The Manor Music City concept

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by Dave Lowe

It is wonderful to be back and being able to ‘do what we do’ again. Having been prevented from creating live music together for so long, the bubbles have now gone, restrictions have lifted and we are beginning to see significant and positive growth in music once again.

The Manor Music City concept

We launched the concept of our Manor Music City at the end of May and invited parents to register their interest for their son/daughter to be involved in our new plans from September. The MMC concept is based around encouraging constant musical development for all our young people and not just involvement for an hour a week in a timetabled lesson. It recognises the unique musicianship and creativity of every student and seeks to provide an extensive range of opportunities for them to tailor their weekly experience. Importantly, the model cost nothing to set up and and equally costs nothing to run.

Greater understanding for all

One thing we’ve learned in the last few years is how important ‘collective understanding’ of music education is in our community. When we consider the support team around every child in a school, including those who support each child outside of school, this is (or should be) a huge team of people. For our students who learn to play a musical instrument or sing, or take part in a music club or activity, this team is even bigger! However, we’ve found it’s very unusual for that wider community to understand what musical learning looks like, or to know the positive impact musical involvement has for each student. Often it depends on the musical upbringing or background of each stakeholder. Since MMC was announced, we’ve seen a far greater level of understanding than in our previous work. With greater understanding, the community is seeing the genuine value in musical learning and development. They want to know more and want to be involved. We had seen this in the Christmas community choir we’ve run in the last 4 or 5 years, but nowhere near on the scale we’re seeing now!

Having been a single music classroom-specialist department for the last 8 years, it already feels like I’m no longer fighting for music on my own! In fact, the team is now vast. At the same time as MMC launched, we put out a Staff Music Census - a survey inviting every employee of the school to tell us about their own musical background. Many people across all departments have themselves learned to play an instrument. They understand the challenges and the joys! They’ve had very varied experiences, some very positive and others who sadly didn’t have the support they needed. Everybody shared their ultimate concert experience and favourite artist or genre and this showed another aspect of great richness in our school. Several staff have also now joined our MMC team.

We’ve been overwhelmed (in a good way) by the number of adults wanting to help to build MMC. We have a team of 30 people who will meet once a term to reflect on the developments so far and contribute to shaping the future of MMC. We’re currently going through the process of bringing 53 parents into what will be called ‘MMC Team’. We’ve had to cap it at 53 for now as the process of requiring applications with references and full DBS checks is complex in order to ensure the safety of each child. We’d had 80 parents volunteer at the point we needed to draw the line and the number continues to grow.

Surely somewhere there must be a cost?!

Of course, Yes. All music education costs money. Within my own full time job, I’m employed and paid by the academy just as I was before. My working week includes: 20 hours of teaching, faculty leadership, GCSE intervention, 7 extra curricular rehearsals, duties and all the other normal school tasks. Designing and overseeing Music City has taken a lot of additional time, but now the systems are in place, everything is working well. Two of our senior administrators are helping with the MMC Team applications, a member of the finance team is helping to manage MMC T-Shirt orders and one of the SLT is reviewing applications for financial support. When parents register for Music City, we ask everybody if they need financial support. Once reviewed, we are committed to finding whatever is needed. Perhaps the greatest joy so far has been to make the calls to confirm support and to see those young people thriving with the opportunity. This support is coming from a range of sources to be able to respond quickly. One improvement I’d like to find is a way to source funding for students who need it more quickly.

Since I moved to York, it has always been the case that parents had to pay for music lessons here. About 7 years ago, when we became an academy, we took the opportunity to begin our own in-house tutor team, rather than lessons being organised through an outside agency. In essence, we are overseeing a team of private tutors, who are contracted to deliver music tuition in our department. They communicate directly with parents, and are paid directly. The school takes no cut of the fees as the administration is handled by the tutor and they are not charged for the use of the space. The tutors feel part of our department and most have been with us from the beginning.

As we discussed the vision for Music City, we invited tutors to propose activities for them to run in a new twilight slot after the school day. We are blessed with a gifted team of tutors, all who are professionally active in their specialisms. These new activities (called MMC+) are not compulsory, but provide opportunities for students who want specialist music support in a specific genre. Activities include a musical theatre choir led by a West End vocal coach and Rock Band coaching run by musicians who are actively involved in the industry. These activities cost about £5/session and again financial support is available for those who need it, to make it an equal opportunity for everybody.

At the centre of our curriculum sits Showbie. A Pro license for me costs about £108/yr. There’s no extra cost per student and so every student can access the whole course for free, 24/7. In addition to the interactive learning materials we’ve created, Showbie creates a secure 1:1 dialogue between every individual student and their teacher. They can upload video, audio, image or text and receive teacher support or feedback in all of those formats. All entries are kept in context and dated. All assessment happens in Showbie and students can access their account from any PC/Mac, or any smartphone or tablet. Students can ask a question 24/7 and feel supported as they constantly develop.

What’s really happening on the ground?

In MMC week one, 180 young people had a 1:1 music lesson, or took part in a music activity or both or several! Our new concert orchestra (which invites everyone to join from day 1 of learning to play), had 33 members at the first rehearsal and the sound was awesome!! About 20 students came to rehearsals who we weren’t expecting! They’ve now registered! There is an incredible buzz across the academy.

The registration process is important as it informs parents of what Music City is all about and how it works. It automatically gives us up-to-date parent contact information in context with their son/daughter’s musical interests. It confirms their choice of instrument, previous examination results and musical experiences, activity preferences and invites them to be part of the community choir.

So far we’ve been able to meet everybody’s wishes. Our initial team has covered most eventualities, but we’ve had to employ two new piano tutors as the demand for piano lessons was so high.

Students are telling us they’re encouraged by feeling part of something. They feel a sense of belonging! MMC students vary in age, ability, academic profile and in so so many other ways, but they now have something they can be proud of building together. This week the MMC membership cards (pictured) have arrived. They remind students of their unique MMC number, which they’ll keep forever (like the England cricket numbers), and which they need to find their lesson times, so the rotating lesson timetables can be edited directly by tutors on a shared public-view document, without breaching GDPR. The card is also the access pass for the music department. The more time and effort students invest, the more access they’re given.

Life-changing impact

Already we’re hearing so many stories of things to celebrate. Some students have planned their weeks to have a music or Performing Arts activity every day. Students are telling me that they had been struggling with their mental well-being, but that suddenly their quality of life was so much better. Students are now looking forward to things again and discovering the joy of making music together.

What’s next?

We’ve got our first concert in over 18 months on 21st October. Tickets are already on sale using the brilliant TryBooking.com and many tickets have already gone. The concert will feature our new MMC Leaders Orchestra and the Soloist Final of MMC Young Musician of the Year.

Our new Lighthouse Worship Choir are also beginning a tour of local churches. Our Voices Choir are joining with other local choirs to perform Haydn’s Creation as part of Gabrieli Roar at York Minster.

To find out more about MMC, please visit: https://mce.hslt.academy/manor-music-city-parents/

Dave Lowe

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