondents directly involved in teaching music, and 45% of those respondents working for organisations, said that better teaching resources would help them support composing activity.  This was broken down with categories most frequently given as school facilities, equipment and space (34% of responses within this category), including the need for more technology and equipment; insufficient breakout spaces for group composing activity; and a lack of accessible instruments for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. This last point is highlighted in the finding that music educators struggle to support young people who face disabling barriers to composing and creating music.

Also identified as something that would help young people compose was access to composers. The report suggests “Providing young people with more opportunities to work alongside composers, and supporting composers in developing their skills as educators, are two important steps that educators feel the music education sector needs to take.”

Concern about the future of music in schools

A concern that MWC has raised in numerous blogs is the challenge that music as a curriculum subject is being deprioritised. In the Sound and Music report, 78% of respondents identified the deprioritisation of music as a curriculum subject or lack of time for music within the school curriculum as barriers to young people composing their own music.

Recommendations

The report goes on to identify ways to create opportunities and support young people to compose. These recommendations link to key areas:

  • Creating more opportunities for young people to compose both in and out of school
  • More relevant and diverse opportunities for young people to compose
  • An improved offering of training, support and resources for educators, music education hubs and schools
  • Clear signposting to improved progression pathways with better networks
  • A higher value to be placed on composing

To read the full report visit http://soundandmusic.org/projects/can-compose-national-music-educators-survey

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

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.

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‘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.

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