What does rebuilding music at BCCS look like after the last 18 months?
Music during the pandemic
by Liz Gleed
Music during the pandemic
The last 18 months have been the quietest period I have ever known at BCCS. The biggest loss of all has been the lack of communal music making. Our team of 28 peripatetic instrumental teachers have done a phenomenal job of keeping online lessons going and curriculum lessons have by and large adapted well to non-specialised rooms and bubble protocols. But we have missed our BCCS music community. The joy of singing together, coming together for concerts, in-class performances and celebrating music communally. The whole school community is excited to reset and rebuild music this year.
What does a musician look like?
We believe that a thriving music department starts in the classroom by engaging every student that walks in the door. This is where our efforts to rebuild have started. After some planning in the summer term, we are reshaping our curriculum work as part of our plans to decolonise our schemes. We are now centering and empowering student experience in the composition process. Year 9 for example are currently composing drum tracks and we are encouraging them to use their authentic musical tastes to drive this work, listening and copying music of their choice while we as teachers model technical skills and exposing them to a range of music to compliment as opposed to delivering a predetermined ‘right answer’. Already students are exploring grime/90s rap/lofi/punk rock and trap to inspire their drum track writing. Creating a classroom that is relevant and richly authentic with student experience will be key along with exposure to a range of styles, skills and musical concepts. This will be our passion: that as we come back to specialist rooms we promote students from all backgrounds to see themselves as a musician and see themselves within a relevant and exciting curriculum.
Next will be curriculum planning and revisiting the mapping of key concepts. Last year we had to adapt our key stage 3 curriculum to non specialist rooms, therefore our curriculum for this year needs to address how this has shaped our current students’ progress. Some of our most important threshold concepts from years 7, 8 and 9 need monitoring and securing. It cannot be a matter of just resetting the schemes. Our year 8s this year for example have superb skills in listening and appraising, dictation and understanding of many core concepts through the use of ukuleles and boomwhackers (I never thought I’d teach these whole class, but that’s another blog post). They have done a lot of solo and whole class work. But the students have not had a consistent opportunity to work in small groups in the classroom, to actively engage in busy lessons of ensemble music making. We have planned to redress this in our curriculum this year, to monitor and reshape the planned learning and threshold concepts to support our students as they progress beyond the curriculum followed last year.
Depth and Breadth
We are proud and fortunate to offer a range of co-curricular music at BCCS, a music specialism academy in Bristol city centre. Securing and building on this will be key now. Our aim has always been to plan for depth and breadth for all the students that come into the school.
Depth refers to an offer of high-quality music experiences within ensembles with challenging and exciting repertoire. At BCCS this means hitting the ground running with our symphony orchestra, chamber choir, string quartets, senior jazz group and improvisation ensemble.
Breadth refers to an offer of a range of immediately accessible ensembles such as big school choirs, steel pan ensembles and DJ club. Alongside this is The Noise, an ensemble for our beginner wind and brass players (year 7s are offered a scheme of free lessons and an instrument to kick start instrumental playing) Our role as a department this September is mapping students in to these ensembles immediately, sending the emails home and inviting students to the ensembles. We also use our department Instagram and Twitter feeds to promote music. But in our opinion, nothing beats a personal invitation, so the music team are all working hard to encourage all students towards the ensembles both in and out of the classroom. Engaging the whole school community is important, SLT and tutor teams are also invaluable in the process. We are working especially hard to engage, excite and challenge our neurodiverse and PP students in this process along with all special interest groups as this is a particular priority after the last 18 months.
The future hopefully has many concerts to look forward to, we cannot wait for our students to be performing together again. We plan to have students performing in assemblies and to re-energise the staff choir to sing together again, celebrating community music making. We hope all of year 7 and 8 will sing together on stage in our December and personally I cannot wait for this moment. In the planned concerts we will hopefully see the year 13 prefects stage-managing, guiding the younger students. Also year 10s and 8s playing alongside each other in concert band, music making growing friendships across year groups. We have planned for other workshops and events to galvanise the community: our MOBOs event, woodwind and percussion masterclasses, rap/MC workshop and our house music competition. Maybe a show or a combined music event celebrating music across our Trust. At this point it does feel so exciting. Time to celebrate, include, inspire and collaborate. Time to get back to doing what we do best. Making music together.
Liz Gleed - Subject Leader for Music and SLE at Bristol Cathedral Choir School, Cathedral Schools Trust