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Traditionally, when children move from primary to secondary school, there is a decline in interest in extra-curricular arts activities. But the Head of Music at St Peter’s School, Harvey Goodman, has succeeded in attracting 60 pupils aged 11 to 17 to come every week to a new, two-hour, after-school Music Club. “Getting them involved is no easy feat,” says Mr Goodman, “and most of the children in this school have not done any music out of school when they arrive.”
So what are the secrets to his success? His solution is three-fold: “Firstly we invite children who are in Year 6 at our local primary schools to come into St Peter’s School for music sessions. It means our Performing Arts Centre is a place where they already feel at home from day one when they start here.” Mr Goodman also ensures all parents receive a letter explaining what the Music Club is and what the benefits are. “We have found this has made a real impact on numbers.”
Secondly Mr Goodman has also gone to great pains to make the sessions free. “We provide a teacher and Cambridgeshire Music funds another.”
“Thirdly, it’s important to tap into the students’ interests. So, we asked them what they like and enjoy – which songs they love to sing and which instruments they may be interested in playing. It’s also important to allow them to work in the social groups they want to work in.”
“The real success of the Club though has been thanks to the dedication and participation from the young people,” he added.
Mr Goodman established the Music Club following a series of free one-on-one music lessons in the summer term of 2016 funded by MusicNet-East. MusicNet-East is a three-year strategic partnership between: Cambridgeshire Music, Essex Music Education Hub, Hertfordshire Music Service and Youth Music. The aim is to increase access to music for children in the three counties, ensuring great inclusivity.
Mr Goodman’s passion for his subject is obvious. A former songwriter and music producer, he gives up much of his spare time to develop music lessons tailored to the young people who attend the Club.
Mr Goodman believes music has the power to transform academic and emotional development. “Research has shown that learning and playing music is useful in developing skills in other areas, such as Maths and languages. The brain starts to develop in quite unique ways,” he said.
Mr Goodman further explained: “For those who particularly suffer from shyness or nervousness or perhaps have recently arrived in the UK, these obstacles melt away when they are given the support and encouragement to make music with a group of other children. At a fundamental level, it raises their confidence; it builds their sociability and they make emotional connections both with each other and the music. This improves their communication skills considerably.”
During the two-hour session held after school every Thursday, the children and young people begin with one hour singing together in the Community Choir. During the second hour the pupils can choose one of several different activities: a Steel Pan Band, Music Technology Club, Keyboard Club, Dance Group, and GCSE / ‘A’ Level coursework preparation. This is provided by Mr Goodman and another teacher at St Peter’s School alongside a further teacher provided by Cambridgeshire Music. “I am passionate about the impact of this – the cost of us paying for one teacher is so small compared to the number of children whose lives you are enriching.”
The Music Club has particularly helped some of the pupils who are following an alternative curriculum, as it offers a complementary pathway into a career in music or music technology.
These efforts culminated in an uplifting, celebratory concert: ’25 years of music at St Peter’s’ on 24 November 2016, during which one of Harvey’s former pupils, house music singing sensation Kyla, arrived fresh from the American Music Awards in Los Angeles to sing with the choir to end the evening. Kyla is known worldwide for her recent number 1 hit ‘One Dance’ with Drake.
Nicole, 12, had taken part in no extra-curricular music until the St Peter’s Music Club was set up. “Nobody in my family is musical but when I heard about the Club I was interested. Music Club is where, for two hours each week, I can be free of any worries. I just love singing the beautiful tunes in the choir – I can get all my feelings out.
“I then do an hour of composition on the piano and music technology with my friends. It’s really fun as I have met new friends at the Club who like to do the same things as me. It stretches my brain as I try not to sing the wrong notes. I’d like to be a singer or a pop star when I’m older.”
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2017
A secondary school in Huntingdon is bucking the trend and getting large numbers of teenagers heavily into performing and composing music, thanks to some cleverly designed activities, plus support from the county music service, Cambridgeshire Music.