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Abigail D’Amore: Demystifying evaluation, and asking ‘why?’

Music Education Consultant Abigail D’Amore discusses her background in pedagogy and research, the importance of asking ‘why?’, and her plans to demystify evaluation in her two-part Sound Connections workshop, An introduction to evaluation, data analysis and report writing, taking place online on Wednesday 4 May and Wednesday 11 May 2022.


Q: Give us a short introduction to yourself.

I’ve worked in the music education sector for 23 years now and I’ve always been really driven by a passion for music and people. I think what’s always been really important, to me, is that there is a genuine entitlement to music and music education for all children and young people, and that pedagogy is at the heart of that. My work has always been around access, inclusion, and looking at different pedagogies, but research and evaluation have always played a really important part in my work.

I trained as a research officer, and there’s always been a strong research dimension to all of the projects I’ve both run and been involved in. The reason why I’m so passionate about it is because I think it’s important that we ask ‘why?’ all the time, and that we really understand what is having an impact and why it’s having an impact, to move towards the ultimate goal of all children and young people having a proper entitlement to a music education. My passions are all sort of intertwined, but research and evaluation have always played this very important part in really understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing in the sector, and that really drives me as a person.

Q: What do you do? What does your practice look like?

My work is quite eclectic, but deliberately so, because I think it’s important as somebody working in the sector, to have both the grassroots knowledge and experience, as well as strategy and research. My work tends to fall into three different areas:

1. Delivery of programme:

  • I oversee various programmes that are working with schools, musicians, or music education hubs. I’m often involved as a programme leader, manager, or strategy person.

2. Evaluation work:

  • Evaluations on projects, working in communities, working in schools… this quite often tips into the role of a critical friend; working as part of the organisation team to really help them think about why something’s having an impact or not, and how they might be able to improve and develop.

3. Strategic support with other organizations:

  • This involves taking a lot of the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years; particularly with informal pedagogy which has always been my area of expertise; with inclusion, equality, and diversity – I’m careful to always bring other people into this work, recognizing my own privileges and positionality; and also with Youth Voice, because co-creative learning has always been at the heart of my work, so I get to do quite a lot of strategic advisory work with organisations around that.

I feel like I’ve got this quite deliberate breadth, which means that while I understand evaluation, I also really understand what it means to evaluate programme, and I understand the sorts of challenges that both regional and national organisations might be facing strategically. I also do a bit of writing and editing and things like that on the side, so quite eclectic.

Q: Where does your drive / resilience come from?

I think it’s this constant desire to change the landscape. If I walked into every school or music education organisation, and there was an inclusive, fully integrated, fantastic music education going on, I would happily step down. It’s just that there’s so much change needed at every single level; looking at how organisations are made up, their values, right through to family and Early Years settings… There are so many systemic issues in the music education sector, and I cannot even begin to change them, but I feel like I’m one of a number of many other people who have got a lifetime commitment to trying to do that, in different ways.

I meet so many adults who say to me, ‘Oh, well I’m not musical’, and what I would love in the future is for every adult to say, ‘Yeah, I’m musical’. It’s an enormous goal, but that’s what’s always driving me; that people feel music is not something for them, when in fact, music is a massive part of everybody’s lives. The reason why people don’t think that it’s for them, is probably because they were taught out of it in school or a past experience. Whereas music is something that is experience; people go to gigs, listen to music on TikTok, listen to it on the radio, it helps people’s mood, it helps with wellbeing… Not everyone is a professional musician, but everybody can engage in music, and it can benefit their lives! I think that is kind of what gets me out of bed in the morning – that I want children and young people, through their education, to think ‘Oh yeah, music is something that can be part of what I do, just like sport is! People generally engage with sport to some extent during their lives, even if it’s just going on the treadmill for a bit in January, but sport is seen as something that can be accessible – going for a walk, a run, or a swim – whereas music is often seen as very inaccessible to people, [which] shouldn’t be the case.

Q: What led you to focus on music specifically?

For me, it’s that music is embedded into every culture. Music is part of culture. It’s the one thing that will touch every home, wherever you live in the world. I studied Ethnomusicology, so I’ve always been really interested in how music forms part of culture; in some cultures music is a way of expressing yourself at funerals or through trauma; for other people it’s more of a thinking art [and] much more about aesthetics, but it does touch everybody. Even if it’s completely subconsciously. Whether you’re watching a film, or you go to the shopping centre, there’s music. Music is around everybody. For me, it’s the fact that music forms part of everybody’s lives, particularly in the younger years. Specifically, my interest has always been that 10 to 14 age-range, because music is part of forming a social identity for teenagers; the music that you listen to is part of expressing who you are. Even if you don’t actively participate in music, you could almost guarantee that every young person will have a song that they like or don’t like – they have opinion about it. I’m as interested in people who don’t like music as people who do, because I still think that means that you’ve got an opinion on it. Everybody has got an opinion on music. Some cultures have quite distant relationships with music, but it is still there. It really does infiltrate into every aspect of our society, and I think for education to dismiss that fact is a massive mistake, because there is a huge body of learning and passion and interest or disinterest debate that could be had, but that is rarely had.

