Let's debate with John Barber

In this month’s BBW John Barber, Director of the Love Music Trust, the Music Education Hub for Cheshire East, Director of Music at Sandbach School and Principal Trombone of Foden’s Band, debates the efficacy of First Access/Wider Opportunities lessons for young brass instrumental learners.

“As a boy growing up in the south, who enjoyed the benefits of the Hampshire County Music Service and the wonderful 80-strong orchestra that flourished within it, the thought that one day I would be asked to write an article for Brass Band World wasn’t something I would have expected. Back then ‘my’ youth orchestra would enjoy working on repertoire by Elgar, Copland, Tchaikovsky, Adams, Nielsen, Sibelius and Ron Goodwin, amongst others. It was a joyful time and one that led many in our cohort towards music college or university to continue our study of this wonderful art and, for others, left a deep impression and a lifelong appreciation of music. 

At the same time that I was honing my counting skills sat at the back of the orchestra, across town the Hampshire County Youth Brass Band, conducted by the late Leighton Rich, would similarly meet and rehearse its own repertoire. What the repertoire was I didn’t know, as it wasn’t until I was Christmas shopping one day in Winchester, during my 17th year, that I heard a brass band. I recall that it was a cold and miserable day and that, as I pottered down the street at 3.00pm, I heard the band rattling off Pop goes Bach (or the ‘Ski Sunday’ theme as I knew it) amid a set of Christmas carols. The band was busking, entertaining and generating funds, and the collected foot traffic was thoroughly enjoying the open-air performance. 

Looking back at my formative musical training and experiences, I reflect that I was fortunateto be learning at a time when local education authorities (LEAs) invested heavily in music education. Personally, I was the beneficiary of free instrumental lessons, as were many of my friends. This was not purely a remissions policy for those in receipt of free school meals or for the gifted and talented students; this was a broader opportunity that served a much wider remit. As time has progressed, I now find myself on the other side of the education fence, supporting and developing young musicians, sign-posting pathways and progression routes, and directing what funding is available to try to remove as many barriers to learning as possible. 

Over the past 14 years, we have seen the creation and development of Wider Opportunities or Whole Class Ensemble Training. This model of musical tuition was developed out of a statement made by then Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, who said:…

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