Finding the right note in music education

Taking place on 25-26 February 2016, the Music Education Expo is Europe’s largest conference and exhibition for anyone involved in music education.

With less than a month to go until the fourth Music Education Expo opens its doors, it feels as though what was not so long ago an exciting idea has established itself as the UK’s main music education event.

The demand among music teachers is represented by the Expo’s continued expansion, and this year it is moving across London from the Barbican to take place at Olympia Central, meaning more space, plenty of natural light and free WiFi.

From piano teachers working in their front rooms, to classroom teachers preparing students for GCSEs (and worrying about the EBacc), or academics presenting their research – music is a particularly diverse sector of education, and the whole music education sector has benefitted from having a free-to-attend, large-scale event bringing all its different activities together.

So the challenge is to provide a full and useful programme for everyone – and this year we have worked harder than ever to be comprehensive, with pathways for different types of practitioner and a rigorous approach to the distribution of sessions.

There will be strands for instrumental, early years, primary, secondary and SEND teachers, as well as for those involved or interested in the politics, practicalities and best practice of music education provision. 

Of course, if there needs to be something for each type of music educator, there will also be some things which are important for all of them.

There can’t be many music teachers who are unconcerned about how we support the music education of our children, and how that ecosystem is sustained: funding for music teaching in all parts of the UK is seemingly constantly under threat, and there have been various responses to this fact.

One lunchtime panel will discuss the various ways in which music education is funded across the UK.

Defending music
In England, the result of May’s general election has given the Conservative party unbridled power to pursue its education reforms, with the imposition of an unreconstructed English Baccalaureate contributing to teachers’ fears that music and the creative arts will become less and less a priority for their SLTs. Another lunchtime panel will discuss how to defend music’s place in our schools.

Presenting examples of best practice is also an important focus, and we want visitors to learn from fellow teachers who are teaching every day. We will be joined by Classic FM SEND Teacher of the Year Jocelyn Watkins, Music Teacher awards nominee James Manwaring of Windsor Upper Schools, and shortlisted hubs from the Music Education Council awards.

Teachers can brush up their piano skills with a sightreading session on day one run by Sally Cathcart of The Curious Piano Teachers, and an improvisation workshop on day two with Lucinda Mackworth-Young, course director of the European Piano Teachers Association and author of Faber’s Piano By Ear. For instrumental teachers, the Musicians Union will give useful advice on the nuts and bolts of setting up a private teaching practice, and the Incorporated Society of Musicians will present the latest results from its tuition fees survey and provide tips on setting and negotiating rates. 

Teacher and author Paul Harris will look at how to inspire pupils to actually do their practice, and Mark Robinson, founder and director of the Rocksteady Music School, will present three ‘black-belt communication tools that no teacher should be without’. 

Music teaching at the local level will be addressed by several sessions, with presentations on research into Whole Class Ensemble Tuition, developing cross-genre and inclusive music groups, and how to form an instant orchestra from scratch.

Full steam ahead
At a time when the arts sector is campaigning for STEM to become STEAM, this year’s new addition of the Musical Theatre & Drama Education Show, run in conjunction with Teaching Drama magazine, has the potential to provide some fascinating new perspectives.

For some music teachers, of course, drama will already be a big part of their professional lives – perhaps because they teach across the performing arts, perhaps because they put on the school show each year. All types of teacher will be interested in sessions on flipped learning, promoting positive behaviour, encouraging creativity in group teaching, mindfulness for performers and educators, live sound for school productions, and many more.

As Sarah Lambie, editor of Teaching Drama and head of content for the Musical Theatre & Drama Education Show, says: ‘The show will also provide a means to explore department-crossover and take in workshops and seminars on subjects which other drama education shows do not have the scope to offer. This is the beginning of a wider community of drama and performing arts teaching staff – with the opportunity to hear from some fantastically inspiring speakers.’

