John Hutchings, our Schools’ Instrumental Music Lead Officer, writes about our inspirational peripatetic music tutors.

Back in March, Colin Harris wrote an article for TES called “Behold: the dying art of the peripatetic music teacher” which prompted a lot of comments from teachers and musicians. This tied in with my thoughts around those schools who know and use the educational and transformational effects of music education in their settings. How do we help and guide those who do not know, so that we can all bring about the best for our young people?

My first piano teacher was the stereotypical Miss Marple type, who was funny, rigorous, caring – tucked out of the way in a small music practice room, helping students get their E flat major scales right. Three decades later, is this still the view we have of our visiting music teachers, our peripatetic musicians? What is the role of the music tutor today in developing and supporting the musical journey of each young person? Is there more to musical development than just the historical 1-to-1 lesson?

Take John – one of our brass teachers – not only did he play in the Pasadena Roof Orchestra with Basil Brush (genuinely – it’s on YouTube), and teaches brass students, he also plays a vital role in Play-It!, our free whole-class instrument teaching programme. Like other Play-It! tutors, John visits a number of schools, teaching up to 30 students at a time in what is usually their first learning programme with an instrument. Students can then go into small group teaching, 1-to-1 teaching, and/or create an ensemble with friends and their year group who’ve been through the Play-It! programme.

Read about the work John has been doing at John Bunyan Primary School in Braintree and the school’s the reaction by clicking here.

Take Barbara – one of our piano teachers – she’s worked with the Music Service for some time, and in an opportunity to develop her own skills, trained as one of our Sing-It! tutors. The Sing-It! programme is a day-long in-school workshop where students (and staff learning alongside) learn songs and actions, as well as tips for vocal health and development, culminating in a short concert for parents and carers.

Read about Barbara’s visit to Boxted St Peter’s Primary School and the school’s reaction by clicking here.

And it’s not just John and Barbara – the Essex Music Service tutors demonstrate this flexibility of skills across the whole workforce – Kenny, who uses our Rap-It! programme to develop literacy in GCSE English; Di, who worked with a school to write a school song in a day with our Create-It! programme; Dan, who regularly visits musicians and communities in West Africa to develop his skills in leading our Drum-It! workshops; Rachel, one of our Teach-It! curriculum teachers who stepped into help a school without a music teacher; Steve, who teaches brass across secondary schools and then leads those students in our Youth Brass Ensemble – this is just a handful of our 200+ strong workforce.

The current Covid-19 crisis has impacted on music education, as it has on many aspects of daily life: what has been remarkable is not just the reliance of people on arts and music as a support through lockdown, but also the large number of schools desperate to find ways to unlock music for their students. This can be through socially distanced lessons, online teaching, outdoor workshop, all safely and securely allowing music in its developmental and wellbeing benefits to open the potential of our young people. You can check our Covid-19 Update page for the latest guidance.

Do I believe the art of the peripatetic teacher is dying? Certainly not in Essex – it has adapted and continues to adapt to changes in understanding the effects of music educational methodology; to inspire and guide students in the first stages of their musical journey across all ways of music-making; and to support, to develop, and to strengthen the young people in our care.

Do I believe that every school values music-making to the fullest of its potential? No, and understandably so – if you haven’t had that musical experience as a child, when you become a teacher it can seem such a struggle to help your students in their journey. That’s where we and our staff, as a Service, as a Hub, work in partnership with schools through workshops, programmes, CPD sessions and more, to support, to develop, and to strengthen your music-making and learning to create a truly musical school.

So – what can you do next?

Still unsure? Drop us an email at musichub@essex.gov.uk, tell us all your thoughts and fears, and let’s start the conversation about together we can help your students will be the next generation of Adeles, Nicola Benedettis, Ed Sheerans, Simon Rattles, Stormzys, Evelyn Glennies, and much, much more.