by Author Helen Finnegan

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Wired4Music at The National Association of Music Educators London Regional Conference.

Wired4Music Council Member, Helen Finnegan gives her views on the National Association of Music Educators conference at the Rich Mix Centre, Shoreditch. Wired4Music is a project that works with Sound Connections and young people across London, providing musical related opportunities.

The speakers and attendees of the NAME conference, co-hosted by Sound Connections, were all gathered with one main question in mind, how best can we use music to reach children in London living with challenging circumstances? Everybody there agreed that music is one of the best ways in order to reach children that may otherwise find themselves being isolated from the educational system, and I’m still amazed by the passion and dedication that the people there had towards their subjects and causes.

Watching his eyes light up when talking about ‘family learning’ it was clear that educators such as Tobias Sturmer, who works for Yaaba Education, were passionate about their work. I particularly enjoyed this workshop, not for the fact the first thing I saw was a semi circle of djembe drums, but for the fact that it included improvisation as a topic. As a jazz musician I feel there is a definite lack of jazz being taught to children in primary and secondary education, so to see someone introducing the idea of soloing was fantastic. 

The principle behind the work done through Yaaba is to use creativity and imagination to unlock confidence and encourage concentration amongst primary school children. The family learning projects involve the children’s parents in the creative processes.

The topic of ‘challenging circumstances’ covers a huge range of issues and so it was interesting to see how each project chose to deal with the varying problems. Children from challenging circumstances can cover children with challenging behaviour, who are supported by people such as Phil Mullen from the International Society for Music Education, to refugees and asylum seekers, who are supported by the project Fairbeats.

It’s all very well and good gathering to discuss things completely removed from the projects themselves but you will begin to lose sight of your purpose. For this reason I thought it was brilliant to have performances from the children at Cherry Trees School. The small group of primary school boys showed the results of workshops given by the support of Spitalfields Music. They entered the stage over excited and slightly anxious and through their percussive performances and choral renditions of ‘One Love’ and ‘Something Inside So Strong’ they calmed down and began to enjoy being on stage. They were accurately following the cues from the keyboard and were a model example of how music reaches out to these young people. People at the conference could see first hand, what a success projects like this are.

This conference touched on a number of sensitive issues, but dealing with them requires us to confront them head on. The biggest issue we have now is the F-word. Funding. If project leaders are proving their work is having noticeable results and successes then why are they only being used in schools for a month or a week or even just the occasional hour-long workshop? I understand the current economic distress, and I don’t profess to be an expert in such matters, but I feel that these projects need to be given longevity. If we are preaching about how these children need routine and stability then surely the creative projects that are being given to them should also be given the same treatment. If successes such as the Cherry Tree performance can be produced in a short space of time, imagine the work that could be done by thinking about yearlong residencies.

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