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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

‘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.

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

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

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

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

The consultation explored “the case for change”.

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

Image taken from Arts Council Document

Image taken from Arts Council Document

The Findings 

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

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

The report comments:

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

ACE ‘Shaping the Next 10 Years’ Report

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

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

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

Image taken from Arts Council Document

What is culture? What is creativity?

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

The report states:

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

One workshop participant commented:

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

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

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

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

Other points identified here include:

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

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

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

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

Quote from online participant

Other challenges identified included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote from online participant

Other areas discussed in relation to this priority include:

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

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

Quote from online respondent

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

Featured image attributed to Tiffany Bailey (source wikicommons images)


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Abandoned music classroom, image Tiffany Bailey

Image: Tiffany Bailey 

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

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

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

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

Abandoned music classroom, image by Clay Gilliland

Image:Clay Gilliland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change in music uptake and exam entries between 2014 and 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another focusses on the EBacc and states: “

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

Sources

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

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

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

Where Is My Money Going?

Securing the Value of Music Lessons

MyMusicPB.com is an interactive resource for music teachers, music services and music students that offers a way for teachers to stay organised, up to date and compliant with European data laws while motivating pupils of all ages. Its intuitive interface is free for teachers to use. The Music Workshop Company speaks to MyMusicPB’s creator, Phillip Brunton, about how the site can add incremental value to instrumental lessons and help build a strong framework to support learning:

“In the present climate of financial justification it is often hard to pinpoint how value is reflected in the cost of vocal and instrumental music lessons. With unlimited activities vying for students’ attention, it can be challenging for teachers to account for the impact of their lessons and add more value to those lessons, yet ‘value’ or at least cost is a question that is likely to raise its head when money is discussed. In developing MyMusicPB.com we identified three key ‘links’ that every teacher can strengthen to ensure that the personal enrichment value of music making is truly appreciated alongside its financial value.

Music lessons are a unique exchange. Parents pay for something that they are not directly receiving, and often making this payment to a school or music service rather than to the person teaching the lesson.  As it is rare for a parent to sit in on the child’s lesson, and even when they do they won’t necessarily understand what they are watching, so the parent’s perception of value for money is observed through the experience of the child away from the lesson. The parent’s assessment is based on the following points:

Is the student making progress?

It can sometimes be difficult for parents to appreciate the progress being made, with some technical and musical skills requiring a longer period of time to develop. Reports and external graded exam results can give a measurable feedback of progress, although these are rarely produced more than once a year, and only a proportion of students will receive top marks.

How engaged is the student?

For many parents, value for money is observed through the child’s enthusiasm, motivation and enjoyment in their playing; how engaged they are with their practice and other musical activities such as playing in an ensemble? Students who are motivated to practise, and who understand how to get the most from their practice, will make enjoyable progress, but when the child doesn’t want to practice, the result is commonly that the parent will decide to stop lessons. Students who practise will want to learn more and will learn more quickly, making lessons much more ‘cost effective’. However, students attend lessons for a very small portion of the available 10080 minutes that make up a week. The true measure of their learning is determined by what happens betweenthe lessons.

Is the teaching effective?

Parents also observe value for money through the professionalism of the service and the effectiveness of the teaching being offered. Regardless of how one becomes an effective teacher, effective teaching aims ultimately to guide and inspire students to become self-learners. The value of effective teaching extends beyond the lesson itself, and this means teaching effective practice skills. 

How does the parent observe effective teaching outside of the lesson?  

Is the teacher organised and keeping both students and parents informed? This is reflected through the effectiveness of the communication ‘links’ between the teacher, student and parent. How informed are the parents? It is perfectly natural for a parent to want to support their child, especially in the early stages of learning. What is my child working towards? How and what should they be practising? When is their next lesson and how are they getting on? How can we help?

The Practice Book

The paper practice book has traditionally been used as a teacher’s method of communication, informing students what to practise and sending parents important messages. Many teachers are aware that practice books never make it out of the music bag and they are often just used by the teacher as a reminder of what was covered in the previous lesson. As a teacher, does your use of a practice book truly reflect the value of your teaching? Could an interactive practice book be more engaging to the student, more efficient for your teaching and more effective in communicating with the parent?

3 Key Links

MyMusicPB, the interactive music practice book, identifies the ‘links’ between the teacher, student and parent as key to ensure that music tuition is effective and ultimately valued.   

