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MU teachers' conference to take place on 19-20 October in Cambridge

6 September 2012

The Musicians' Union is to hold a teachers' conference on 19-20 October in Cambridge.

For a cost of £60 (or £75 for non-MU members), delegates will get two days of sessions and debate and a chance to network with MU officials and fellow teachers. The price includes meals from Friday lunchtime till Saturday afternoon and overnight accommodation.

Sessions will be led by Lincoln Abbotts, ABRSM's teaching and learning development director; Richard Crozier, recently retired from ABRSM and an expert in professional development for music teachers; Chris Gray, an orchestral trainer and educator who also chairs the Glasgow Strategic Music Partnership; and Andy Gleadhill, head of Bristol Arts and Music Service. The keynote speaker will be the renowned music educator and author Paul Harris.

The closing date for application forms is the 30 September 2012 and places are limited. The venue is Menzies Cambridge Hotel and Golf Course, Bar Hill, Cambridge.


National Youth Orchestras of Scotland overhauled by new chief exec

5 September 2012, David Kettle

Joan Gibson: new structure should 'offer more opportunities to more people'
Joan Gibson: new structure should 'offer more opportunities to more people'

The National Youth Orchestras of Scotland has revealed changes to its orchestral structures and age limits that will lead to a greater number of young people being involved in a larger number of courses from the 2013 season.

The National Children’s Orchestra of Scotland, which admitted young players aged between 8 and 14, will cease to exist, but it will be replaced by two new orchestras: NYOS Junior Orchestra (age range 8 to 13) and NYOS Senior Orchestra (for players aged 11 to 18).

Furthermore, the flagship National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, which admits members from the age of 13, will increase its upper age limit from 21 to 25. The new Junior and Senior orchestras will meet for three courses per year, and NYOS will increase its activities from one to two courses per year, plus a summer tour.

NYOS is dealing with a dramatic 50% cut in its funding package from Creative Scotland, a move which was announced last year and which came into force in April. The cut was described by then chief executive Julian Clayton as 'an attack on what we are doing', and by Creative Scotland as 'an opportunity now to re-focus the organisation on [NYOS's] core activities'. Clayton has since left the organisation.

Current chief executive Joan Gibson, who took on the position in May, explained the thinking behind the changes: ‘When I first came into the post, I looked at the orchestras we had, but there seemed to be a gap in the middle: we’d lose players if they didn’t progress from the Children’s Orchestra to NYOS. I’m a great believer in educational pathways, and we needed to create a set of building blocks for the young players to aspire to.

'The age ranges of the new orchestras overlap so that if you are young and particularly able, we won’t restrict you by saying you have to stay in the younger orchestra, and likewise if you’re older but maybe don’t make it into the flagship orchestra, there are still opportunities for you to enjoy music making up to a high level. Hopefully it will offer more opportunities to more people.’

The NYOS age range extension brings the orchestra in line with other youth orchestras around the world, Gibson argued, and it is also intended to set even higher standards for the ensemble. ‘It should encourage higher-profile conductors to come and work with us,’ she said, ‘and hopefully we can also push things further in terms of the repertoire we take on.’

NYOS’s extensive jazz strand will remain as previously, and its two pre-professional ensembles – Camerata Scotland (now renamed NYOS Camerata) and contemporary music group NYOS Futures – will continue to invite members from the other orchestras.

‘Application forms are out now for 2013, and young people applying will be working in this new structure,’ explained Gibson. ‘It’s a very optimistic story – we’re flying the flag for young musicians in Scotland, and we’re looking forward to working with them.’


Oxford student scoops major organ prize

5 September 2012

Ben Bloor, a 20-year-old organ scholar at New College, University of Oxford, has won the senior category of the second Northern Ireland International Organ Competition (NIIOC), held in Armagh on 20-22 August. Born in Derby, Bloor was a chorister at Derby Cathedral, where he studied with Peter Gould, and organ scholar at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. He wins £1,000, a professionally recorded CD and online promotional package, and broadcast and recital opportunities under the auspices of the competition.

Runner-up and winner of the NIIOC Bach Prize of £200 was London-based Martyn Noble, 21, who has just taken up the post of organ scholar at Southwark Cathedral. Tom Etheridge, 18, of Eton College, organ scholar-elect of King’s College, Cambridge, was third, and Michael Papadopoulos, 21, of Trinity College, Oxford, was highly commended by the judging panel, which was chaired by Professor Kimberly Marshall, professor of organ at Arizona State University, assisted by David Hill, chief conductor of the BBC Singers, and Mark Duley, organist of the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas, Galway.

