Guest Post: Love in a Cold Climate – re-shaping a Music Service in the age of austerity by Emma Coulthard

As a result of cuts and policy changes, what music services are being asked to deliver, on dwindling  funding, has become a challenge.  In Wales, where there was no Wider Opps money, no In Harmony and no Youth Music, Cardiff’s music service has had to be particularly creative, and to forge strong alliances with schools and others. Emma Coulthard, Music Development Officer, shares her experiences.

Whilst funding varies across Wales, Cardiff Council honours the Music Development Fund, which has been unchanged since 2005, at £172,800.  When I came in to post, this money was allocated to projects and strands of provision for pupils in economically disadvantaged areas.  The rest of the Music Service – peris and orchestras – were almost self-funding, as parents were contributing.  The challenge was in increasing the Music Development work without any increase or any guarantee of funding from one year to the next.

Here’s what has worked for us and could work for other music services:

1.    Spend time talking to schools, and be prepared for the truth – many headteachers did not feel the traditional service met their aspirations for their pupils and weren’t that interested in county ensembles, as most of their children were not in them.

2.    Figure out what schools value, by dialogue and reading inspection reports – custom-build projects to help.  We put a drum circle in to a school that had highlighted lack of co-operation amongst pupils, having been put in touch by the anti-bullying team.

3.    Talk to as many potential partners as possible – we have done everything from providing groups for a play conference to writing a song for anti-bullying week.  Getting your groups to play at other people’s events may not always bring in revenue, but it is a venue that you have not had to pay for, and they often do publicity for you.

4.    Inclusion and excellence can co-exist – you just have to chose repertoire and instruments wisely, and make sure that whatever the outcome, it sounds good and is enjoyable.  Ok, so 50 beginners will not sound as good as a select 12-piece post-grade-5 string group, but choosing the right repertoire, and having them do simple things well, with sincerity, can be just as moving and rewarding to watch.

5.    A Music Service is a wonderful resource and can provide more that people realise – primary CPD, instrument clinics, big singing events, in-school performances, help with GCSE and A level performance and recording, public performances and perhaps, mobile music co-ordinators.  We have brought in income by delivering whole class tuition during PPA, accompanying school musicals and working as consultants, as well as providing multi-cultural music for topic related work, and i-pad projects to fit in with IT curricula.

6.    Be prepared to change – the new offer may look too broad, and have more beginners than the old one initially, but seven years in, we now have pupils playing Vivaldi as part of a whole class orchestra, having learned in large groups, together for a number of years.

7.    Offer to run transition days for secondary schools – we have had lots of bookings for these, and run a range of activities such as African drumming and Samba for feeder Primaries.

8.    Never give up – for us, our first move was to find one inspirational and influential primary headteacher who allowed us the time to build our vision in her school.  She was so impressed with the results – all children in yr 5 and 6 playing instruments, that the school now dedicate over £9000 a year of their budget to music – other schools found out about this one, and we have grown from one partnership school in 2007 to 10 now, each putting in about £5k for their music

This year the team have brought in over £74k in match funding from schools and community groups.  This has created four part-time jobs, and we are continuing to grow.  The people we really have to thank are the teachers and children who placed their trust in us, and brought so much enthusiasm and commitment to their work.  We are now negotiating with the Youth Service, building on our links with local venues, and keeping up with our training.  We are looking forward to an exciting year ahead.

Emma Coulthard
Music Development Officer – Cardiff Council and the Vale of Glamorgan

Photo: Emma Coulthard, and children from Baden Powell Primary, Cardiff, performing at the launch of the Summer Harp Festival, National Botanic Garden of Wales

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