New year, new focus for the 2016-17 Fellows, who acquired some valuable experience of learning to lead through workshops and activities in London and Durham.


It was a damp Friday morning that the eight Fellows assembled for a short rehearsal in the underbelly of Cecil Sharp House, to take part in a day of awareness classes and intensive teacher training. Spider-Man followed by Monteverdi probably aren't the most obvious of bedfellows, but for our short lunchtime recital, we thought they'd hit the spot.

Though not directly a part of 'Live Music Now' - a charity dedicated to providing schools and care homes with specialist music therapy and teaching - through NYC's partnership with LMN we were extended an invitation to attend their training programme. Lectures ranged from classroom technique, to academic iPad use, strategies for teaching children with severe learning difficulties, and mental health awareness.

Most useful for me was the hands-on 'iPad as an instrument' session - the manifold applications in the classroom and implications of its use as an inclusive instrument are wide-ranging. Also enlightening was the Dementia Friends talk; the discourse centred around highlighting misconceptions of the disease, and exploring what we as individuals, as well as music practitioners, can do to spread awareness and adapt our work.

The classroom workshops centred around teaching with percussion and using macaron, a music sign-language, to control dynamics and tempo - this was tiered into five levels and adaptable to various kinds of learning difficulties, including autism and physical disabilities.

All eight Fellows took valuable lessons away from this day, and it was wonderful to meet so many exceptional music educators.

The following morning, after a late train the night before to Durham, found us in the chilly surroundings of Ushaw College Chapel, thrust in front of 200 excited primary school children, to whom we were to deliver a 'Ready Steady Sing!' singing workshop. To begin, each Fellow led a warm-up with exercises ranging from call-answer songs, to running on the spot, marching chants and rounds. It was astonishing how quickly the children learned each song - some more quickly than us, and their teachers - and they were marvellously enthusiastic when Hannah introduced a daring four-song mash-up, delivering the final product with panache and vim.

Following a quick break, we rehearsed for our evening recital, covered some wonderful new music by Owain Park, lush motets, and a cappella gems and arrangements. I really love working with the Fellows - we have developed an openness and camaraderie that leads to really special music-making and relaxed yet focussed rehearsals.

Our rehearsal led straight into a conducting workshop for music teachers from local schools and sixth forms. Ben Parry took the lead here, and we became (impeccably behaved) guinea pigs for the duration. For those of us with conducting experience, this was a nice opportunity to pass on some of our training, and for those of us without, a opening to learn new things.

A quick dinner and diary session took us through to our evening recital, which was part of the inaugural Durham Vocal Festival. The audience was full of familiar faces from our day, and the concert was made particularly touching by Ben Inman's dedication to his late grandfather who had passed that morning - I think we all took a moment to really find the emotional content in each piece throughout the concert to pay tribute.

Post-recital festivities included beer, a wander up the hill to Durham Cathedral and very wet feet.