As an interactive resource, it successfully organises and connects the teacher’s planning, notes and assessments with the student’s practice, focus and progress. Parents can be more informed and appreciative of the process due to improved communication, and they can offer more support to the child through the built-in weekly progress indicators. Students become more engaged through the interactive features of the practice book, leading to more practice, progress and enjoyment.

Some more important answers…

How much does it cost?

MyMusicPB is free to use for all teachers. The linking interactive student practice books can be purchased separately by the parent or teacher. Alternatively, a school, music service or Hub may purchase a user licence, giving all their students and their parents access to a linking practice book. This offers better value for students.  

What support is there for teachers?

Schools and music services have ‘Admin Access’ to key data, which allows them to further support their teachers, students and parents. This strengthens links between all parties, and adds value to both individual and group lessons.  

Is it mobile optimised?

As an online application, MyMusicPB can be accessed from, and is optimised for use on, any device.

What about my privacy?

MyMusicPB actually addresses and solves the problems faced by many schools and music services due to GDPR and is fully GDPR compliant. When parents register, they give direct consent as to what data is held, and data is kept on a secure server with encrypted access. 

Find out more

For further support and resources on efficient music learning, please follow MyMusicPB on twitter: mymusicpb@phillipbrunton 

And visit mymusicpb.com 


If you would like to know more about The Music Workshop Company’s range of bespoke creative experiences, would like to be featured on our blog or would like to ask us anything else, contact the team today!

Nationalism in Music: A Grand Expression of Political Turbulence

The Eduqas A-level music syllabus includes study of Western Classical music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The syllabus asks students to explore this era, which “witnessed a fading romanticism and looked forward to new directions and musical challenges”.

This was a period of change and emancipation. No single composer led the way in terms of style, and artistic creativity was expressed with compositional devices including explorations in instrumental sonority and harmony, including increased use of dissonance and chromaticism. Nationalism, the use of cultural and patriotic references including the integration of elements of folk songs and folklore (often as programmatic forms and ideas) became an important feature.

However, alongside the stylistic emancipation, which has to some extent become romanticised in itself in the music history texts, this was a period of significant upheaval and in some areas of the world, restriction, dictatorship and death camps.

What Prompted the Rise of Nationalism?

Nationalism in music did not exist out of context. Rather topically to today’s political events, it was an ideological movement that provided an important factor in the development of Europe. In the late 19th century (1871), both Germany and Italy were newly unified, created from their various regional states and given a common ‘national identity’. Other countries, including Serbia, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, were formed in uprisings against the Ottoman Empire and Russia. At a time of social and political upheaval, romantic nationalism purportedly represented a general optimism for self-determined rule by newly formed government in place of the traditional monarchies and foreign control of territories. 

The Dark Side of Nationalism

It is common for nationalism in music to be superficially explained as the patriotic exploration of a nation’s folk music in the high cultural field, which makes sense in light of the new feeling of identity. However, if nationalism can be described as calling on people “to identify with the interests of their national group and to support the creation of a state – a nation-state – to support those interests,” (Professor Leon Baradat) music could also be used as a propaganda tool. It is interesting that when current politics demonstrate the dangers of nationalism, or of strong national identity without inclusion or integration, this element is often romanticised as a positive expression in the context of classical music

The truth is, composers were not always exploring nationalist ideas out of sheer creative and patriotic inspiration. This was demonstrated with the discovery of a Suite on Finnish Themesby Dmitri Shostakovich, which was written in 1939 but only discovered in 2001. The composer had never claimed authorship of the suite, it was never performed in his lifetime, and only one reference is made to it in his letters. Why?

The Winter War began on November 30th 1939, when the Red Army invaded Finland. Research shows that the Soviet government commissioned Shostakovich to write a suite based on Finnish melodies. The commission was instigated between November 23rd and 25th 1939, with a completion date of December 2nd, representing the timeframe of the invasion and the proposed date of occupation. 

A Finnish machine gun station during the Winter War

This was a propaganda tool. If the invasion had succeeded, Shostakovich’s suite would have been performed by Red Army marching bands in the streets of Helsinki, either with the intention to demonstrate the Soviet commitment to nurturing Finnish culture and prevent dissent, or to further humiliate the Finnish people after their defeat.

Shostakovich had a notably difficult relationship with the Soviet state throughout his life. He was one of the few composers who did not flee Russia when the revolution took place, and he was kept under close scrutiny. The Finnish commission of 1939 came some time after the composer’s first denouncement by the Communist Party, and these condemnations of Shostakovich’s music were not insignificant.

