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What’s the secret of the success of Brent’s music service? A belief that music education is never over, writes Clair Tomalin.

Image of children performing

Isabelle Plasschaert Photography

Brent Music Service’s philosophy is that “music education is a journey that should never have a final destination”. With our current 64 tuition and ensemble staff we provide instrumental and vocal tuition in a large proportion of the schools in this London borough, and manage seven evening centres which run 16 different ensembles. Over 250,000 children have benefited from access to participative music through our service. Viewing the nurturing of music education as a long-term responsibility, we recognise that children’s early engagement is vital and simply teaching a student to play an instrument or sing is not enough to keep their interest alive. Consequently, we have developed a pathway which introduces and encourages a genuine interest in music, caters for progression at differing levels, incorporates performance opportunities, infuses aspirational goals and offers inspirational experiences. All with the key element of enjoyment.

Every musical discipline we teach in school now has access to an ensemble, with the feeder structure in place whenever possible

To initiate our progressive pathway, we formed a weekly mixed orchestra and a choir. As success bred success we had to look deeper into the management of our expanding ensembles. To future-proof our success, we split the groups into two standards and ages of ensemble, creating a feeder structure. The foundations were now being built upon, and the inevitable peaks and troughs of new members becoming school leavers only too quickly were being countered.

Every musical discipline we teach in school now has access to an ensemble, with the feeder structure in place whenever possible. This growth and expansion in ensembles and evening centres across the borough provides our students with access to wider musical opportunities and enables our tutors to inspire additional purpose for practice, as entry to most ensembles is by tutor recommendation.

As the success of any form of education is early introduction, we set about devising an early learning programme and created Music’sCool™. This is now delivered to primary schools by our dedicated music specialists and covers the national curriculum’s programmes of study. With singing and performing at its heart, it is progressive, features world music and gives every child the opportunity to learn several instruments throughout the programme. Engaging children at this early age, has enabled us to capture their enthusiasm and introduce them to music in a positive, structured way. To support the resultant benefits of this programme, we have now also embarked upon a Year 7 transition programme to encourage students’ continued involvement with music when they move to secondary education.

It was imperative that we acknowledged the multicultural community we serve through our awareness of specific youth culture influences and the world music/instruments which prevail across the borough. Consequently, we have introduced additional tuition on dhol, tabla and harmonium, additional ensembles including a samba group and steel band.

Facing the more practical challenges of language barriers, cultural observations, financial and transportation constraints, and limited home access to online facilities, has also been vital to build more direct awareness and better comprehension of our work across the borough. Key to our outreach work has been organising a large number of performances to showcase the young peoples’ musical achievements, including Brent Makes Music (hosted at Wembley Arena with over 1,500 performers from the borough), Brent Young Musician of the Year, Brent Primary School Choir of the Year and Battle of the Bands.

As the standard of our ensembles progressed, there was a need for more adventurous targets to be set, and an international concert tour seemed the next brave step. While it was organisationally demanding (it took three years in preparation and funding generation), our inaugural European tour took place with the Brent Concert Band in 2013. This was the first time some members had left England so it perfectly demonstrated the life-changing opportunities music could offer them.

There is no replacement for being proactive. By getting involved with other local, regional and national arts projects and organisations, we have opened doors to new opportunities. One such example is our relationship with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra which through its Resound programme has offered students experiences in composition, performance experimentation, national and international collaborative projects, as well as performances at key venues including the Royal Albert Hall.

As lead partner of the Brent Music Education Hub, we have also been committed to building relationships with the surrounding seven music services. As part of the Music8 London group that we all formed, we look to share resources, opportunities and ideas. By pursuing funding opportunities as a combined group, we also represent a wider geographic area which can prove more attractive to potential investors. The Arts Council England hub funding, together with the support from Brent Council, are critical elements for the ongoing running of our music service, but by establishing our infrastructure early on, the continual development of our portfolio enables us to seek out alternative support in the form of private investment, event sponsorship, arts and project grants to general support facilities such as office space.

There is still much to be done, and the journey we travel (without a final destination) seems full of unexpected opportunity that we must always find a way to fully embrace.

Clair Tomalin is responsible for Press & Publicity at Brent Music Service.
Tw @brentmusicserv
E info@brentmusicservice.com

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