Beatrice Carney (BBC NoW), Evan Dawson (NYAW) and Laurence Collier (Siglo Section) in a panel discussion

The second National Music Service Wales Open Forum took place at YMa in Pontypridd 28 February 2024. 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 meeting was Partnership.

Open Forum logo

The National Music Service Wales Open Forum is a space to discuss the latest developments in music education

YMa, Pontypridd

Our Open Forum was held in February 2024 at YMa, Pontypridd

Nick Evans, Facilities and Community Manager at YMa, kicked off the meeting with a history of the building and spoke about the partnership between Artis Community and Pontypridd YMCA that led to the creation of YMa.

Whilst updating delegates on the roll out of the National Music Education Plan, Mari Pritchard from National Music Service Wales explained that over 1,000 schools are now registered on Charanga Cymru – the online music education platform that is available to all schools through their local music service. She also spoke about a new course created in partnership with Music Masters – Notes on Inclusion – that is exploring best practice work in inclusion, equality, and diversity. Mari also outlined the purpose, and progress so far, of meetings with national partners, and the set-up of regional partnerships.

Regional Partnerships

Partnership Director of CF Music Service and Chair of the South-East Regional Partnership gave an overview of the work going on across the South-East which connects 10 local authorities. Delivery of First Experiences is now reaching a wide range of schools, and the Music Services are partnering with a wide range of musicians and music organisations to provide different experiences – including ‘DJ for a day’, the ‘Songwriting Doctor’, big band with Siglo Section, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on the move, and strings with the Benedetti Foundation. We watched a film showing a side-by-side project between CF Youth Orchestra and Welsh National Opera – another brilliant example of partnership.

We also heard about the South-East Regional Choir, which has been formed to offer children and young people living in the Cardiff, Caerphilly, RCT and Newport music service areas an opportunity to come together. Andrew Mantle, Caerphilly Music Service, told the delegates that the partnership has focused on removing financial barriers, by providing transport and offering places to pupils who access free school meals. An autumn course ran in Cardiff, which culminated with a Christmas concert in collaboration with the Newport Symphony Orchestra. Further courses are planned for Easter, and they are also exploring a group for younger pupils.

Focus on RCT

Ensemble recovery was also the focus of Aeddan Williams from Rhondda Cynon Taf Music Service, where he presented the story of the Jazz Ensemble, who then performed for the delegates. Over the last 18 months, RCT Music Service have increased their regular ensembles from 3 to 10. Here are some of Aeddan’s key tips for success when growing an ensemble:

  • Make sure the people who lead it really care about it.
  • Build it up slowly – maybe monthly or fortnightly to begin with – until it becomes part of the diary.
  • Work towards a performance – it gives players a focus.
  • Work with partners to support the group – RCT collaborated with folk ensemble Vri, and with Community Music Wales on rock workshops.
  • Be creative with resources and see if you can find community-based grants to help you.
  • Find a space to use that works for everyone.
  • It’s OK to charge!!!
Aeddan Williams, Rhondda Cynon Taff Music Service

Aeddan Williams, Rhondda Cynon Taff Music Service

Rhondda Cynon Taf Music Service Jazz Ensemble

Rhondda Cynon Taf Music Service Jazz Ensemble

Eisteddfod Rhondda Cynon Taf 2024

As we were in Pontypridd, which will be the home of the National Eisteddfod this August, we were joined by the Artistic Director Elen Ellis and Competitions Manager Steffan Prys to tell us more about some of the collaborations planned for the festival. There will be a wide range of special projects running, with partners including Tŷ Cerdd, Sinfonia Cymru, Clwb Ifor Bach, RCT Music Service, local singers from the RCT community, as well as a whole range of competitions for young musicians and singers to get involved in.

How do you make Partnerships work?

Our final event of the Open Forum Day was a panel discussion exploring partnership, and asking how do you make it work? Evan Dawson, Chief Executive of National Youth Arts Wales was joined by Beatrice Carey, Education Producer for BBC National Orchestra Wales with a special focus on the National Open Youth Orchestra project, and by Laurence Collier, Band Leader of Siglo Section. Evan began the session by telling us a tale of two circuses: one that dropped in for a week and then packed up and left; the other that worked with local people before it arrived, included them in the performances, and then left them to prepare the ground for next year. The panel talked about some of the partnerships they had taken part in – from side-by-side concerts, to running large bands, to managing training – and discussed the learning they took from these experiences. They concluded that there was no exact way to do things, but it helps to have a common goal. Having a key person project managing things helps communication to flow well, and checking in regularly helps when things change in your project.

Beatrice Carney (BBC NoW), Evan Dawson (NYAW) and Laurence Collier (Siglo Section) in a panel discussion

Beatrice Carney (BBC NoW), Evan Dawson (NYAW) and Laurence Collier (Siglo Section) in a panel discussion

Emma Archer, Cardiff and Vale Music Education

Emma Archer, Cardiff and Vale Music Education

Overall, the day was a great opportunity to hear about the impact of the National Plan for Music Education and it was wonderful to be in the room with people who are so passionate about the work. In a world where finances and resources are limited, I asked delegates to keep championing the work they do and celebrating the young people they work with. Our young people need the chance to explore teamwork, build confidence and be creative more than ever before.

Rhian Hutchings, Anthem Cymru & Chair Music Partnership Wales.