Jan Ford, Senior Creative Producer, reflects on her own experience of music making and a new project with Leicestershire Music Service and asks: are the current structures right for inclusive music education?
I have a longstanding passion for making music accessible to all. Maybe it goes back to my first encounter with music education as a fifteen-year-old girl, wanting to play the saxophone and discovering structures, systems and performance norms that would not let me in. There were no saxophone grade exams in those days, jazz was not on the exam syllabuses and as for female saxophonists…
Having co-produced and delivered many wonderful and varied music education projects with Orchestras Live and its partners and more recently having the opportunity to be involved in the wider world of music education through being a Trustee of Music Mark, the national organisation for Music Education, has made me reflect on my own music education. It's made me think more deeply about how young people engage in music today, and whether the ways of introducing young people in schools to music are as inclusive and relevant as they could be?
This is on my mind at the moment as Leics Create, developing a new model of Whole Class Ensemble Teaching (WCET) in partnership with Leicestershire Music Service and Sinfonia Viva, starts its pilot sessions in four primary and one special school this month.
Our partners in Leicestershire had been worried about Whole Class Ensemble Teaching, known as WCET, for some time when I met with their Head of Service for a coffee (shows how long ago that was!) to think about a new way of engaging children in instrumental learning that didn’t focus on notation, something that they believed was preventing beginners from progressing.
She’d been inspired by a performance in a French seaside town, by hundreds of young people who had enthusiastically performed Seven Nation Army by White Stripes from memory with a dance routine and thought how terrific it would be if young people in Leicestershire could learn by ear and perform with such excitement and animation.
So we came up with Leics Create, where creating music not learning a musical instrument is the focus and formed a delivery team of composers, music leaders, LMS music tutors and Sinfonia Viva musicians. The children are supported by the creative team led by Raph Clarkson and Abimaro Gunnell to compose their own pieces, either by improvising on the instrument (we’re working with children that have learnt two or three notes) or singing. This is where the skills of the music tutors and professional musicians kick in. The team transcribe those improvisations, in real time during the session, into a piece of music that the children can play and importantly own for themselves. The theory being, asking and involving young people in what music they would like to play builds collective ownership and pride, and therefore they will want to play more.
This is a new way of teaching and engaging children in music that takes composing rather than learning existing material by rote, as its starting point. Traditional ways of teaching do not suit all learners as they might not be relevant or appropriate. The professionals use their skills, not to teach them to play three notes, but to help the children create meaningful, relevant music that can be performed as an ensemble with the professionals, creating amazing pieces of music that the children will really enjoy playing. For this new way of working to be adopted relies on the commitment of classroom teachers too – using the time to catch up on your marking at the back of the room should not be an option – and parental support, something we are building into the pilot. We’re having some great sessions and I just marvel at the skills of the professionals – I can’t wait for the session where they create the dance routine!