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Music Education Expo


Our Director, Philip Flood, spent a day at the Music Education Expo, and reflects here on this annual gathering of the music education sector.



I was really looking forward to attending the Music Education Expo (25-26 Feb) and wanted to make the most of the first day, as I had to be somewhere else on the Friday. Olympia, its new home is huge, I mean really huge, and as much as I love the Barbican, where the event had been held previously, this was a much more appropriate and comfortable space in which to spend a freezing Thursday.


I managed to miss the warm up session, a vocal workshop on The Lion King, which is no bad thing GIVEN MY VOICE and put the first hour to good use by hoping to look at the myriad of exhibitor stands. Problem was I couldn’t get two steps before bumping into someone I knew. That’s the great thing about Expo, everyone is there, or at least a very large proportion of the people I seem to know. It’s a small world, the music education sector. A small world in a big exhibition space.


Eventually I made it to the Rhinegold Theatre for the first main debate, which, as a member of the Mayor’s Music Education Taskforce, I was part of. The Taskforce had proposed an open meeting  so that more people could find out about the various initiatives and programmes we had been developing over the last few years. There were a lot of delegates there and the main presentations were left to four members of the group whilst the rest of us sat on the front row, a bit like substitutes, in case one of the presenters suddenly lost their voice. Thankfully they all spoke wonderfully and there was even a bit of a flurry around the newly proposed ‘Centre for Music’, London’s new concert hall. Hopefully the session was useful, and there were certainly lots of questions and catching up at the end.


I managed to do a bit of window shopping and it was good to see such a variety of suppliers and manufacturers, course providers and associations, technology companies and publishers, all there to support musicians and teachers in the work that they do. Unfortunately I missed the presentation of the Classical 100 by ABRSM but did make it in time to the MU stand for the launch of Paul Harris’ new Practice Cards, published by Faber Music. These are a set of 52 playing cards, each with a different instruction or suggestion on how to liven up your music practice – pure genius and utter fun. The launch and speeches were helpfully supported by a few glasses of fizz and after that I went past the ISM stand and noticed Deborah Annetts, their CEO, and Dick Hallam, chair of the Music Education Council, deep in conversation. Rather than interrupt I thought I would discreetly help myself to one of ISM’s Lindt chocolate balls. Unfortunately Deborah noticed – that’s a CEO for you – and insisted that I had to join the ISM there and then. Luckily Dick got me out of this potential incident and I went off in search of more chocolate.


My next challenge was to try and see two sessions at the same time. I started with ‘Leadership for the very young: Empowering roles in music-making’ given by my lovely friends from Soundcastle, a social enterprise doing wonderful work in London and developing more and more projects. They were about to do some special things with magic wands but I had to go as I wanted to hear about Animate Orchestra, a project that I was involved in at the start. This was a presentation by Jason Rowlands, composer and workshop leader, and Gawain Hewitt, musician and technologist. The session looked at how you could integrate technology into a youth orchestra and how it could become the ‘fifth’ section, in an active and creative way. Now Gawain lives and breathes tech, he even builds the stuff and expects the young people he works with to do the same, and they obviously did. The photos of the workshops and performances showed a real creative flair and engagement from the young people. And he even managed to make an instrument out of daffodils for a version of the Rite of Spring. Get it?  Great session.


I had to leave that one early too as wanted to hear the final panel of the day. This was given by colleagues from Peer to Peer and Teach Through Music, both KS3 Music CPD programmes that were funded through the Mayor’s Office. Sound Connections was involved in Teach Through Music and is now leading on a programme called Music Excellence London which will, from April 2016, be a single unified network of KS3 music teachers across the capital. This was an opportunity to reflect on the two programmes and discuss what worked best and what is coming next. It was really good to see so many people there, especially after such a long and busy day. Then, there was then just time to catch up with a few more colleagues before I needed to go.


So, what did Expo tell me? Well, that the music education sector is full of enthusiastic, passionate, creative and committed individuals who come from a refreshing range of different perspectives. Even with shrinking budgets and more cuts to come everyone I spoke to loved what they did and were determined to make their offer to young people the best that it could be. People are also talking to each other now, more than ever, and this ethos of collaboration and sharing is crucial. I left with a positive sense that as long as we can keep this energy going then things may just be ok. I also concluded that ISM had the best chocolates, DV Music Village the best freebies (Cajóns), and ABRSM the biggest plasma screen I have ever seen.


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