Music Mark 2016 PART ONE: Overview


Music Mark 2016 opened with a performance from Warwickshire Music Hub's Youth Viol Consort

Last week I had the pleasure of joining DM’s Music Education Manager Jonathan Westrup at Music Mark 2016. Music Mark is a membership organisation and charity supporting Music Services and Hubs to help them deliver the highest quality music education.

Their annual conference was a chance for members to meet with each other and service providers to learn, engage and develop even better practice. Jonathan and I attended to represent Drake Music, and deliver a session aimed at helping hubs make better decisions when hiring expertise from outside.

The conference got off to a great start with a performance by a group affectionately known as ‘Gutted!’ – Warwickshire Music Hub’s Youth Viol Consort. The viol is a not often heard relative of bowed stringed instruments we know dating back to the 16th Century. It has a very distinct tone, unlike more familiar strings, and the performance was really well received.

Following that were keynote speeches from several prominent figures, including Music Mark’s Chief Exec Jem Shuttleworth. The tone of discussion was set by the increasing challenges facing the sector; clearly music education is something that has to be fought harder for in our current education system.

Ciaran O’Donnell of Birmingham Music Service offered some cautiously optimist strategies, my favourite of which: Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Parents. As a father of three, that really resonates. My kids already show great aptitude for music for their ages, and I’ve already started nagging the school they will attend about music – and they’re not even there yet! Parents are a powerful force for change, of which recent government u-turns on unpopular education policies are a prime example.

Another good piece of advice; MAKE IT FUN! Seems obvious to say, but music education has suffered from a stuffy image for many years. My own piano lessons at school were an excruciatingly dull chore that I soon abandoned; I didn’t touch the instrument again until college. Attitudes have shifted in recent years, but that goal is still necessary to keep focused on.

Another Keynote that I was very pleased to see was Professor Qing Gu of Nottingham University’s talk on the Importance of Music Education.

I have argued for many years that music education aids development, even if a young person has no specific musical aspirations. Music should not, in my view, be seen as a specialism; it is as valuable as language, maths or physical education.

Prof. Qing Gu’s talk aligned with this view, and offered credible evidence for it. Music has been proven to positively influence a child’s emotional intelligence, their social interactions, and even their cognitive abilities in other disciplines. Music is a very healthy thing for all young minds, as the Professor’s work attests:

Qing Gu - The Importance Of Music Education - 1

Qing Gu - The Importance Of Music Education - 3

The rest of the day was broken up into breakout sessions, which Jonathan and I divided up to cover as much time as possible. I attended Ciaran O’Donnell’s session on giving hubs better tools for music education, specifically the ReelMusic portal developed in association with Birmingham Music Service.

It offered a huge variety of teaching techniques and best practices in professionally produced video formats. It shows great promise; I felt it was a great shame that it offered no SEN/D specific tools yet, but I am assured that it will soon.

I was also glad to catch up with the OHMI Trust, an organisation I have long admired. The One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust sets out to develop instruments for people for whom using 2 (or indeed any) hands is not possible.

Their presentation showcased some of the great research they have funded; I was already familiar with the project they had presented featuring the gloves (my friend and fellow glover Kelly Snook created a one-handed tuba simulation for OHMI), but there were other surprises.

Most notable was a young lady, born without upper limbs, playing exceptionally proficient Cello with her feet. OHMI had assisted in the practical tools to make that possible, and the talent that surfaced was extraordinary. It’s important work that is close to my heart. My impairment is hemiplegic, so I have one hand that can do far less than normal. Almost all musical instruments require by definition dexterity of two hands; I feel an obvious empathy with the frustrations that OHMI set out to tackle.

Most importantly of course, Jonathan and I were their to deliver our own breakout session entitled Nurturing Leadership for Music Hubs and Disabled Young Musicians.

The session was a huge success, and we tackled even more complex discussion than we could have hoped to do. For that reason, I’ve dedicated another blog post to thoroughly unboxing all that we covered, so please; grab a coffee and head over to part 2 of my Music Mark 2016 report!


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