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Connecting with children and families through a love of music— 40 years of Saturday Music Classes

2019 marks the 40th anniversary of our Saturday Music Classes and the 10th anniversary of Eleanor Parker’s role as Saturday Music Class Coordinator. Eleanor is instrumental in ensuring that the young people and families who begin their weekend at St Mary’s Music School have a joyful experience from the moment they arrive through our gates.

 “There’s such a super vibe on a Saturday. Yes, it’s about learning but it’s not like school. That’s the subtle difference that makes children laugh and smile for the whole morning. And families too!”

Q | Are Saturday Music Classes open to everyone?

A | Absolutely. There are no auditions for places and once a year we simply ask families to register and apply for the classes that their children are interested in taking. Then it’s our job to work out a timetable that suits everyone. There are no financial barriers either – we have bursaries available to help families who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to access music classes and we’d like to spread the word about that more, particularly given recent council cuts to music education. Just like any other school environment, we work alongside young people with learning disabilities and behavioural issues too – our approach is entirely centred around inclusion and accessibility. Around 150 young people attend one or more of our classes every Saturday and their families gather in the café downstairs – there’s such a buzz and a real feeling of a community connected through music.

Q | What values do you aim to share through Saturday Music Classes?

A | I firmly believe that music is key to nurturing a healthy, happy child. The values that we foster are inclusion, diversity, enjoyment, learning and growth. Children come to us with an interest in music and it’s our job to nurture and grow that interest through the highest quality tuition in an environment that’s committed, caring and supportive. It’s also about having fun. For me, Saturdays don’t feel like work at all – it’s the best job in the world and I’m so lucky to be in the position of providing such an incredible access to music education to so many young people.

Q | Are pupils taught individually or in groups?

A | We have three big classes – Dalcroze, Kodály and singing – and lots of smaller instrumental groups for everything from violin and recorder to the clarsach. Children are grouped with other children of a similar standard – it’s not always about age – and this both increases their confidence and allows them to learn from and through each other. Group tuition introduces young people to important life skills too – they have to learn to listen and to wait for their turn. More space would allow us to do that.

Q | Children as young as four attend Saturday Music Classes – what do they gain from this?

A | Our youngest children can take part in Dalcroze and Kodály classes. Dalcroze allows them to begin to get a feeling for music through movement, which is great for fine-tuning motor skills in their pre-school year as well as encouraging them to listen, wait and respond as individuals and also as part of a class. Through Kodály, children learn how to use hand signs to represent pitch before starting to invent their own music. Both Dalcroze and Kodály classes are offered to children in their final pre-school year while instrumental group tuition is offered from around eight years old.

Q | If you had the space, what more could you do?

A | The building we’re currently in doesn’t leave us any room to expand so our new choir classes, for example, now take place on a Friday in the Cathedral’s Song School. With more space, the world would be our oyster! We’d be able to offer more choirs, more group tuition and a bigger choice of instruments as well as one-to-one tuition. We want to grow our reach and ensure that as many people as possible know that if you’re a young person with an interest in music, then this is the place to be. More space would allow us to do that.