In fear for his life, Shostakovic was forced to take a more conservative and patriotic approach, as heard in particular in his 1937 Fifth Symphony. His acceptance of the commission to write the Suite on Finnish Themes demonstrates this forced patriotism. Shostakovich needed to escape the Communist Party backlash and return to Stalin’s favour. His alternative, the consequence for dissention, the Gulags. 

Further Examples of Nationalism in Music

Edvard Grieg – Norway

Grieg combined elements of traditional Norwegian folk songs with the Romantic style, often using poems by Norwegian poets such as Henrik Ibsen and Bjornstjerne Bjornson to set to his vocal songs.

His Opus 25, a set of six songs all set to poems by Ibsen, is a good example of his compositional style, demonstrating his feelings about nationalism through his synthesis of compositional elements and text. The form, harmony and melody of his works reflect his close relationship with the landscape of his home country. 

Bela Bartók – Hungary

Bartók is often painted as a highly nationalist composter, but study of his music shows how his idea of nationalism developed throughout his career and actually became diluted by social awareness.

In his late teens, in allegiance to the divisive politics of Hungarian nationalism he was attracted to what was known as the Hungarian popular music, often performed by Gypsy musicians. One of his early works, the 1903 symphonic poem Kossuth, tells the story of one of the heroes of the 1848-9 revolution.

This work employs characteristic features of the urban Gypsy music, which is also heard in the music of Franz Liszt. Musical devices include the use of a minor key scale with a sharpened fourth note, a short-long rhythmic figure (much like the Scotch-snap found in Scottish folk music) derived from the stress pattern of Hungarian speech, and the emulation of the performance style of indigenous instruments. These included the hammered dulcimer or cimbalom, the sound of which was later made famous in Anton Karas’s score for The Third Man.

However, through the influence of his friend Zoltán Kodály, Bartók was to discover a very different type of Hungarian popular music – music from the countryside. Much like Cecil Sharpe who built up the English folk song and dance collection, Bartók subsequently spent much of his life collecting, editing and cataloguing these folk songs, which he recorded in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, North Africa, and Turkey. Along with 2700 Hungarian melodies, Bartók collected 3500 Romanian and 3400 Slovakian tunes, and 10,000 other melodies from field workers.

Gypsy musicians in Budapest, May 1946, image source: http://www.fortepan.hu

One notable aspect of Bartók’s research was that he attempted to be properly systematic and scientific, making use of the recently developed phonograph rather than transcribing by ear. He refined the approach thoughout his life, creating ever more detailed transcriptions and seeking out points of correspondence between the music he had sourced from people of different ethnic backgrounds.

Through this ethnomusicological study he effectively reorientated himself. What had begun in his youth as a narrow Hungarian nationalist outlook became a much broader and more inclusive view. He came to see an essential unity between the rural working people of Hungary and its neighbouring states. In compositional terms this led to a musical style with a firm base in Hungary but which was permeated by elements derived from other cultures.

Richard Rogers’ Oklahoma! The Story of a Game Changing Musical…

Musical Theatre, or ‘Music for Theatre’ is a diverse topic, and the variety and quality it offers ensures its place in the exam board syllabus. Both the AQA and Eduqas at A-Level curriculums give Musical Theatre equal weight to hefty genres like the western classical tradition and jazz.

One composer common to both syllabuses is Richard Rogers (June 28, 1902 – December 30, 1979). Rogers wrote 43 Broadway musicals and more than 900 songs, and is recognised as one of the most significant composers of 20th century American music. He is known in particular for his song-writing partnerships with the lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. His work has had a significant impact on musical theatre and popular music, and 2018 marks the 75thanniversary of the opening of his ground-breaking musical Oklahoma!

Rogers met Lorenz Hart, his first collaborator, at Columbia University, in 1919. Together they wrote 26 musicals, which were performed on Broadway, in London and recorded in Hollywood. Sadly the partnership ended in 1943 when Hart died. Their work together includes On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, The Boys from Syracuse (based on Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors) and Pal Joey.

In 1942 Rodgers began working with Oscar Hammerstein II who he had also met at Columbia University. Hammerstein had already made a name for himself working with Jerome Kern but the partnership of Rogers and Hammerstein took both to higher success. It could be argued that this musical partnership changed the American musical: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards.

Their first work was Oklahoma!. The musical was immediately popular and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances – 5 years and 9 months. This was a record that it held for 15 years, until My Fair Lady ran for 2,717 performances from March 1956.

