What we’ve learned from 20 years of delivering music workshops
Posted on 16th September 2022 at 17:33
This month The Music Workshop Company celebrates 20 years in Music Education. Having started as a vague idea for a service that helped schools and musicians work together, MWC has worked with schools, community groups and businesses from Anglesey to East Anglia, Shetland to Southampton, working with hundreds of thousands of participants.
MWC’s Artistic Director and Founder, Maria Thomas, reflects on lessons learnt over the last 20 years and gives her top tips for creating a successful workshop.
Image by Ann H, Pexels
Back in September 2016, I wrote a blog to celebrate MWC’s 14th birthday, which discussed where the idea for MWC came from. Revisiting this 6 years later, I am still as passionate about music education and the value of music workshops as I was then – if not more!
As school budgets tighten MWC is keen to support teachers and schools to stretch their finances as far as possible, so here are some top tips on making the most of our workshops.
Be clear about what you want – and ask us if you don’t know!
If you have a clear vision of the kind of workshop you want, do chat to the team about the learning outcomes or the type of experience you want participants to have.
If you have no idea – perhaps you have just been told you have to coordinate Arts Week (or similar) – then get in touch and we can talk you through the options and identify what would work best for you. Knowing a little about whether there are lots of music opportunities at your school or if our workshop is kick-starting music for you, or if you have special educational needs requirements, helps us to design a project just for you.
Ensure suitable rooms are available
We want participants – both staff and students – to have the best experience, so the venue for the workshop is really important. For many of our workshops, we need a space big enough for a circle of chairs. Many of the workshops can also get quite noisy (30 djembes playing together is not quiet!) – so the potential for the sound to impact neighbouring activities needs to be considered, particularly during exam periods.
Where the MWC musician is supplying instruments (e.g. Samba, Junk percussion, African drumming) – easy access to the room to help us load in is vital too.
Many schools use their school halls as the venue for the workshop – this works well in terms of being a large enough space and means the musician can stay in the same room all day rather than moving instruments between sessions.
We have a lot of experience of working with lunchtime staff to try not to impact their routines, but if the workshops are taking place in a hall that is also used for lunch – do confirm what time the lunchtime staff start setting up and what time they usually finish cleaning – it may take longer than you think! We hate disappointing participants by having to finish planned sessions early or starting late to fit around other uses of the space.
Preparing for the workshop and following up
Some schools like to keep the workshop as a surprise so the participants only find out what they’ll be doing that morning. Other schools like to prepare participants by introducing them to the music they will experience at the workshop, and many schools want to build on the session afterwards with follow-up activities.
For our junk percussion workshop, we can supply a resource pack ahead of time on how to make instruments, if you want to have the participants make their own instruments to use at the workshop.
We are currently working on resource packs with follow-up ideas on a range of topics that will be sent out after our workshops.
If you are not sure on where to start with introducing the participants to the topic, do contact us and we can recommend some resources.
By adding introductory sessions or follow-up activities, you are adding extra value to the workshop – getting the most for your money!
One last thing…
One key skill we look for in our workshop leaders is flexibility, and they will adapt to the situations they find themselves in, but you can make their lives easier in a number of small ways:
Ensuring staff know the musician is coming. Do ensure all staff, particularly office staff and caretakers, know the musician is coming and who the key contacts are. I have spent a fair bit of time sitting outside school offices while key contacts or the relevant workshop space are tracked down or identified.
Ensure parking is available really helps. If you can reserve a parking space for our musician(s) that would be appreciated.
Help with unloading instruments. Have you ever had to unload 30 djembes (African drums) and carry them across playgrounds, through closed doors, to a space on the opposite side of the school? It takes about 10 trips to unload alone – so help with unloading is really appreciated!
Directing staff to facilities. Most teachers do this, but in the rush of preparing for the workshop on top of their usual activities, sometimes directions to the toilets and staff room get forgotten. It’s really helpful to have these details!
All these things can help make sure our visit to you runs smoothly. In return we’ll work hard to ensure your participants – and you – have the best experience possible!
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