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Get Together Day, July 22nd, 2022 at Royal College of Music, London

Report of the day

This event was funded by RCM’s Enhancing Research Culture grant and was the first in-person session that MERYC England had organised since Covid 19. Delegates were enthusiastic and inspired by the setting of RCM and the welcoming refreshments and pastries on arrival. The proceedings were as follows:

After a welcome from Dr Mary Stakelum, Area Leader for Music Education at RCM, Margareta Burrell (MERYC England Trustee) facilitated introductions to each other with a musical welcome song. Dr Alison Street (Chair MERYC England) gave an overview of MERYC England’s origins as a charity and its history, pointing to the future by means of reflecting on the past. Theory was woven lightly throughout the presentation. Margareta proceeded to outline the MERYC England online pilot mentoring course that she and Professor Leslie Bunt facilitated over four consecutive sessions in September 2022. Gaining knowledge and practical ways to support and mentor one another was a theme that arose through the MERYC Conference day in November 2021. The board of trustees wanted to address this need with the course. Evaluation feedback is being used to fine tune the next iteration planned for 2023.

Before the lunch break, an interactive discussion session was facilitated by Dr Jessica Pitt (MERYC England Trustee). The topic for the discussion was: ‘what matters for early years music? ‘ By inviting delegates to talk about important issues in their practice the themes of ‘what matters’ were gathered. This is what we did: Delegates were invited to participate in 4-minute discussions with a partner. Each spoke uninterrupted for 2 minutes. The listener then captured the content of the discussion in a few words on a post-it note. Roles were then reversed. This was repeated with 3 new partners. All the post-it notes were gathered together. Delegates took time to read all the notes and then voted for the issues that resonated with them in first, second and third place (see photo at top of this blog) All the discussion topics have been grouped into themes (the direct quotes from the post-it notes appear in Bold). They are as follows:

1. Classroom management Issues of confidence a lack of teaching experience, controlling the classroom at both Primary and Nursery level and knowing how to respond and manage young children, with a need expressed for tips and advice (the latter issue was felt most important by 2 delegates). The responsibility of safeguarding plus dealing with issues of ratio in settings also featured. Getting adults to sing in music groups/classes was an issue for several delegates (selected in 2nd place by 4 delegates)

2. Pedagogy Important to several delegates was the idea that music practice with young children does not have to be a “certain way”. Streamlining practice may be worthwhile.

The challenge of progress vs fun and some wishing to find ways to balance Kodály with other fun music activities for young children and the need for experience and expertise to do this.

3. Early Childhood Music Education Sector issues It was acknowledged that early childhood music is an open field, with practitioners coming with a range of backgrounds and approaches eg., Music Therapists, franchisees. To some degree, delegates felt that there is a lack of music in schools, and some are involved in, and feel the need for teaching the teachers. The challenge to diversify teaching to reflect multi-cultural Britain is a concern and possible focus for more guidance. Expressed by several was the impact of their working life allowing no time for learning, the sense of wearing too many hats, coupled with the need for mentorship, support, or supervision was raised. It was acknowledged that support makes a difference. The external issue of over-reliance on the music expert in many settings is still a concern.

4. Financial concerns The financial concerns has two dimensions: 1.) The lamentable level of funding for early childhood education was discussed, alongside the need for proper funding for music, so that all socio-economic backgrounds and not just the privileged can access early childhood music education in early childhood as an ongoing, important issue. 2.) The myriad needs of running a small business, with fallout from lockdown, as well as issues of freelance working and the anxiety that can arise through constantly needing to get work were raised.

5. Early childhood music educators – personal-professional Repeated several times, and rated as number one in importance by others, was the notion of feeling undervalued and under resourced. It's not fair was one statement, perhaps hinting at the inequity felt by some when comparing our area (early years) with others in the music education sector. The mood of the day and the positive ‘vibe’ from gathering together is represented by positive affirmations too: I am worthy! And for us to believe in what we are doing as it is important work – Music is powerful. The need to branch out and step outside my comfort zone seemed to resonate with the mood in the room.

6. Looking outwards Judged the most important by 6 delegates (the most strongly agreed with theme) was that our work is Legacy work: Music for the future generations. Although it was felt that there are challenges in getting the message / word out, wanting to share experience but lacking a framework to do this came through.

Concluding comments These themes will be the source of reflection for the MERYC England conference sub-group as we consider useful theme(s) for our next conference (2024). We welcome abstract submissions from practice and research, with opportunities to present a workshop and/or a poster about your work. We are happy to work with anyone who has an innovative idea, or original practice and would like some guidance in writing an abstract.

Bring your own lunch in the RCM Courtyard

After lunch Maria Magdalena Sanchez Moreno talked about her doctoral research project that is funded by London Arts Humanities Partnership and will be a collaboration between MERYC England

and RCM. She will investigate diversity and inclusion in early childhood music in England. More news will follow once Maria begins her studies in September 2022.

Steve Grocott (MERYC England Trustee) facilitated the remainder of the afternoon. Practical music making included a Pauline Oliveros-inspired deep listening exercise and reflective discussion.

Linda Bance’s (Outgoing MERYC England trustee) considerable contribution to MERYC England was acknowledged and she was thanked by the Chair for many years inspirational service to the charity. Thank you to all who attended and contributed their ideas through discussion, the atmosphere at the event was joyful, enthusiastic and inspiring! Thank you to RCM for funding this important event for early childhood music education. It was very gratifying that the majority of delegates to the day were new faces to MERYC England.

We are looking forward to the next in-person event - see our Conference page for more details.

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