We started visiting primary schools in the Gloucester area many years ago, often at Christmas time. It was usually a small band of older members. We thoroughly enjoyed these experiences, as we found the children and staff genuinely interested and sometimes enthusiastic about music making of this kind. But, as I wrote in my letter to the British Bandsman, follow-up to these visits proved to be limited, despite the goodwill which certainly existed. Primary schools are, as we know, very busy places, with lots of activities - not to mention lessons - vying for the youngsters’ attention; playing brass instruments isn’t necessarily top priority.
It wasn’t realistic to expect pupils to be so enthused by hearing our visiting band that they would immediately start badgering their parents to bring them along to an unknown chapel in Gloucester to plunge into playing with our training band! We had to acknowledge what should have been fairly obvious from our own past experiences, that learning to play a brass instrument requires an awful lot of commitment and encouragement both from the learners and the “teachers”. And the best place to start the process has to be the learners’ home territory.
The home team for the Highnam primary school is Sue, Sheila and myself. Annie and Trevor are also regular attenders, and Roger has also come along to deputise for Annie. Annie is the regular conductor/MD and brings to the sessions years of experience as a primary school teacher which involved lots of music teaching. We are in our third year with the brass group. It numbers about half a dozen players playing trombones, cornets and baritones. We have used the Tune a Day series and, increasingly, Essential Elements for Band
I mentioned the contribution to school music which Gloucestershire Music is still able to make (albeit on a much reduced scale). This depends on individual schools’ commitment to buying in whole-class teaching packages. Fortunately, Highnam primary school is one such school committed to the continuation of music education and instrumental playing. If this arrangement did not exist, it would be much more of a challenge to keep a brass club running over time. This is yet another example of the interdependence of different ways and experiences of learning music.
Tom on the baritone and Becky on the trombone have now started to attend the beginners or training band regularly. Other players are on the fringe and will, we hope, shortly be attending when they can. It has to be said that the youngsters who play in the brass club tend to be the ones who are into a variety of extra-curricular activities and can’t always make it on a Wednesday because of other commitments, to sport or cubs and the like. One of our cornet players hopes to be able to come along and at least experience the Monday band practice, and our other cornet player, Joseph, has expressed a firm wish to start (probably in the Monday band) from September, after he has started secondary school.
We are grateful to Dave Knight and Roger for being flexible and accommodating in the new arrangements for the beginners’ and training bands. We think this is a really positive development which bodes well for the future of Gloucester Brass.
Dave Slinger (2/2/17)
Also, click here to see Dave's letter regarding music in primary schools, published in the British Bandsman magazine in July 2016.