What can we do about the state of music in our schools?
Does a new education initiative, Roots, led by University of Cambridge, VOCES8, Cambridge Early Music, Cambridgeshire Music, Anglia Ruskin University and The Brook Street Band hold the answer?
Cuts in funding, reduced participation and falling numbers taking music have created an “existential crisis” (Lord Black, House of Lords, 18 October, 2018)
Alongside the newly appointed government panel’s efforts to develop a model music curriculum, and in response to an ever-deepening crisis which has seen only 295 teachers signing up to train as music teachers this year (a drop of 55% in the last 8 years), a new initiative has been launched by a unique partnership of leading research institutions, professional musicians, education providers and charitable bodies in Cambridgeshire.
The three-year project, Roots, trials a new model for music provision within primary and secondary schools across the region. Despite Cambridge’s outward prosperity, the disparity in wealth and opportunity across the county is broad. Areas of Cambridgeshire are among the most deprived in the U.K. and many of its schools struggle to make provision for music.
Roots draws together all ages in teaching music. The vocal strand is led by internationally acclaimed educators, VOCES8; the group is Associate Ensemble at the University of Cambridge and on 18 January released its latest album, Enchanted Isle, on Decca Classics. The strand trains teachers, university and school students in the VOCES8 Method, encouraging learning through participation in a series of vocal and rhythmic exercises. In turn, teachers and older students train younger students to become leaders in their own communities, developing their confidence as young leaders.
New resources and opportunities are also provided for classroom teaching. Researchers at the University of Cambridge work alongside teachers to develop lessons informed by the latest insights. Towards the end of the project, participating students have the chance to visit college libraries to see for themselves some of the historical sources they have studied.
Curated by Roots partner Cambridge Early Music, the first phase of Roots concludes on 19 March with a public concert in celebration of the European Day of Early Music given by VOCES8 in Trinity Chapel, Cambridge. Secondary school students from across the county will have the chance to sing alongside VOCES8 in a concert in an aspirational setting. New skills developed by students will be put into practice in a programme that celebrates singing from Renaissance motets through to a cappella arrangements of Pop songs. So begins the longer task of introducing a new generation to the richness and diversity of its cultural roots at a time when the educational benefits of music are widely known, but its place in school life and society more broadly is increasingly under threat.
A parallel strand within the project, as developed by Anglia Ruskin University and The Brook Street Band, seeks to establish a legacy for early instrumental music in the region by founding a period instrument ensemble specifically for under 18s. Specialist coaching will also be provided through workshops and access to historic instruments.
The first phase of Roots is generously supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, the Humanities in the European Research Area, and Cambridge Early Music. Further funding is being urgently sought for years 2 and 3 of the project.