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Great Music Conference, Pity About the Hotel

20 June 2011

Manchester, June 17 -18 – The Federation of Music Services (FMS) Conference.

Take 200 plus music teachers and music educationalists and stick them into a city centre hotel for 2 days of workshops, masterclasses and presentations and listen to the music.  Despite funding shortfalls from local authorities and school budgets plus impending  structural changes on how music is to be delivered to England’s children, the FMS Annual Conference was unexpectedly oversubscribed. Not withstanding the new world order about to descend upon Music Services, an enthusiastic horde of delegates converged on Manchester, ready to listen, learn and occasionally be enthralled.  

Workshops and masterclasses were dominated by Music Service management issues rather than pedagogy – forming trusts, cross art services, developing Music Education Hubs (the proposed new cross arts delivery mechanism), bid writing, employment law, transferring services to charities…… so plenty of learning opportunities for one and all.

Motivational speeches were heard from Marcus du Sautoy, Oxford University Professor of  Mathematics, who entranced his audience with the relationship between music making and mathematical constructs. He talked of  mathematics being the grammar of  musical  rhythm and harmony across the globe from Ghanan Clapping Music to ancient Indian Tabla music; the  role of numbers, prime and otherwise including the 13th century Italian mathematician, Fibonacci’s famous sequence of numbers, 1 1 2 3 5 8 etc (each number being the sum of the previous two) and how this was to be found in all types of composition. We learned from Bach that ‘music was the process of sounding mathematics’ and that as a small child Mozart was fascinated by numbers and wrote them everywhere.  

Mark Phillips, HMI National Adviser for Music, told the conference what most people already knew (as it had been signposted in the Henley Review of Music), that Ofsted would be introducing a more thorough reviewing process of not just schools’ music but also the Music Services or other bodies delivering the music. This would be an interim measure until the National Music Education Plan comes into force in 2012/13 when a more formal inspection of Music Services is likely.

Dick Hallam, the National Music Education Grant Director, told delegates that it was unlikely that they would hear from the Government on the details of the National Music Education Plan before October of this year. However, Music Services must move with all haste to form new partnerships and build the infrastructure of their cross arts hubs or face having some other body doing it for them.

An anarchic address by Gavin Stride on Saturday morning advised delegates to see the ‘big picture’, recognise the interdependence of relationships and move away from reactive behaviour. He counselled not to see relationships as a way of getting money but of how to help one another. ‘Learn how not to compete’ was his message and to, ‘allow time to build trust, build networks with people not like you.’ He asked delegates to remember that money follows ideas and what the world needs is ideas. He also confessed to not knowing what he was doing most of the time and said that he was looking forward to hearing his own speech as he had not heard it before!

In stark contrast to the excellent quality of the conference speakers and events the service at the conference venue received by both organisers and many delegates fell well short of expected standards.  The ‘Complete Solution Business Meeting & Resort Hotel,’ spun by the company’s promotional blurb were claims not matched by the on- the-ground experience. The failings were characterised by staff shortages, slow service, poor organisation plus a lack of lifts and failing electronic door entry cards. However, in spite of the hotel’s best efforts to do otherwise, the conference turned out to be a real success. Trip Adviser will be informed.

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