9 things that surprised, delighted and inspired at the Music and Drama Expo 2018

The Rhinegold Music Education Expo was held at Olympia Exhibition Hall on Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February 2018. I went along for the second day, bumped into some friends, pitched some ideas, and learned some stuff. Here’s a summary of the key points for me.

How can what you’re doing add value?

I attended David Taylor’s arts entrepreneur session at the top of the day. It amazes me I was able to get there in time. I don’t plan anything before 11am normally. But one key takeaway from this energetic session was a punchy question which is still lingering now at the end of the day: how can what you’re doing add value?


Want to know what the five (well, actually it turned out to be six) words were on my post it? “For Sale: Guest Thoroughly Good Podcast”

Too much adrenaline shuts down creativity

Managing performance nerves was the subject of one hour-long session highlighting the benefits of preparation, reframing negative self-talk, plus a variety of other useful tips and tricks. I had no idea that it was possible for an excess of adrenaline to be dissipated by physically shaking yourself for up to a minute. Gazelles and zebras do it, apparently.

Music-making can be a traumatic experience

One of the real eye-openers amongst the trade stalls was Syncphoniaa downloadable app for conductor and class musician which helps keep an ensemble of young musicians together by highlighting where they are in the score.

Manuscript on iPads for musicians and conductor runs simultaneously across a Bluetooth connection; the bar currently being played highlighted simultaneously too.

It’s the kind of idea that gets me really excited. A nifty solution effortlessly executed, implemented without the usual overly designed user interface.

Where did the idea come from? The makers were quick to point out the collaborative effort involved between the University of Sussex, the Arts & Humanities Research Council, and the Sussex Innovation Centre.

But the real inspiration seemed to come from seeing one child in a school orchestra visibly distraught because they’d lost their place in the score. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind that there might be some kids for whom music making is a stress-inducing experience. We need to be mindful of that. See ITV News’ two-minute package for a touching illustration.

Music education is about the broadest of musical experiences – we forget that

I went to the Expo for the second year running thinking of music education from a classical music perspective. Once again, I’d had my eyes opened wide. Classical plays a tiny part of the music education experience. These are some of the areas that widened my thinking:

Mass participation is central to music education – enticing young people with communal participatory experiences is the starting point; specialism follows. Friday Afternoons – whose new suite of songs inspired by Benjamin Britten’s suite of the same name is available in April – is a case in point. There are countless other examples. There’s a whole market of material produced for mass participation in mind.

I was surprised about the amount of technology, tools, and supporting materials given over to empowering individuals to create their own music. This went beyond learning how to play musical instruments and introduced young people to technology to support their creative journeys. I think that’s an incredible thing, something that makes me want to be a kid again.

Being aware of all parts of our body is vital for a meaningful authentic experience

The real revelation for at Music Education Expo was bumping into an old friend from my Aldeburgh days who in the intervening period has become a qualified practitioner in the Feldenkrais Method.

I’m hoping Emma will join another former Aldeburgh alumni Jess on the podcast but I will write in a future post about the experience I had receiving a Feldenkrais treatment from Emma.

In the meantime take it from me, a half-hour ‘taster’ session has had a remarkable effect on my focus, my breathing, and on my posture. I’m sold. Read more about Feldenkrais Method here.

Simple ideas with a big impact need powerful stories

ToneAlly is a physical tool used by training percussionists to hone their stick technique. Musician, creative personal and educationalist Tony McNally developed it from his experience developing his own stick technique as a student. He’s been using it all day for the past two days, demoing it from his stand – a steady familiar-sounding ‘click-clickety-click’ has ricocheted right across Olympia Exhibition Hall.

And when Tony sells it he tells short punchy stories as he demos the product – powerful marketing that comes from the heart. Especially the story of the kid with cerebral palsy who was told he would never have the strength to pick up a drum stick and who now is preparing for his Grade 4 percussion. Nice work.

If something’s good, what’s the point in reinventing it

See A Dozen A Day at the Rhinegold Education stand was like being reunited with an old friend. I have a whole series of editions at home from when I was learning the piano (after graduating from Jibbidy F and ACE) . I adore the illustrations. Still do. Like the publications editor on the Rhinegold stand said “If its good, why reinvent it?” Testify.

We need to avoid over-simplifying the state of music education

I sat in one session about the future of music education (essentially) with a lot of ranty people. One man didn’t so much ask a question as present an extended gripe followed by a manifesto. That was a bit annoying. So I asked a question about how people like me write about music education from the perspective of political decisions impacting the thing that we love, but what is the story we need to tell to safeguard music education for the future?

The pannellists talked about making the case for music education (expanding it beyond classical music and making the pitch more inclusive). Another suggested stressing how the paths to musical fulfillment extended beyond professional music-making, including musical appreciation. (I think more and more people are doing that, but perhaps more can be done.) And what about selling the benefits of musical appreciation from an earlier age – primary doesn’t get the attention it needs.

Broadcasters (commercial and public service) need to look sharp

I felt reassured when one a person I struck up a conversation with remarked on how classical music concerts tend to be presented on television (and often on radio) in a way that neither represents the art form nor those who love it. It appears I am not the only one who finds the often attempts at on-screen jocularity buttock-clenching experiences. I thought I was the only one who thought that (or at least one of only a handful of people). I don’t believe that’s the case anymore. And good job too.

Budgets aren’t big

I learned about one digital product where the annual subscription was £120. I had to do a double-take. So little? Yes. There isn’t much money around. From my perspective – a freelancer wanting to sell services to organisations knowing that there isn’t much development budget available makes it a market where the best I can probably achieve is raising awareness. A wider take informs me that the people with the budgets are having to make fierce decisions about what they invest in.

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