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An inspiring, shared experience at the Royal Albert Hall for young people from neighbouring authorities

This blog is part 7 of a series of case studies about the work of hub partners in reaching more young people with music in Gloucestershire. Case studies are taken from our most recent annual report so some programmes will have ended, but they are representative of the work of the hub that is ongoing.

Gloucestershire Music (GM) has had a close relationship with Music for Youth (MfY) for seven years, hosting and providing support for its regional festival at Cheltenham Town Hall, and taking invited groups to it’s National Festival and Schools Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

The Festival has featured performers from Gloucestershire Music, Bath and North East Somerset music education hub, and South Gloucestershire music education hub for many years, and being based in neighbouring authorities, it seemed only natural for the three to work in partnership. They began discussing how to showcase many of their top musicians and singers and an idea formed to create a massed ensemble which would perform at the 2016 MfY Schools Prom.

Gloucestershire Music was the lead organisation, commissioning a 10- minute piece suitable for a 150- piece wind orchestra and a 450- strong choir from local composer Philip Harper. Funding was provided by the three music hubs and by contributions from participants.

The choir was formed from existing secondary-aged pupils chosen by the three participating hubs/services. Students were  chosen from school or community groups (e.g. the Beauregard Youth Choir and Chamber Choir who had participated in MfY in the past) on the basis of their commitment, drive and passion for singing at a high level. Recordings as well as notation of the piece were available online, ensuring that all singers – from those who had learned traditionally to those who were self-taught – could learn the music.

The collaborative nature of this project, in bringing together three music hubs, MfY and the National Concert Band Festival, was a driving factor in its success.

Cllr Paul McLain, Gloucestershire County Council’s cabinet member for children and younger people, said at the time: “What a venue and what a mightycollection of musicians! This is such a great opportunity for Gloucestershire Music and the young musicians that it represents. Gloucestershire Music has won a number of national awards in recent years, and to now be playing at the Royal Albert Hall really is outstanding.”

You can read more case studies in our Annual Report

Sing: Ultimate A Capella – my experience!

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Our latest blog is by Ben Sawyer, known across the County (and now nationwide!) for his choral conducting, singing and teaching.  Ben is a lead tutor for GM’s County Youth Choir (GYC) and is an inspirational leader for our county’s young singers.

Earlier this year Ben was invited to be a judge on a new show ‘Sing: Ultimate A Capella’ which began airing on Sky One on 6th October.  Here Ben tells us about his experience, from initial contact to filming…

Sometimes you get an email through that is the last thing you will ever expect to get. I had one such email in June asking if I was interested in being a judge for a new TV show to air on Sky One. The idea of the show was to celebrate a cappella (voices only) groups in a new competition presented by Cat Deeley. There would be six heats and a final, with the winning group given the opportunity to record an album at the legendary Abbey Road Studios and release a single in time for Christmas. Once I had read the email seven or eight times, and double checked that it was really for me, I replied saying, ‘is this really for me?!’ It was.

The thing that made me say ‘yes’ was that the producer I spoke to went to great lengths to explain that this was no ordinary TV talent show. This was all about the groups and designed to be a wholly positive experience for everyone. No ‘mean judges’ here, just a group of five experienced professionals that would listen to each performance and give marks accordingly, so the singing very much came first.

The show was filmed at The Troxy in East London across a week, starting in late JuIy. First I got to meet my fellow judges: Rachel Mason, who ran an award-winning Show Choir, toured internationally and judged competitions across the world; Aaron Lee Lambert, an actor on the West End and a cappella singer at Yale University; Joanna L’Estrange, former director of The Swingle Singers and now a renowned jazz and session singer who I had had the pleasure of working with before; Carol Pemberton MBE, founder of ‘Black Voices’, a female group based in Birmingham; and Emma Brain-Gabbott, ready to stand in if any of us were ill, member of The Sixteen. What was clear from the very beginning was that the six of us were very much on the same wavelength but all had different things that we might particularly be looking for in an a cappella performance.

