Rhinegold

Jane Werry

Diary of a Head of Music

8:00, 17th November 2017

Jane Werry shares her tips for coping with busy open days and answering streams of questions from parents. Have you considered utilising boomwhackers for your open day?

Today I have mostly been playing G and E on boomwhackers – which is pretty good, considering that today was my school’s open morning.

Open morning is a slightly strange affair. In the preceding week, staple guns are hot property, laminators are permanently warm, and teachers fight over the last bits of backing paper. Year 7 tour guides are scrubbed up, and a smorgasbord is put together of tantalising activities for our visitors to join in with.

Over the years, I have refined my approach. Inevitably, parents have similar questions that they want to ask about music. Can students have instrumental lessons? How much music do Year 7s have on their timetable? What do they actually do in music lessons? Answering these questions for three hours on a Saturday is exhausting.

In the absence of a Werry hologram with a tape loop of answers, I have a display board and a PowerPoint with the information. There is footage of school concerts and a live performance from our jazz band. The corridor displays are full of information. These are great, but my secret weapons are boomwhackers, chair drumming, and Harry.

Harry is an extraordinarily musical and enthusiastic Year 9 student. Today he has been worth his weight in gold, stationing himself by the door to welcome visitors, urge them to join in with some boomwhacking or chair drumming, and answer all their questions. Most prospective parents are more than happy to talk to students – you are likely to get brutally honest answers from them. I was delighted, because it freed me up to lead the chair drumming and boomwhacking from the front.

Chair drumming involves playing a standard plastic classroom chair with a pair of drumsticks. In doing so, you learn the coordination that you will need to play basic drumkit rhythms. It uses a video from Musical Futures. Boomwhacker-wise, we use play-along videos from YouTube. The visitors adore these activities: they provide instant fun that can be enjoyed from the word go.

Student support has become increasingly important in our department. It has increased our capacity by adding hours to our three-teacher team. Students now take rehearsals, run extracurricular groups, organise displays and publicity materials, mend equipment, run sound and lights for concerts, organise video footage, do filing, and provide roadying services.

Before the summer holidays I formalised the system of student support by setting up an official group of Music Leaders, who wear a special purple badge on their blazers and whose names appear in concert programmes and a roll of honour in the corridor. They have specific roles, ranging from leading ensembles to equipment repair. I have been truly amazed by their willingness to take on responsibility, even with tasks such as carrying out the departmental inventory or compiling programmes. Things get done swiftly and efficiently. And with every job they do, the students’ feeling of ownership grows.

Here is a situation in which students give their time, effort and ideas – not because I have told them to, or so they can put it on their UCAS form. They are doing it because they love it.

On Monday I will have the drudge of assigning them achievement points on SIMS. I will of course gladly do this – but measly points do not begin to express the gratitude that I have for what they do. They make the department an infinitely better place. Somewhere that I can spend open morning with a yellow boomwhacker in one hand and a green one in the other.

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