The NIIOC is unique in offering an important performance platform and competition experience specifically to organists under the age of 21. Established last year, it has successfully attracted entries from a substantial number of cathedral and collegiate organ scholars and assistant organists from the UK and Ireland. The competition also features two categories for young players. First prize of £300 in the intermediate category 2012 went to Martina Smyth, a student of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin, with Catherine Olver highly commended, and first prize of £200 in the junior category was jointly awarded to Ellen Mawhinney and Richard Carey, both from Belfast.


GCSE and A level music entries fall again this year

31 August 2012

The number of students taking A level and GCSE music has fallen again this year. Figures released by the WJEC, the Welsh examining board, show that 46,368 students took GCSE music in 2012 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, down from 48,099 in 2011, while A level numbers dropped from 10,064 in 2011 to 9,495 this year. The statistics cover students entered for AQA, OCR, Edexcel and the Northern Irish board, CCEA.

David Ashworth, a music education consultant and manager of teachingmusic.org.uk, says he believes the fall in numbers was because 'the content of these exams is of little relevance to many of our aspiring musicians', adding that it may also be because 'teachers are losing confidence in the exam boards’ ability to mark exam submissions accurately.' ('What I thought was a rock-solid A was marked a D,' complains one bewildered music teacher in a teachingmusic.org.uk forum post). Ashworth continues: 'It is because the exam boards, with a few exceptions, consistently shy away from engaging in constructive dialogue with teachers.'

Steven Berryman, who teaches music at North London Collegiate and at the Junior Department of the Royal Academy of Music, says that the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) - a new performance measure which ranks students on their grades at five 'core' GCSEs not including music - may be having an impact on the number of entries for GCSE and consequently A level music. But Rebecca Birkett-Smith, a spokeperson for the OCR exam board, points out that 'according to joint figures compiled by the Joint Council for Qualifications, Religious Studies, also not in the EBacc, continues to grow in popularity, rising by 7.7% following a 17.6% rise last year'. She adds that OCR 'can't speculate as to why entries are down, but it's worth noting that the national cohort of 16-years-olds is down by 0.5% this year'.

Berryman's concerns are not limited to the EBacc. He also thinks that teachers need to be looking at music teaching in earlier years. 'The quality of music lessons in Years 7 to 9 and the ultimate enjoyment by pupils will dictate whether they opt for it at GCSE. I wonder too whether the idea that only 'musicians' take GCSE deters some prospective students, and if many schools have only one music teacher, there could well be limits on the numbers for music. And the specifications do little to attract the more able musicians, who perhaps may forgo GCSE if it is of no challenge to them.'

The issue of teaching and content at Key Stage 3 came up earlier this year, when the 2012 Ofsted music report commented that just 7% of pupils opt for GCSE music – the lowest of all the national curriculum foundation subjects. There is also anecdotal evidence that schools are reducing music staff because of fewer students taking GCSE, an area currently being researched by NAME, the National Association of Musical Educators.

Ashworth believes that the new GCSE and A level music figures come as no surprise. 'This surely reflects a growing trend: teachers and students becoming more disillusioned by these exams and looking elsewhere for sources of accreditation.  Most exam boards have tinkered with their exam syllabuses in recent years to try to make them more accessible and relevant. But they will need to go way beyond this and look at a fundamental overhaul if they are to reverse this trend.'

Musicians' Union launches Hub Resource Pack

30 August 2012

The Musicians’ Union has issued a Hub Resource Pack, which will shortly be available to download free of charge, to help organisations cope with issues such as child protection and employment law within the newly launched 122 music education hubs. The pack is intended for directors of lead hub organisations, but is also being sent to arts organisations, instrumental teachers and politicians.

Diane Widdison, the MU’s teaching organiser, says, 'Of the MU’s 30,000 plus members, approximately two-thirds work in music education as part of their portfolio careers, with many of those working for music services.

'We are aiming to work closely with the hubs to ensure that music instrumental teachers and music education in general does not suffer during this transition period.

'This is particularly important given that many local authorities are reducing their contributions to the new Hubs, and this, combined with a significant reduction in central government funding, is inevitably leading to cuts in specialist music education alongside a diminution of the employment rights of instrumental teachers.'

The MU also says it will be fighting against any erosion of terms and conditions for music teachers.


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