The history of Oklahoma! provides its own interesting story. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs’s play of 1930, Green Grow the Lilacs the name of which is from an old American Civil War song. The play, set in ‘Indian territory’ in 1900, seven years before the State of Oklahoma was founded, was performed just 64 times on Broadway between January and March 1931. However, ten years later in 1941, Theresa Helburn, a producer at the Theatre Guild, saw a production of Green Grow the Lilacs which was supplemented with traditional folk songs and square dance. She saw that the play could be the basis of a musical good enough that it might revive the struggling Guild and approached Rogers and Hart about writing it. Rogers was interested in the project and bought the rights to the play.

Green Grow the Lilacs

Rogers had already started talking to Hammerstein about working together with Hart. Hammerstein had said he would be happy to work with Rogers if Hart were unable to work, and as Hart was struggling with alcoholism and finding it hard to write, it was suggested that Hammerstein would be an ideal new partner for Rogers.

Coincidentally, Hammerstein had already considered setting Green Grow the Lilacs to music, but his then collaborator, Kern was not interested, so when he heard that Rogers was looking for a partner to write the show, he jumped at the opportunity.

One of the reasons the Rogers and Hammerstein partnership worked so well was that the partnership allowed both collaborators to follow their preferred writing methods: Hammerstein preferred to write a complete lyrics before his libretto was set to music, and Rodgers preferred to set completed lyrics to music. It has been suggested that this permitted Hammerstein to build the lyrics into the story so that the songs could enhance the story instead of diverting it.

The work was originally called Away We Go! But following tryouts, it was re-named Oklahoma!for the Broadway run.

According to playwright and theatre writer Thomas Hischak,

Not only is Oklahoma!the most important of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it is also the single most influential work in the American musical theatre. … It is the first fully integrated musical play and its blending of song, character, plot and even dance would serve as the model for Broadway shows for decades.

However, initially it was expected that the show would bomb. According to theatrehistory.com

The saga of the trials and tribulations of Oklahoma!before it reached its premiere performance in New York to become one of the surpassing triumphs of the American theatre is now a twice-told tale. Virtually everybody connected with the production was convinced he was involved with a box-office disaster. Here was a musical without stars; without “gags” and humour; without the sex appeal of chorus girls in flimsy attire. Here was a musical that strayed into realism and grim tragedy, with Jud as one of the main characters, and his death as a climax of the story. Here, finally, was a musical which for the first time in Broadway history leaned heavily upon American folk-ballet–the choreography by Agnes De Mille, one of America’s foremost choreographers and ballet dancers. Oklahoma!might be fine art, was the general consensus of opinion before premiere time, but it was poison at the box-office. The effort to get the necessary financial backing proved to be a back-breaking operation, successfully consummated only because the Theatre Guild, which had undertaken the production, had many friends and allies. But there was hardly an investor anywhere who did not think he was throwing his money down a sewer.”

In 1955 the show was made into a feature film, in fact, the first feature film shot in 70mm widescreen. It was also unique in that Rodgers and Hammerstein, having held onto the rights until the stage run had finished, personally oversaw the making of the film to ensure that no changes were made. As a result, the film follows the stage version much more closely than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein. The film won Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording.

Fact file:

  • One innovative feature of Oklahoma! is the dream ballet sequence which reveals the hidden fears and desires of the main characters: A device that was later used in many musicals including, famously An American in Paris: 
  • A key element of the story, following in the footsteps of Show Boat (also by Hammerstein) and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, is the showcasing on Broadway of the pioneering men and women who had worked the land of the American Southwest. It has been suggested that harking back to the ‘good old days’ was timely as Americans fought in the Second World War. Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel in 1945 also built on this theme.
  • Oklahoma!It opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on April 30, 1947 to rave press reviews and sell-out houses, running for 1,543 performances. Its pre-London run opened a day late at the Manchester Opera House on April 18, 1947, because the ship carrying the cast, scenery, and costumes ran aground on a sandbank off Southampton.
  • The exclamation mark in the show’s title was in common use in musical titles in the 1930s and 1940s. As George Jean Nathan, an American drama critic and magazine editor stated “It seems that the moment anyone gets hold of an exclamation mark these days, he promptly writes a musical show around it”.
  • As the end of the musical celebrates the formation of the state of Oklahoma, the title song became the official state song of Oklahoma in 1953 and is the only state song from a Broadway musical.
  • Richard Rodgers was the first person to win all four top show business awards. He was awarded an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, and also won a Pulitzer Prize.
The dream sequence from An American in Paris

