July 7th 2005. The day of the London bombings. It was also the culmination of the first year of testing informal learning music practices in four secondary schools in Hertfordshire as part of the Musical Futures pathfinder project. 120 Year 9 school students came together in an arts centre to perform music in an event I had project managed.
Invited VIP guests and press couldn’t get to us, students and staff were becoming increasingly anxious about the events taking place down the road, and we strongly considered cancelling.
But then the first band played. A group of four boys who until 10 months before hadn’t touched an instrument, let alone had the confidence to stand on a stage and play, blasted out a tune they had written themselves. The music wasn’t polished or perfect. It was raw, real, human and it was theirs. Band after band played that day, on a professional stage, to their peers, and it was the gig of their lives. The final act was a 14-year-old boy who stood up, solo, and sang Natasha Bedingfield’s Wild Horses with passion, conviction and intensity. Listen to the original, and you’ll understand why there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. On a day where nobody could quite fathom what was happening in our world, we found comfort and strength in music.
Since those early pathfinder years, I have been privileged to witness hundreds of thousands of students benefit from Musical Futures. I’ve worked with some of the most dedicated, passionate and committed music teachers and practitioners who have taken a leap of faith and adapted and adopted Musical Futures in their classrooms, often battling against resistance from senior leaders and disgruntled colleagues who have asked them to ‘turn that bloody noise down’. And I have been one small part of an increasingly global community of practice that has spread innovation and who are united in a shared commitment and belief that music has the power to change lives.
Today I step down from my post as Chief Executive of Musical Futures, after 13 years. On one level, I am leaving a job, I’ll get my P45 next week and will hopefully move onto new and exciting ventures. However, the spirit of Musical Futures will never leave me. The core ethos, the values, the belief in people and the strength of community forms a significant part of who I am and what I do.
This spirit has been created by an infinite and ever increasing list of incredible people – from David Price OBE and Professor Lucy Green to teenagers in schools across the UK and the world, teachers, educators, academics, policy makers, and of course the fantastic MF team, past and present.
I wish Fran Hannan, who is taking over as Managing Director, and the team of teachers who continue to pioneer Musical Futures ongoing development the very best.
Musical Futures has been life changing for me, and I know will continue to be life changing for many more in the future.
It’s been an incredible journey. Here are some of my best bits….
2005: Seeing the late Lord Moser in a practice room of one of the pilot schools virtuosically
2006: Schools Minister Andrew Adonis backing Musical Futures and the teachers involved: ‘I am delighted that Musical Futures has been so successful in encouraging children to continue with their musical education into GCSE and beyond. This shows personalised learning can pay dividends’.
2008: Watching Musical Futures students rock out in the foyer of London’s Southbank Centre at the Musical Futures In Your Hands conference. 400 teachers at the event were officially ‘handed’ Musical Futures as theirs to grow and develop, in a mass festival of professional development, debate and music performance. Musical Futures was subsequently heralded as ‘the most significant initiative in secondary music education since the turn of the century’.
2010: Musical Futures launched in Australia: hearing and eventually seeing students in classrooms on the other side of the world benefitting from informal learning practices in exactly the same way as in UK schools was inspirational, and confirmed the transferable and sustainable nature of the approach.
2013: Being sent this performance of a group of students from Canada who were inspired by Musical Futures programme ‘Find Your Voice’. This was the culmination of an innovative pilot to test new approaches to singing and technology in the classroom, involving a global community of practice as developers, and these students nailed the essence of what we had hoped to achieve – proof that student voice is immensely powerful, in so many ways.
2015: Organising the Music Learning Revolution conference where 400 educators and young people came together to celebrate innovative music learning. Lord Puttnam opened the day, and a group of students from different schools collaborated with beatboxer Shlomo to create a new vocal piece and closed the day with a massed beatbox choir performance.
2016: After years of advocating for the power of playing music, but having lost the confidence to play myself, performing the piano for 12 hours in a ‘pianothon’ at the Yamaha Store in London to raise money for instruments for a new Musical Futures project in Kent and Medway
2017: Musical Futures being selected as one of the top 100 global innovations in education in the Hundred awards.
I am indebted to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for the commitment to music education they have provided since 2003, and the support and encouragement they have tirelessly shown.
Photography by the legend that is Emile Holba