Cause I know I can treat you better than he can
And any girl like you deserves a gentleman
Tell me why are we wasting time
On all your wasted crying
When you should be with me instead
I know I can treat you better
Better than he can
Better than he can
Better than he can
Lyrics by Shawn Mendes
After singing pop songs Amy Coombe’s interactive ‘Google classroom’ session at this year’s Music Learning Revolution conference, Shawn Mendes’ ‘Treat You Better’ has been on loop in my head. However ‘Treat you Better’ was certainly not the only memorable aspect of this years MLR.
Meet, make music and network …
MLR is a conference for anybody working in music education, and prides itself on being somewhat of an Unconference, providing a creative setting for practitioners to meet, make music and network.
From a keynote speech by Radio 1 DJ Hew Stephens to a flamboyant fast paced ‘Gareth Malone’ style ensemble by pianist Adam Saunders, inclusion was a common theme throughout the conference. However I’m not sure the needs of disabled children were always considered when presenters talked about ‘inclusion’ – which is ironic given that inclusion is a term championed by disability rights advocates.
Very few of the workshops I attended made reference to the needs of disabled children – for example, Adam Saunders’ ‘On Cue’ ensemble. This 7-step approach to learning musical content utilises body percussion, vocalising, singing and playing by ear. And whilst this session certainly addressed some inclusion problems, as it didn’t require either note reading abilities or instrumental skills, it involved robust physical and mental abilities. In it’s current format, this would present disabling barriers for many of the children Drake Music work with.
So, it was good to see Drake Music’s Open Space Session – Imagination and Rigour – which was about overcoming disabling barriers within music education. Led by Jocelyn Watkins and Jonathon Westrup, this session focused on how to assess and accredit music in Special Schools. Jocelyn and Jonathan spoke about the Compose and Perform music qualification developed by Drake Music.
Compose, perform and include …
An Open College Network qualification, Compose and Perform has three levels. The highest level, level two is equivalent to GCSE grade A-C. Students complete four units: Music Skills for performance; Creating Soundtracks for Films; Writing Music Down and Composing Music using Chance Methods.
The qualification is very much part of the Think2020 initiative which aims to increase musical opportunities for disabled children and young people through strategic and sustainable partnership work in the music education sector. The qualification is fun and inclusive of a variety of needs – for example ‘Writing Music Down’ can be accessed via inclusive computer software, uses graphic scores as well as basic standard notation.
For me, the Drake Music Open Space Session almost felt like a bit of a fringe event, unintentionally isolated from the other sessions. This was a shame because the participants obviously enjoyed the session, and there were people there who hadn’t necessarily been to a Drake Music workshop before.
I wonder if maybe a way to attract a bigger audience to this session, would be for Drake Music to run a workshop in collaboration with another organisation with a more mainstream appeal?
Choose ‘the arts’ or ‘the sciences’ …
One of the presentations I found really interesting was David M Howard’s talk on music, creativity and engineering. Howard spoke about how children often have to choose between arts or science based subjects at A-level. He believes that this ‘choice’ exacerbates our dwindling number of engineers. He also spoke about the lack of female engineers, and how mixing up subjects like Music and Engineering, make Engineering more appealing to a wider number if students
The false dichotomy of choosing between ‘the arts’ or ‘the sciences’ is in many ways nonsensical, when in Howard’s own words ‘creativity underpins ingenuity which sparks invention…’
Although the talk wasn’t specifically referring to disability, I could relate to the limitations of having to choose between perceivably different subjects because of my physical impairment. When talking to other disabled artists, this is quite a common problem across a range of abilities, and continues to be the case.
Which is why initiatives like Drake Music’s ‘Compose and perform’ qualification are so important for achieving real inclusivity and ‘doing better’.