The two day expo will feature stalls from many companies and organisations offering educational resources, technical knowledge, items for hire, books for sale, and advice.

Expert knowledge
But that’s not all: the extensive programme of CPD workshops and seminars has now also been announced. Whichever day you attend, you’ll have the opportunity to benefit from the expert knowledge of speakers on subjects as varied as policy and funding, curriculum and exams, and new trends and approaches.

The show shares its space with the enormously successful Music Education Expo, so you can come with your music department colleagues and indulge in some department crossover learning – why not attend a session on playing the spoons at the MEE and bring your colleague in to an MTDES session exploring practitioner Rudolf Laban’s work for performance?

As well as the interactive sessions, lectures and seminars, there will be performances and fireside chats on both days, featuring experts and stars who will be announced a little nearer the time.

While not everything has yet been announced, let’s have a walk through some of those sessions which have, and which you might choose if you’re attending on either or both days.

Both days will begin with a warm-up, and all delegates are invited to attend and stretch their muscles vocal, physical and mental.

Day one’s warm-up will be an opportunity to sing: that’ll wake us all up effectively! After that, at 10 o’clock, performing arts teacher Matt Yeoman offers his expertise on producing an outstanding school musical: ‘Unlock the true potential of the school production and what it can do in terms of improving attitudes to learning, gaining accreditation for students’ contributions, and discover how arts staff – particularly drama and music practitioners – can work collaboratively to produce an outstanding piece of work, catering for a large number of students to maximise its impact on the student populous.’

In her 11:10 session ‘Serious Play’, Dymphna Callery presents an interactive workshop focussing on ‘play’ as an indispensable tool both for analysis and as a catalyst for creative approaches to interpreting text. At lunchtime there will be a ‘fireside chat’ with playwright Mark Wheeller, who wrote ‘Too Much Punch For Judy’, among other plays – a work which is extremely familiar to drama teachers all over the UK. After lunch the focus will be on the session on Alexander Technique: something I’ve never tried and have heard really great things about. Offered by the Royal College of Music’s in-house specialist movement practitioner, this is
something which will be applicable to all attendees at the show, whether music, drama or performing arts teachers.

Next there’s a sample drama lesson to take part in, ‘Forbidden Fruit’, in which Amanda Kipling of Goldsmiths demonstrates how to hide assessment for learning in a lesson plan, so that it happens automatically – integrated along the way.

Finally, Nick O’Brien from Stanislavski Experience offers a practical approach to teaching practitioners – he’s basically a walking, talking version of the practitioner focus pages you find in each issue of TD, and he’ll troubleshoot your practitioner teaching techniques in time for the new syllabuses and their set practitioners.

Prize worthy performances
On day two, the warm-up is to be a drama session. Again, like everything at both shows, this is open to all delegates, so you can rub shoulders with music teachers and feel a sense of quiet smugness that you’re in your comfort zone as David Farmer offers a wake-up call for the day’s activities.

The first sessions of day two present a real dilemma – whether to bust performance anxiety difficulties with a session on mindfulness for performers, or learn from Keith Burt about the fascinating idea of ‘Flipped Learning’ – a totally new way of approaching the dissemination of knowledge among your students.

Performances and fireside chats brighten the lunchtime lull, with an opportunity to listen and watch rather than getting hands-on, and of course there are the exhibitor stands to explore, but then why not head to Sarah Henderson’s session on ‘Laban in performance’, which will have us back on our feet and exploring a theory of movement which is applicable to life as well as drama and musical theatre.

Finally there is a choice of energetic ends to my day: a musical theatre vocal workshop with the ladies from Starling Arts: ‘Everything I know I learned from a musical’.

If you haven’t signed up yet, go to the Music Education Expo website to do so, and then don’t forget to follow @MusicEdExpo and @TheMTDES on twitter and check back for updates. We can’t wait to see you there!

The Music Education Expo incorporating the Musical Theatre & Drama Education Show will take place 25-26 February 2016.

Further Information