Music in Schools: Brecknock School’s Brass Platinum Jubilee Project (Camden 2022)
As the saying goes: always write your plans in pencil, because even the best plans can go awry. For Musicians’ Company Young Artist Bradley Jones (trumpet), being able to think on your feet and adapt your lesson plan to changing circumstances is key to a successful participation project.
“The Musicians’ Company Brecknock School project was an unusual one”, says Brad, “in that it ran for an hour every day for two weeks. The year 6 pupils age 10-11 came to the project having shown an interest in brass instruments”. Currently all year 5 pupils at Brecknock learn a brass instrument with a specialist teacher as part of the Camden Wider Opportunities initiative.
Joined by Young Artist Miri Wallich (trombone) for the first week, the aim of this project was to deliver a bootcamp style experience that would build on their interest in instrumental music as they transition to secondary school. This involved refining material they already knew as well as learning new pieces, from Renaissance to jazz, to a level rarely possible in school time.
“You’d be surprised how much difference daily practice makes. One thing I’ve learned from my peripatetic teaching is that pupils make little progress without extra input in-between their once-a-week 30-minute class. It’s easy for pupils to then get disheartened and ‘give up’ when they don’t feel they’re making any progress. Daily practice goes a long way to helping them see those small, incremental wins.
We began each session with a call and response style warm up, mainly to get the children actively listening. I find it’s also a good way to help them learn tricky rhythms without them even realising they’re hard. We also did some really great breathing exercises. Most kids first instinct when you give them a brass instrument is to it blow it as hard as they can, which then leaves them out of breath. Brass players have to learn to inhale and exhale properly.
You have to keep things moving quickly when you’re teaching this age group, otherwise you lose them. It’s a case of warm up, here’s a piece, play it, try it this way, next piece and so on. When you’re new to the game it’s an absolute trial by fire. You quickly have to adapt to the situation on the ground. You also need a sense of humour. Coming from the US and having an east coast accent, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been referred to as Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s alter-ego)!
All in all, this was a great project. The best of which was seeing one young girl given support to take up the trumpet. She’s now in the Camden Brass Band. There really is no greater satisfaction than feeling you’ve inspired someone to learn an instrument, especially if they may not otherwise have had the means.”
The project culminated in a performance to the entire school to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Interview by Suzy Willmott
Suzy is freelance copywriter who works with the Musicians’ Company