Sequencing Co-Curricular Music

Classroom Pedagogy

Designing an implementing a successful co-curricular programme for your school is an ongoing process. It very much depends on context, there is no single approach that will work for all. I am a firm believer in this. I have worked in four very different music departments and what has worked at one certainly would not have worked at all of the others. There is so much to consider: the needs of the students, the specialisms of the staff, physically space in the department, time in the school day, workload demands, staffing and the support of senior staff.

I am aware and thankful for the huge amount of privilege I have in my current setting. I have four members of the core music team and a fantastic team of peripatetic staff. Our peri team run a range of specialised ensembles such as senior jazz, improvisation club, brass ensemble, flute ensemble, horn ensemble and the classroom staff run most of the bigger ensembles. Our mission has always been to cater for ‘depth and breadth‘: depth being our highest quality music making and breadth being access for everyone at the point of walking in the door. It is only in the last few years I’ve really begun to look at our offer sequentially as I would curriculum planning. While our offer is something to be celebrated, I feel more and more we should be offering our young musicians to PROGRESS through the musical ensembles.

So for example, a young singer might start at our school singing in our Bx Choir which is open to all. From that they can graduate on to Lower School Voices where they can do more part singing and music reading. They can then audition for our flagship Chamber Choir or go along to our inclusive Contemporary Voices depending on how they want their singing to progress.

Similarly a student can start at BCCS as a Trailblazer trumpet player (our funded wind instrument scheme for year 7s). From that they play in The Noise which is our beginners wind group. From that they can stay as student leaders, but also then progress through a number of ensembles including the lower school Jazz Jammers, Improvisation Ensemble, Brass Ensemble and Concert Band on to the upper school Big Band and the flagship Symphony Orchestra.

The opportunity to ‘graduate’ onwards as they get older and more experienced is powerful and there are some gaps in the department at the moment to cover. The place of drum kit players and pianists in this is much harder and one I am currently trying to do better. But I think planning the ensembles thoughtfully and sequentially has really given each ensemble its own unique place in our community.

It’s worth saying again that I am aware I come from a huge place of privilege here, there was a rich legacy of co-curricular when I arrived at the school which the team has worked on evolving and improving over time. In settings with less going on my experience has always told me to do less, but do it really well. A small embedded year 7 choir that flourishes in year one will only continue to grow if the repertoire is good and students feel ownership over it. Student voice in repertoire can be powerful plus the ensembles reflecting the needs of your school community. Whether a DJ club, an improvisation or composing hub that extends out of a good curriculum or a drop in band rehearsal space be patient and keep the rehearsal running regularly with formal or informal performance opportunities. I’ve always been adamant that a good curriculum comes first, don’t put the pressure on for everything all to happen overnight. Do less and do it well, bring the snacks, embrace and hunt out support from your peri and whole school staff or even your wider school community, plan for growth. And celebrate where you’ve come from, not where you think you should be.


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