Bringing Teachers, Composers and Researchers together

BCMG is proud of its work bringing teachers, composers and researchers together to further the understanding of the pedagogy of composing and how this translates into the teaching and learning of composing in the classroom and other informal learning contexts. Surveys and research have repeatedly shown that it is the composing element in the curriculum that teachers struggle with most and BCMG, with partners, has tried to address this over the last 20 years.

We believe that projects have the most impact when they are true collaborations between teachers and composers, where both sets of professional expertise, knowledge and practical skills are valued and shared. Since 2010 we have also worked closely with academic researchers, in particular, with Professor Martin Fautley and his team at Birmingham City University (BCU) where we are a founding research partner. Working together has enabled us to grow our understanding of young people’s composing and have impact and influence beyond our own programme through giving conference presentations, writing journal articles and book chapters, and delivering professional development to teachers.

These collaborations have taken many forms over the last 20 years: projects in the classroom; action research; mentoring; seminar series; professional development for composers and teachers. Some of the most important work in this area has been done in partnership with BCU and with Sound and Music, in particular, with their Head of Education, Judith Robinson.

Exchanging Notes (2002) was BCMG’s first project to bring together teachers and composers outside of the classroom. The group met for four days to explore teaching and learning of composing through practical activity and discussion framed by a set of questions. The project was conceived with Robert Bunting, the then Music Advisor for Birmingham, and focused on finding ‘practical strategies to strengthen the teaching of composition at secondary level’.

The resources that came out of the project can be now found online on our Learning Resource website and include the findings of the seminars and a number of interviews with composers with guidance as to how these can be used in the classroom.

Another early project was Teachers as Composer (2005) a partnership with Birmingham Music Service (BMS) in which BMS teachers were mentored to create new music for the ensembles they led. The project was perhaps too successful as two of the teachers left the Music Service to pursue composing or other creative music activity!

From 2010 to 2013 a number of important projects got under way: Imagine Compose, Resolution and Listen Imagine Compose. Imagine Compose was another partnership with Birmingham Music Service. Led by composer Liz Johnson, the project aimed to encourage more instrumental teachers to incorporate composing and creative music activities into their teaching and the beginner ensembles sessions they led. As well as activity with the young people, teachers and composers met and reflected together in a series of seminars. The project was underpinned by the premise that even beginner instrumentalists can compose on their instrument and should be encouraged to do so at the first possible opportunity. Resources from this project can be found here and the project report by Professor Martin Fautley, Dr Victoria Kinsella and Dr Kirsty Devaney can be found here:

Resolution was a collaboration not only between teachers, composers and researchers but also with scientists from the Rheumatology Research Group at The University of Birmingham.  Generously funded by the Wellcome Trust, in addition to teacher and composer partnerships, the project also looked at the creative practices of composers and scientists with the aim to dispel the myth that composers are purely engaged in creative activity and scientists with facts. The project was the subject of a co-authored chapter (with Professor Martin Fautley and Dr Victoria Kinsella) for the book Musician Teacher Collaborations: Altering the Chord  

The most impactful of all of these projects has been Listen Imagine Compose which started in 2010, a partnership between BCMG, Sound and Music and Birmingham City University which is still going today. Listen Imagine Compose, originally funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, consisted of 6 action research projects and symposia that explored key questions around how composing was taught and learned in secondary schools. The project continues to grow and develop through:

  • Teaching resources and the project report all of which can be found hosted on the separate website
  • Annual Away Days exploring composing pedagogy
  • New research and a growing a body of evidence and good practice around composing in secondary schools.
  • A Masters in Teaching and Learning programme accredited by BCU
  • Online and face to face CPD sessions for teachers

For me personally it was a much smaller action research project Through the Music Maze, which ran from 2012-2014, that had profound influence on my practice as a workshop leader. Music Maze is one of the few projects I lead for BCMG and it acts as a laboratory for much of my thinking. It was a privilege to work with Professor Martin Fautley and Dr Victoria Kinsella for two years unpicking the practices and pedagogies of Music Maze, our monthly composing workshop for 8-11 year olds. Our conversations and reflections after the sessions were inspiring and have led to developing so much activity and ideas together.

Our work bringing academic researchers, teachers and composers together is ongoing. Not only do we now have a primary school version of Listen Imagine Compose about to start funded by The Paul Hamyln Foundation, there are still questions and challenges: how do you create the right environment for the sharing of expertise and recalibrating the power dynamic of the visiting artist as expert and, balance challenging assumptions and practices within the composing element of the curriculum whilst also supporting teachers to deliver it!

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