For our first National Music Service Open Forum, we met at Pontio in Bangor. The Open Forum has been created by the National Music Service and Music Partnership Forum Wales as a space where people can explore current topics in music education, hear about the progress of the National Music Education Plan, network and share opportunities. The theme for this first meeting was pathways in music education.
The Open Forum began with a welcome from Osian Gwynn, Director of Pontio, and a presentation from Pontio Arts Development Coordinator Mared Elliw Huws exploring some of the project work that Pontio carries out with schools and young people. Mared’s presentation showed what a rich programme is being delivered through Pontio, and it was very exciting to be sitting in such a rich venue.
After this warm welcome to our venue for the day, we were treated to a series of updates from the different actors who are rolling out the National Plan for Music Education in Wales. National Music Service Coordinator, Mari Pritchard, gave an overview of the programme across Wales and some key stats from delivery so far. All music services across Wales are taking part, and 60% of schools have been reached by the First Experiences programme – delivering 6 weeks of free music experiences for primary school children. Charanga Cymru has been rolled out as a bespoke music platform for teachers in Wales. New ensembles have been rolled out in each county and the digital offer is also increasing across Wales. Mari also talked about some of the partnerships that were being created with music organisations across Wales and beyond to back up the work of the National Plan.
Heather Powell, Director of Denbighshire and Wrexham Music Cooperatives, gave an overview of the work going on across North Wales, including a joint training day for tutors from across the region. Tudur Eames outlined the local work that was being delivered through the Gwasanaeth Cerdd Ysgolion Gwynedd a Môn. He outlined that the amount of music delivered in schools has increased. Strong partnerships are being built across the region between schools, the local authority, and a whole range of arts organisations and artists to deliver music and the wider Expressive Arts Curriculum in schools, and each school has received up to £10,000 worth of musical equipment for pupils to work with. A report was given on the First Experiences programme in Gwynedd a Môn by Catrin Jones. We were shown a video from Ysgol Llangoed showing pupils taking part in a wide range of music activities including beatboxing and brass and got to hear from one of the teachers about her experience of the programme.
Tudur Eames presented a case study of the work that has been going on in special schools across the region and a video case study of Canolfan Addysg Y Bont in Llangefni was screened. The video showed the musical journey of four pupils from the centre who were learning trombone, piano and drums with one-to-one tutors. It was fantastic to see how enthusiastic the pupils were and how much progress they had made in such a short space of time.
Next, we were treated to a workshop led by Alan Thomas Williams, Curriculum Achievement Officer for the Cardiff Commitment. Alan outlined the main points of the Expressive Arts curriculum and explored how music fits into it. He also outlined the process of change that is currently underway around GCSE. The Cardiff Commitment are backing up the curriculum with an offer of activities and experiences, connecting schools, the music service, and music organisations across Cardiff including Royal Welsh Music and Drama, and Wales Millennium Centre.
Finally, Tim Rhys-Evans, Director of Music at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, chaired a panel discussion exploring music pathways in Wales. Tim was joined by music producer Endaf Roberts, harpist Elfair Grug, musician and arranger Nathan Williams, and singer-songwriter Eadyth Crawford. Each artist outlined their journey in music and what had influenced them and inspired them, and it was fascinating to see the different ways in which each person had experienced. What was striking was the range of skills that every member of the panel had mastered to build their career as a musician, including teaching, running a record label, producing, and promoting. There was a wide ranging discussion which included a number of topics: how learning music in school is not always right for everyone and that some people need to find different ways to engage with music; how to engage young people with digital music now that software is much easier to access; how to teach an awareness of music business; equality of access to different instruments; how to build stronger partnerships with Further Education as a resource.
We were also treated to wonderful performances arranged by Conwy Music Service and Gwynedd and Môn Schools Music Service across the afternoon, and this opportunity to see the next generation of talent perform really brought home the potential of music and the importance of the work going on across the whole ecology of music education and youth music in Wales. The day ended with rich discussion and a chance to network with colleagues.
Rhian Hutchings, Anthem Cymru – Chair National Music Service Wales Open Forum.