Blown Away

Tonight I have had the privilege of being part of an amazing community event.  A very dear friend of mine is the organiser of said event, having run it already for some years, and has absolutely blown me away this evening.

Approximately 400 children sang a plethora of wonderful songs watched by an audience of hundreds and hundreds of related grown ups (the word parents doesn’t even begin to cover it here) who were also entertained by the swing band of the local Academy, the youth brass band and my percussion ensemble.  The talent at the front of that hall tonight was absolutely superb.

Now I realise this may sound rather bias and truth be known it is, but I offer no apology for my sheer admiration for all who participated in the concert.

Lets start with my friend.  Now this is a lady who I met some years ago, in an audition of all places.  I went along to try out for a vocal group, she was accompanying on the piano, seemed like a lovely lady and was obviously an exceptional pianist, but I finished my thing, thanked her and thought nothing more of it.

The very next afternoon, I entered the school, gingerly as I do not being the biggest fan of the school playground, and lo and behold there stood the lovely lady who had played the piano for me the previous night!  Shocked and somewhat embarrassed, I then discovered her daughter with in the same year as my eldest.  And her son was the same year as my youngest.  Saying that, I can’t even remember which child it was we met over as I have had too many to mention going through the school.

From that point on (and much of this is blurred more due to age than alcohol) we became firm friends and rather delightfully our boys were/are the very best of friends (well, best friends one day, best enemies the next.  You know how it goes).

I won’t bore you with all the details but I will tell you this.

My friend is a lady who is dedicated and motivated to the very core.  In so many more ways than just musically.  She has kicked my arse…sorry…inspired me to sort my shit out and start singing again, play more, and a bit further down the line, start teaching again (though truth be told I kind of don’t love that bit).

Tonight I watched as she brought together 400 children, a band and even had the audience singing.  The song choices were brilliant, she has endless energy and positive reinforcement (and not just for the kids) and was just a shining star in what is fast becoming a music-free zone.  Sad to say, that zone being world we live in.

You have probably read in the papers or seen on the news, or even caught it in a Facebook posting, that music in schools is a dying art.  Whole class music lessons are dwindled down to the absolute minimum with some schools scrapping it altogether.  I will not be alone in my thoughts that this is potentially one of the biggest tragedies of our time.

Music brings so much to so many.

Anyone who attended tonight or has been to a school concert, an assembly, a music class with their toddler, had the radio on loud for an upbeat tune, or even watched Eastenders, will know how important music is.  It can lift your mood, or help you cry, or make you laugh, or want to move your body.  And that’s just when you listen to it!

The faces of those kids tonight, singing their hearts out, dancing along to the swing band, genuinely enjoying themselves, were priceless.  To take part in such an amazing event, to be part of a bigger picture, is such a rewarding feeling for everyone involved, both students and adults alike.

I started my music career when I was in primary school.  My music teacher had long hair and reminded me of Miss Honey from Matilda.  She taught me how to play “London’s Burning” on the recorder and I have never looked back.   I’m sure my parents were thrilled at the time (as we all just love the recorder don’t we?) but I quickly progress to different instruments and my love of music was born.

I was then extremely lucky to have a fantastic music teacher in senior school.  She encouraged me and introduced me to new instruments and genres of music and my story as a percussionist, vocalist and pianist began.

Now you may take the piss and say something stupid like “oh I used to play the triangle!” which is all well and good.  Until you come to one of our rehearsals and I will actually make you play the triangle.  Properly.  While reading music.  And playing several other instruments in the same piece.  And that is just for beginners.

Word to the wise – don’t be ignorant when it comes to musicians.  It never goes down very well.

Most of us started when we were young.  A lot of us were fortunate to be part of a school with a good music department, or find a music trust in our area, or have a great peripatetic teacher.  Learning to play an instrument and joining a group of others doing the same, no matter whether you are at the beginners end or heading to be a pro, is not something that can be replicated.  The friends you make, the experiences you have, the travelling you get to do, the achievement you feel; it’s all part of it.

There are countless studies that confirm music makes us all round better people.  It helps with maths, it helps with social skills, it helps with coordination, the list goes on and on.  These studies are not bogus.  If you are unsure, find out where your local youth band plays on a Saturday morning, or youth orchestra, or choir.  Go down and listen to a rehearsal, see the relationships between the kids, witness the banter between tutors and pupils.  Go along and soak it all up.  Then go home and question why your child is playing on their Xbox “with their friends” who don’t really exist as they are all online too and the likelihood of them ever actually having a face to face conversation is zero.  I mean, seriously?

Being part of a group, no matter what instrument it is for, is one of the best gifts you can give your children.  Teach them commitment, dedication, to go to rehearsals, that practising helps them improve, encourage them to do exams, not for the stress of it but for the sense of achievement.  Go and watch them in their concerts, clap till your hands hurt and tell your child when they finish of how proud you are of them.

When I was 11 I joined East Berkshire Music Centre.  I look back now and firstly, take my hat off to my mum who taxied me there and back almost daily for years and years, waiting outside in the car for hours on end as there wasn’t really enough time to go home as she would have had to turn around and come back 20 minutes later.  Thank you mum.

The friends that I made, the places I played, the experiences I had are such a huge part of who I am today, I am forever grateful to all the tutors and the people I met along the way.

Two years ago, purely by chance, and thanks to a lady who has also become a very good friend of mine, we were introduced to a brass band community who we now call our Band Family.  All three of the boys started playing but sadly two have dropped off the radar and now it’s me and the eldest.  But we love it.  He has already changed instruments I think twice (it’s not ignorance, it’s brass banding), and during that time I have been given the opportunity to set up my very own percussion ensemble which scares the living crap out of me but thrills me in equal measure.

Saturday mornings are as they are meant to be.  Band.  Rehearsals.  What else are Saturday mornings for?!  This is basically all I knew growing up so when I was invited to go along and help on a Saturday I was delighted and literally jumped at the chance!  The age range is from 4 to 400 (only a marginal exaggeration) and we have such a giggle, hopefully the kids too, there is nowhere I would rather be.

I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to be part of such a wonderful community.  I am inspired by the people around me, the amazing musicians that take it all in their stride, tonight being a prime example of just one occasion amongst so very many.

To my dear beautiful friend who stood at the front waving her arms around all night (in layman’s terms: conducted a whole heap of kids), you are a true inspiration and the most wonderful human being.  You did a great job tonight, the kids loved it, the grown ups loved it, I hope you loved it too.

To everyone else involved, good skills people.

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

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