Getting Extra-Curricular Music Right

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James Manwaring

James Manwaring is Director of Music for Windsor Learning Partnership, a Multi-Academy Trust in Windsor, Berkshire. He oversees music for the 4 schools in the trust and has been working in music education for 16 years. James has been nominated for a National Music Education...
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How do we get the extra-curricular music ‘right’ in our schools?

In my last post I gave you 10 Must Haves for your Music Department. My number one point was:

A varied, fun and thriving extra-curricular programme – something for everyone and always worthwhile. Start on time, be regular and make sure you have repertoire ready for every type of performance opportunity.

I deliberately put this in pole position as I believe that it is the most important thing for a music department.

Having a varied, fun and thriving programme of extra curricular groups, clubs, ensembles and activities will have an impact on everything else in your department. So if you are looking to shift things in your music department or if you are thinking about how to improve GCSE uptake then you might want to think about some of the following:

Have Something For Everyone

My Orchestra is open to anyone and everyone who plays an instrument. When new students join the school and start learning an instrument then they are immediately welcome at Orchestra. I choose accessible music for this and I work to the strengths of the band. I mainly use flexible arrangements that allow for 5 parts across all instruments. I don’t try and play music that we can’t just to impress people – so it is mainly pop, rock, musical theatre and film music.

Being Regular Is Key

I pride myself on ensuring that rehearsals always run – they are my priority. I make sure that I am prepared, there on time and I make sure that they are always valuable experiences. I run them throughout the year and only break for the odd special event. We work throughout the exam season and I make sure that we fit in around other events and activities. In order to achieve all of this I have to run the bulk of my rehearsals before school – I start at 07:45 every day. That may not work for you, but it means that students aren’t at homework clubs, sports fixtures of other forms of extra curricular group. I love my mornings!

Always Be Working Towards Something

Every half-term I have an event lined up for students and groups to perform at. This means that rehearsals have a focus, students have a focus and parents have a focus. For me, if I am going to get students to school at 07.45, then I need to give them a reason for this.

I then make sure that concerts are exciting, raise money for the music department and raise the profile of the school and the department. If you are struggling to get enough repertoire for a concert then why not join up with a local school or with your music hub. There will be others in your community that would love to perform with your school – make it a community thing.

Obviously we are all under the constraint of time and there are only so many hours in a day, however aim to put on as many groups as you can with as much variety as possible. I would suggest that every school needs a choir and an orchestra, but you may also try a Big Band or Jazz Ensemble. There is so much music out there for different group sizes and types and most of it is flexible and accessible. I use for all my stuff, so you might want to take a look on that website.

Image result for studio music co uk

Make It Cross-Curricular

Validate your rehearsals even more by linking back to the curriculum at all times. Use pieces you are playing in concerts for students GCSE and A-Level performances. In rehearsals talk about links to the curriculum and ask questions about pieces of music that fine-tune their listening skills. The more students can see the benefits of playing in groups the better – they will stay committed and make them a priority.

What’s The Point Of All Of This?

I firmly believe that when you have a healthy extra-curricular programme you will create a culture in your music department that will see uptake and progress increase. You will see students wanting to learn instruments and students wanting to study music at GCSE and A-Level. When new students join in Year 7 – or in my case Year 9 – they will instantly find a place to belong in the school and a community to be part of.

If you have a thriving extra-curricular programme then you will be able to perform in concerts and at school events and this will be positive PR for your school and pleasing for your SLT. If you have been struggling to get music recognised by your leadership team, then why not look at what you are giving back to the school. Getting out into the community will also be easier once you have stuff you can perform – and this can bring in sponsorship, money and of course more positive PR.

So I urge you to look at what you do outside of the classroom and make sure that it is working for you, the school and most importantly the students. I work hard on my extra-curriular provision because I believe it is the heartbeat of my department.

If you think that you have an extra-curricular programme that is full and water-tight, then you might think about adding to it by encouraging student leaders – but that’s a future blog!

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