Julie Shaw, Head of Instrumental Studies at Notre Dame School, argues the key to music popularity is making it accessible to everyone and at any level.
Since 2011 in my post of Head of Music (Prep) at Notre Dame School, Cobham, I have spent my time encouraging a number of initiatives designed to increase interest in learning instruments and playing in ensembles, using a multi-faceted approach. The results have been marvellous. Over the eight years, we have seen an increase in the take-up of musical instruments in school from the national average of 33% to a whopping 80% of children in the Prep School in 2016, and an increase in the number of musical ensembles and clubs from five to around 25. Entries for ABRSM exams have grown from an average of around 15 girls per session to 33 girls per session with an all-time high of 42 girls taking exams in Summer 2018.
Information is power! The key to beginning an increase in music popularity is to first know what your baseline is. Every girl at Notre Dame Prep School has a music profile which is updated every term. Each girl is asked about her musical activities, whether she learns an instrument in or out of school, and records are kept of her exam successes and her participation in music ensembles or clubs. If a girl does not learn an instrument or is not involved in a club she is personally invited every term to take one up, and a letter sent home with an application form for her to begin according to her preference. Gradually the expectation is built that this is the norm for the school. The information gathered is used to invite children to join appropriate ensembles, tailored to their individual ability, making music a social activity and allowing girls to encourage each other.
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