Songs from the musical:

Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’

The Surrey with the Fringe on Top

Kansas City

I Cain’t Say No

Many a New Day

People Will Say We’re in Love

Pore Jud Is Daid

Out of My Dreams

The Farmer and the Cowman Annie, Laurey, Ike Skidmore, Cord Elam & Ensemble

All Er Nuthin’

Oklahoma

BBC Proms performances with the John Wilson Orchestra:

Music Mark Conference 2018 – Youth Voice

On Thursday 22ndand Friday 23rdNovember 2018, Kenilworth welcomed music educators from across the country to Music Mark’s 2018 annual conference to discuss the theme of “Youth Voice.” MWC’s Maria Thomas was there…

With sessions on topics such as Whose Music Education is it?, Trust the music – connection with young audiences, Youth Governance, Ensembles and young people, and Reaching out to Young People – Shake up your marketing and communications strategy, one key message was engaging young people in the music education discussion.

But there were also discussions on the gender gap in music – currently across the UK only 14% of music creators (composers and songwriters)  registered with the Performing Rights Society (PRS) are women – increasing investment in and access to musicmaking for deaf children and young people, mental health and wellbeing support for teachers within music services and hubs, careers in the creative industry, music workshops designed to support the development of speech and language  and wellbeing for children and young people.

Of course, with so many interesting workshops and discussions taking place, it is difficult to choose which to attend! So here are thoughts from a couple of sessions.

One session, led by Philip Flood from Sound Connections explored routes into music education as a career, with a particular focus on instrumental teaching and workshop leading. Three music hubs described their work in supporting early career educators and CPD.

Adam Hickman from Services for Education, Birmingham and Luan Shaw from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire discussed how they work together to offer Conservatoire students training and experience as instrumental teachers both at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level. They also reflected on how this has helped with wider CPD through the development of an online resource pack including videos.

Michael Davidson and Ije Amaechi talked about how Hertfordshire Music Service are focussing on diversifying their workforce of instrumental teachers and workshop leaders bringing together both teachers from a traditional teaching background and community musicians to share good practice. Ije talked about her journey from a participant on a songwriting course to being a workshop leader herself and highlighted how reflection sessions after workshops has helped her develop her skills.

Open Mic attracted me & then songwriting workshops were more appealing than grades. I’ve since performed at the Albert Hall & became a trainee tutor, shadowing across different projects & groups was useful to me, and reflecting after each session. 

Ije AmaechiTim Shephard from the University of Sheffield talked about his relationship as Chair of the Sheffield Music Hub, and shared his experience of working with Ian Naylor, Head of Music Education at Sheffield Music Hub to create opportunities for students to get involved in outreach through Music in the City and Music for Youth. It has also led to the development of a BA Music Education where Sheffield Music Hub offers training and opportunities to the University of Sheffield students.

An interesting question was raised in the whole room discussion:  

When are people good enough as tutors / workshop leaders?

This is particularly relevant to those who come to music education through non-traditional routes, and so the question was asked, “If a qualification is needed, how could it be completely accessible?”

One of the afternoon sessions, chaired by Youth Music’s CEO, Matt Griffiths explored inclusion in music education. As Matt stated at the beginning of the session, the debate has moved from, “Is inclusion needed?” to “How do we embed inclusion?” The first presentation was by Holly Radford of Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) who explained how music hubs around the Midlands had come together, facilitated by MAC and led by Phil Mullen, to explore how inclusion can be embedded in their work. The feedback from participants in the room demonstrated how useful the process had been for engaging with a range of local bodies such as local councils to develop support for music education.

The second presentation was by Michael Davidson of Hertfordshire Music Service discussing the work of MusicNet East, a collaboration between 4 music services (Hertfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk), supported by Youth Music who are all exploring inclusion in different ways. Michael talked about the work of Hertfordshire Music Service and how they are developing projects to fit the needs of educational bodies and participants, for example their work with Pupil Referral Units and their Songwriter programme. Delegates from Cambridge and Essex also shared their experiences of how these programmes are helping to get the value of music education as an aid to inclusion on the wider education agenda.

As Matt Griffiths, CEO of Youth Music tweeted at the end of the conference:

Main observation #MusicMark2018 was a collective will to innovate & change. Informed by & with young people, their lives in music, and acting on the school challenges we face. We can stand still, observe & moan or step up & transform. I’m totally for the latter #musicalinclusion


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