Rhian Morgan

Jazz hands

8:00, 21st February 2018

Pupils at Richard Taunton Sixth Form College have access to an impressive music education that is renowned for its jazz provision. Rhian Morgan meets teacher Sam Adams

More than a decade ago, when Sam Adams was diligently carrying out his tasks as a bank clerk, he could have barely dreamed that today he would be teaching at one of the country’s most successful music departments with an outstanding reputation for jazz provision.

With 1,300 or so students at Richard Taunton Sixth Form College in Southampton and 120 studying music and performing arts, the department offers A-level music, music technology and a BTEC in popular music. Adams’ path to this enviable position has been less than traditional – a fact he believes can be inspirational to some of his students.

‘I lived in West London and had been introduced to all kinds of music,’ he says. ‘But it wasn’t until I was 16 that I heard my father’s Charlie Parker record, asked for a saxophone – which I had to pay my father back for – and started going to lots of concerts and workshops. After working at the bank, I did a music access course, followed by BA Jazz Studies at Middlesex University before training as a music teacher at the Institute of Education.’

Million-pound music
Today, students at Richard Taunton are taught in a £1.5million music centre with a recording studio, two music technology suites, three soundproof booths and rehearsal rooms with access to professional equipment.

Participants in the school’s Jazz Ticket project, which saw students working with professional jazz musicians
Participants in the school’s Jazz Ticket project, which saw students working with professional jazz musicians

‘I liaise with secondary schools and I talk to as many parents and students as I can,’ Adams says. ‘I cannot emphasise enough the use of social media for communicating activities; it’s an important part of a music teacher’s job nowadays, and I encourage all students – not just those studying music – to take part in our gospel and soul choirs and ensembles.

‘We open up the business side of the music industry with our extended diplomas, we’ve set up our own record company, and our ensembles focus on repertoire needed for working function bands. Everything is forward-thinking towards students’ careers.’

Many students see jazz as an older, niche genre that that doesn’t relate to them, believes Adams. ‘Jazz education can be seen as quite elitist – there needs to be investment from parents for instruments, lessons, summer schools, or tours, and that’s quite a commitment when money is tight and your family might not have experience in this area.

‘Many parents are amazingly supportive but there’s also pressure from some parents to treat music as a hobby. Some think it’s not a viable career choice and that’s why I’m keen to get students to consider the business side of music too – how you market what you’re doing, how you use social media.

Eye on the industry
‘We have some excellent industry contacts who visit us frequently, especially during Industry Week, when more than 15 leading professionals come in. We’ve worked with some of the UK’s most talented jazz artists, such as Binker and Moses, Omar Lye-Fook and the award-winning jazz saxophonist Mark Lockheart.’

Links with alumni are also important, creating a sense of continuity. ‘We’re very proud of our students; many have gone on to conservatoires. Keeping in touch and hearing about their successes is incredibly rewarding,’ Adams says.

He has noticed that more and more teenagers have an array of complex emotional challenges and he is certain an involvement with music helps them: ‘It brings communities together and it’s amazing for social mobility, self‑worth, confidence and motivation. Funding in the arts is so complicated and we continue to face many challenges but music is the beating heart of any school.’


Richard Taunton Sixth Form College’s achievements

  • 100% pass rate in music for 23 years
  • The Jazz Band has played at the Schools Prom at the Royal Albert Hall and with Tomorrow’s Warriors Outreach projects
  • Lots of community performances as part of the Music in the City celebration and in gigs at local venues
  • A showcase of students’ original popular music in celebration of Martin Luther King Day
  • A series of jazz, popular and world music workshops for local schools
  • The College will be hosting the annual Music for Youth Festival on 21 March and playing at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on April 29

Advice for…
Students: What you do should be fun! Take every opportunity to perform and keep your options open to your taste in music. Keep asking everyone for recommendations for new music – and learn some business sense.
Teachers: It’s easy to feel someone else is doing it better. If you are truly passionate and you care and love the music you are sharing with your students, they will see this and you will successful. Be involved with the ensemble and perform with your students. Most importantly: keep gigging as much as you can – don’t give up this love. And continue to network, because meeting industry people and seeing how live performance works is integral.

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