H Trevor Shakeshaft, a former Schools' Music Adviser urges more co-operation between state and independent musicians.
"You've passed - you're on your own now," says the driving instructor to a successful pupil - as though it's good to be on your own. I know that, for me at any rate, the euphoria of success was very soon tinged with apprehension as I realised that I was now solely responsible for a ton of lethal metal, and, even more important, the lives of my passengers.
The same mixed feelings accompany one's qualification as a teacher - only those of us who have experienced it realise how lonely it is to stand in front of a class of youngsters for the first (or, for that matter. the thousandth) time.
And, for music teachers, it's somehow different again. We don't merely have to correct errors like beginning a paragraph with a conjunction . . . . Our work can often bring us into direct conflict with other members of staff, as we plead (yet again!) for the flute players to be released from science so that they can prepare for that concert which has suddenly appeared on the calendar only three days away. Often, then, the music specialist, even in the musically rarefied atmosphere of a Choir School, can feel isolated from colleagues.
Furthermore, if we project this isolation into the wider field of music education, both state and privately funded, we can find instances of schools which - either from choice or necessity - have little contact with other establishments.
In many years as a Teacher Adviser for Music in the state sector, I found that it was often the schools where standards in a particular musical field were very high which became cut off from the musical activities of the local community. Schools which could well have helped their feeder establishments experience a high degree of excellence became very inward looking. This, in turn, often led to their own pupils 'losing out' on participation in the perhaps less technically proficient, but certainly socially rewarding activities, like local workshops and non-competitive festivals for example.
In the state sector, with larger numbers of schools in an area, it is relatively simple to organise concerted activities for several schools. However, in the independent sector, such co-operation can be more difficult for logistical reasons.
Co-operation between musicians in the state and independent sectors need not be difficult - and there are some organisations which support and encourage such contact. Since my retirement from full time teaching/advising a couple of years ago, I have become involved in two such organisations - the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) and the Schools Music Association (SMA). Earlier this year, the Warwickshire Centre of the ISM organised a Choral Celebration, involving well over 100 singers, ranging in age from 8 to ... (well, much older, anyway!). Each of the five choirs sang for the others, then all combined in a specially composed piece which was rehearsed and performed at the end of the evening.
The West Midlands Region of the SMA, which has recently been re-established, held a course for music teachers at the University of Central England in Birmingham, and we are in the early stages of planning, along with the East Midlands Region, a combined orchestral event for the more advanced players (around Grade 6 upwards) from - probably - independent schools in the whole of the Midlands area. Also in the planning stage are a West Midlands Region SMA teachers' course in the Spring term, and other events set up by the Warwickshire Centre of the ISM.
I imagine that in the vast majority of cases, I am preaching to the converted, but just in case there are even a few readers who, as music teachers, would welcome the opportunity to discuss issues of common interest with other musicians in education and in other areas of the profession, perhaps you would consider contacting either organisation for further details of membership and information about what is going on in your area - after all you have nothing to lose but the cost of a stamp, and a great deal to gain - musically, socially, and educationally.
Both of the organisations allow corporate membership for schools and other establishments, as well as individual membership, and both confer benefits which far outweigh the cost of their subscriptions. As a member of either organisation, or even a participant in a combined schools' event, "You'll never walk alone."
The Incorporated Society of Musicians, 10 Stratford Place, London W1N 9AE
The Schools Music Association, 71 Margaret Road, New Barnet, Hertforshire, EN4 9NT