So, onto the filming. I’m obviously not going to give the game away here, but a typical day of shooting went a little like this: On arrival, we would be taken to hair and makeup, with our runner Tee ensuring we didn’t accidentally bump into any of the competing groups on our way. This was my first experience of hair and makeup, and the team doing it for the show was the same team that does ‘Strictly…’ and numerous other big shows, so I was in good hands. As you may expect, this was not a long process for me or Aaron, but it was a chance to get on with arranging a song or two while waiting for the girls to get theirs done! After that, our producer Dan would give us a briefing on that day’s show, telling us of any little changes there might be and going over which of us would be saying something and when through the course of the show. After a bite to eat, we went up to our position in the gallery overlooking a most impressive-looking stage set up. There was a main stage in front of us with performance spaces under the gallery and on stair cases to the left and right. We each had an allocated seat with our judging tablet in front of us and a monitor at each end. This was so that we could see any performances out of our line of sight. Once we were mic’d up, we were ready to go.

The great thing about ‘Sing: Ultimate A Cappella’ is that it really is 100% a cappella right down to the intro music. The house band is even an a cappella group: the brilliant ‘Sons on Pitches’. They really are one of the most versatile groups around, with any number of them able to take a solo lead at any given time. One of their biggest challenges was the link music, where they would have to sing a six-second snippet of a song to introduce the next slot. Not easy, but always done superbly!

The other thing I learnt this week is just how demanding the job of a presenter is, and Cat Deeley really is one of the best. Her charm and good humour through the week helped keep everyone relaxed and she was always on her mark ready to go, asking great questions of the special guests and generally being the glue that holds the show together.

So, onto my job: the judging. For every performance, I look at four aspects: vocals, musicality, interpretation and performance. For each of these I give a score out of 10. That is then combined with the scores given by my colleagues to give an overall score out of 200. We input the marks onto a purpose-built app on a tablet computer in front of us. Simple. Or is it?! In addition to that, each of us have a speaking slot when Cat asks us a question about the judging. The best bit about this was that all of our comments had to be constructive, always pin-pointing a positive alongside an area to improve. Again, no ‘mean judges’ here. But there were times when we only had a matter of seconds before we were on and having to formulate the right kind of answer in that time and deliver it fluently is not as easy as it may look! That said, having been told initially that we would not be speaking much, to have this opportunity made the show all the more exciting, and since then we have done some individual filming sessions for spots to be shown through the show explaining just how the judging works.

So that’s it: well nearly, but for more you need to watch the show. I genuinely think it will come across superbly on the television. It is entertaining, fun and you can see that despite some being nervous, every group had a great time preparing for their chance to show us what they could do. For me, it was a brand new experience that I enjoyed enormously, and I cannot wait for the recording of the final.

Finally, the greatest thing about music is the friends you pick up along the way, and through ‘Sing: Ultimate A Cappella’, I have another group of great friends who have shared with me in this wonderful experience!

‘Sing: Ultimate A Cappella’ will be aired on Fridays at 9pm on Sky One from Friday 6th October.

Ben Sawyer


Responding to Ofsted: Make Music Gloucestershire, a year on. Guest blog from Peter Holmes, Head of Access for Learning, Gloucestershire County Council

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The recent Ofsted report into hubs caused deep concern amongst all of us who care about music education. Attention-grabbing headlines in national newspapers about hubs’ poor performance were unhelpful and in many cases inaccurate. Yet many of the challenges for hubs that the report highlights have reinforced what we already know and are currently working hard to address in Gloucestershire.

It seems timely then to share what we’re doing to accelerate the process of change in music education in Gloucestershire. As the article below (reproduced from the Hub’s November e-news) outlines, I’m working with Peter Clark of Swindon Music Service and the team at Gloucestershire Music, to reshape the way we work so that we can address many of Ofsted’s concerns. In particular, we are:

investigating options for the structure and governance of the Hub: including a ‘commissioning/delivery’ model, in keeping with the County Council’s operating model. This would provide a clearer demarcation between the work of Gloucestershire Music, and other ‘delivery’ partners, and the more strategic work of the Hub;

talking to school leaders, heads of music, and primary teachers to find out how they can be more actively as equal partners in the strategic, sustainable, development of music education in the county. The Hub has engaged an ex-head and passionate musician, Alan Winwood to help in this;

talking to a range of practitioners and organisations working through music with children and young people to find out how we can best bring together the county’s music education workforce to better understand and respond to the needs of children and young people.

As the article below says, ultimately, it’s up to us as a music education community – school leaders, teachers, music education organisations and practitioners – to decide what’s right for our county, and how the Hub will develop here. And in the words of Lord Kitchener, we need YOU! Yes, it is still early days and Ofsted’s report may have been a little premature. But we want to make sure that we take on board the points it raises so that quality, affordable, and accessible music education reaches all children and young people in Gloucestershire.