Music is part of identity, whether people acknowledge that or not. It is that presence in all of our lives. That’s why there’s always been so much funding in music education, not because of the knowledge of what music can do. Unfortunately, I think that what tends to happen is that music education gets driven by people with certain ideologies when it comes to policy. Therefore, the funding goes to certain types of music education, which has traditionally been much more on the traditional, orchestral, European, Western music side. For whatever reason, it’s not acknowledging this huge other breadth of musical experience that people have. I think that my drive is also to try and disrupt that system a bit, to keep chipping away, so that all music is valued.

Q: What are your hopes for your upcoming Sound Connections workshops on 4th/11th April?

I think that for a lot of organisations and individuals who are delivering music projects, either themselves or as an organisation, there often isn’t the expertise in how to evaluate that project. But it’s something that is needed, both for organisational development (going back to that ‘Why is something happening?’), but also in many cases, to write reports for funders, stakeholders or partners. I tend to find that I get asked to do evaluations, when actually I think that we should be supporting people within the organisations to be able to do that themselves.

This is quite a basic course. It’s designed for people who are quite new to evaluation, or want a bit of a refresh on it, and it’s drawing on my own experience of evaluating projects. There are many ways in which people evaluate projects – people do it differently, but this is based on my own experience. What I really hope to do is to get people quite excited about [evaluation], because I think that it’s very easy to go along doing work or projects, without digging deep into why, or really starting to think about ‘How do we know if something’s having an impact? What does it look like?’ I often find that when I strip back some of those things and discuss them with people, it’s like a weight comes off their shoulders. They think, ‘I am doing that’ or ‘I do understand how to do that’ or ‘That is within my reach’. These workshops are a sort of demystifying process; it is quite intense, and we cover a lot in the two sessions (hence splitting it into two parts, so that people can hopefully come with real examples that they want to explore). We can be quite bespoke within the sessions because it’ll be quite a small number of people, and [the aim is] for people to increase their comfort in feeling that they can evaluate and really understand why it’s important, and also get a bit passionate about it!

I’ve developed strategies and frameworks for how to analyse data and write reports. I’m not an active academic researcher, I’m not based in a university – and people would have very different perspectives if they went to a course by someone who was – but when you get data and you need to analyse it, or you’ve got to write a report and you’ve got two weeks to do it, I’m somebody that knows how to do that. [In this course,] I’m trying to give people some tools, ideas and strategies that they can genuinely use in their own practice, [rather than] something that’s very far removed and out of reach from what they would be able to do.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Just that I’m always learning as well! These sessions are also an opportunity for people to share practices that they use – it’s an opportunity to exchange and share knowledge with each other.

Find out more and book tickets for An introduction to evaluation, data analysis and report writing here.

Still not sure if this workshop is right for you? Abi is happy to answer any questions you may have in advance. Simply send your enquiry to emily@sound-connections.org.uk and Abi will get back to you as soon as possible.


Abigail D’Amore (she/her)

Abigail D’Amore is a UK-based independent music education consultant with particular expertise in informal pedagogies and youth voice. Up until April 2022, she managed Sound Connections’ workforce programme, running a varied programme of professional development events and initiatives for individuals and organisations working with children and young people through music, often in challenging circumstances. She trained as a research officer at the University College London Institute of Education and co-lead the pathfinder project in informal pedagogies of the radical Musical Futures initiative. Current and past evaluation clients include: Wigmore Hall, Voices Foundation, ArtsLink City of London Sinfonia, BTS Spark / Arts Council England; Kent Music; Rochdale Music Service; Friday Afternoons and Institute of Education. She is a primary school Governor, and a trustee of the Young Voices Foundation.

Publications include: “Challenging Symbolic Violence and Hegemony in Music Education through Contemporary Pedagogical Approaches’ (with Gareth Dylan Smith and Bryan Powell). Education 3-13 Journal (2017); “Aspiring to Music Making as Leisure through the Musical Futures Classroom.” (with Gareth Dylan Smith) In R. Mantie and G.D. Smith (EDs.) The Oxford Handbook of Music Making and Leisure. New York: Oxford University Press (2016) and “Popular Music is Not the Answer” (Forthcoming).

Twitter: @abigaildamore

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