National Instrumental Conference 1

In a previous post I mentioned how a necessary part of being an instructor, who truly wants to be part of school life (as opposed merely to using the buildings) is to absorb whole-school ideas and consider how they relate to the very specific nature of our work. Our five annual In Service days are slightly different in that, without feeling divorced from our institutions, we are more at liberty to discuss the specifics of our practice without alienating the remaining 99% of the staff. 

There are currently 21 people in the East Lothian’s Instrumental Service so you can imagine the relative intensification of taking part in a one-day conference of Scotland’s 900 instrumental staff. The conference was the fruit of a partnership between Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland (HITS) and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama (RSAMD) – with the generous support of The Scottish Arts Council. The venue was Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall with some of the activities spilling over into the nearby RSAMD and National Piping Centre. 

Fittingly, the day opened not with words, but with music and dance – specifically samba drumming, dance and capoeira performed by Rhythm Wave – a mixture of students and staff of Perth College, led by founder, Ronnie Goodman, a lecturer at the college. It would be difficult to imagine a more rousing beginning to the day. 

This year’s chair of HITS, Mike McGeary, then welcomed us before introducing Adam Ingram, MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years. We were then invited to make our way to the first of our two chosen workshops. Across the day, the choice comprised: 

  • ASL – Drake Music Scotland – Making Music Accessible – with Brian Cope

  • Bagpipes – with Paul Warren

  • Brass – with Steven Mead

  • Conducting – with William Conway

  • CPD: Online Support – with Sheila Smith

  • Curriculum for Excellence – with Alan Armstrong & Aileen Monaghan

  • Early Years: Focus on Instruments – with Andrew Cruickshank

  • Early Years – with Naheed Cruickshank

  • Expanding the Electric Guitar’s Creative Potential – with Jonathan Quinney

  • Group Teaching – with Richard Crozier

  • Guitar – with Martin Taylor

  • IT – Music Notation Another Way? An Introduction to Finale – with Chris Swaffer

  • Jazz – with Malcolm Edmonstone

  • Kodály: The Relevance of Kodály Musicianship to the Training of Young Instrumentalists – with David Vinden

  • Lower Strings – with Elizabeth Harre

  • Percussion for All – how orchestral percussion can give access to a range of musical opporunities – with Elspeth Rose

  • Piano For All – with Havilland Willshire

  • Technology for the Rock & Pop Musician – with Craig Blundell

  • Traditional Music – with Josh Dickson

  • Upper Strings – with Géza Szilvay

  • Voice – with Christopher Underwood

  • Woodwind – with Pete Long

  • World: Samba, Reggae Brazilian Rhythms – with Ronnie Goodman

  • World: The Indonesian Gamelan – Cultural Connections In Scottish Education – with Gamelan Naga Mas

I’ll go into the particulars of the two workshops I chose in subsequent posts, but I’d like simply to sum up here some of the feeling of the day. Naturally I had come along prepared to learn but had not really figured on the inspirational and emotional content of the day. Much of the inspiration came from John Wallace‘s keynote speech. Trumpet in hand, he reminded us how music, and the arts in general will allow our students lasting freedom and individuality of expression. In the hurly burly of lessons, rehearsals and concerts it’s all too easy to forget that! Possibly the inspirational nature was due to John being not only a distinguished educator (Prinicipal of RSAMD) but also a world class musician. The old Shavian maxim “he who can does, he who cannot, teaches” was never more resoundingly refuted. 

However, furthering musical youth being our raison d’être, the greater part of the afternoon session was given over to to young talent: Nicola Benedetti (violin); Karen Geoghegin (bassoon); Ian Watt (guitar) and Pure Brass. 

In addition to the expressive performances, there was the additional emotional content of meeting up with old college pals (some of whom I hadn’t seen since 1979) and former colleagues (some of whom I hadn’t seen since the Lothians went their separate ways in 1996).