If you feel you can help us in this process, or you’re a school leader or teacher and would like to talk to us about how we can help your school, then please contact Peter Clark in the first instance:

Make Music Gloucestershire: your music education hub, a year on.

A fuller version of this article was originally published in Make Music Gloucestershire’s Autumn term e-news. Read the enews, and sign up for future issues.

So, it’s been a year since embarked on the journey to becoming a Hub – finding ways to bring together everyone working in music with children and young people. It seems fitting then to recap on what the Hub is and what it might mean for you in this next year.

Like all music services across the UK, in the last year Gloucestershire Music (GM) has been undergoing a transformation from being a music service, to operating as part of a music education hub. This was the main recommendation of the government’s National Plan for Music Education.

It’s an exciting development. Hubs have been given both an opportunity and a challenge to bring together schools; music leaders, teachers and tutors; music organisations; and others working with children and young people in music, to create joined up opportunities for making and learning music.

But what does a Hub actually do?

The role of the Hub as defined by its main funders, the Department for Education (through Arts Council England) is to deliver four core roles:

3.     PROGRESSION ROUTES which are available and affordable to all young people.
4.     SINGING/VOCAL WORK so every pupil is singing regularly

There are three optional ‘extension’ roles which cover CPD for staff in schools; instrument hire; and access to large scale/high quality music experiences involving professional musicians and venues. Read more about the Hub and the core roles.

The work of our Hub, Make Music Gloucestershire, also includes a parallel and important inclusion strategy – to make sure that children in the most challenging circumstances can access these and similar opportunities.

Ultimately, it’s up to us as a music education community to decide what’s right for our county, and how the Hub will develop here – it’s early days yet, but with a first year under our belt, it’s now that things start to get exciting.

So, how have we been developing these roles?

Make Music Gloucestershire’s whole class instrumental work, delivered by Gloucestershire Music in 138 schools and Groove On in four schools, has been going well and prompting great feedback from teachers. After a period of consultation with primary and secondary schools, carried out by Alan Winwood, ex-head of Chosen Hill, we are now finding ways to develop the offer so that we can reach more schools and pupils.

Gloucestershire Music’s groups and ensembles are continuing to develop young people at all stages of their musical journey. New opportunities include a free complete beginners half-term course and follow-on weekly groups; a County Youth Choir and County String and Brass ensembles. We’re continuing to forge links with other groups in the county, as well as promoting them through our TouchBass search tool. Our next steps will be to map these and other out-of-school – and in school – music-making and learning opportunities, to  identify where the gaps are and how we can support other providers through networking, connections and signposting.

Our singing and vocal work in primaries, overseen and delivered by Gloucestershire Music Makers has been a big hit, and this year we’re working to extend this to secondaries – as singing can have powerful social, educational, psychological, health and of course musical benefits for adolescents, and can support many areas of a school and it’s pupils development.

We’ve been seeing impressive outcomes from our inclusion work with young people in Pupil Referral Units, Hospital Education, and looked-after children, as well as young people in youth justice settings. We know that it’s valuable as well as cost-effective, because commissioners of services for young people are wanting more. You can read some of the case studies and read our latest story about a young man in hospital education.

Where next?

There’s a lot of work to be done: the first year has been a time of change and adaptation. Since April, leadership of the Hub has been split between Peter Holmes, Head of Access, Gloucestershire County Council, and through a partnership agreement with Swindon Borough Council, Peter Clark, Head of Swindon Music Service and Swindon Music Education Hub, now called Make Music Swindon.

We’re now formalising that relationship which means that Peter Clark will be the strategic lead for both hubs. The benefits are that we’ll share strategic thinking, save reinventing wheels, and make better use of time and money.

On the ground and out in the field we’ll be wanting to hear from you: whether you’re a school teacher or head of music wanting the children and young people you work with to benefit more from music; or can provide music making/learning opportunities for schools and young people.

We will be asking you (and then sharing what we find with you):

  • Schools – what’s already happening in your school? What are the gaps? How can music help address some of your wider school priorities?
  • Music education providers – what music making/learning opportunities do you provide for young people or schools? What would help you do it better or to reach more children and young people?

If we’re going to achieve our hopes and dreams for music education in Gloucestershire we need to start by sharing our knowledge of what’s happening and what’s needed.

So we will be in touch very soon and do hope you’ll want to join us in this critical work for children and young people in Gloucestershire.

Sign up to our enews to keep in touch with developments, keep in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter, and add your details to TouchBass, our search tool for music making and learning opportunities.

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