Music Medals in action
Last year we reported on London Music Masters’ Bridge Project, a successful venture bringing classical music to children in inner-city primary schools. In February, a number of these children took their first ABRSM Music Medals. Andrew Green found out how they got on. In early March, Ashmole Primary School Year 4 pupil Harry Nim was handed his Music Medals certificate and badge at a school assembly. ‘He had a smile like a red apple!’ recalls his mother, Kathy. ‘When he heard he’d been chosen to take an ABRSM Music Medal he was flying up to the moon... he couldn’t wait! But as his mum, I was worried and didn’t know how to help. His teacher just said Harry should carry on playing as normal and practise without pressure. Harry told me the assessment was fun. He didn’t realise it was actually the Music Medal!’ Aseye Vivor, also at Ashmole Primary, was another pupil in the limelight as she was presented with her Music Medal. ‘It was the first thing she talked about when I got to the school to collect her!’ remembers her mother, Patience. ‘Aseye tells me she’s now looking forward to Suzuki Violin School Volume 4 and to mastering her vibrato!’ Both Harry and Aseye received notes on their performance along with their certificates indicating an ‘Excellent’ mark in their assessment, as was the case with 12 of the 14 Bridge Project pupils selected to take the Silver level Music Medal, which sits at about ABRSM Grade 2 to 3 level. Run by London Music Masters, the Bridge Project began in 2008, to provide sustained, free and subsidised violin tuition to hundreds of children attending Ashmole and Jessop primaries, starting from the age of five. These inner-London schools are in the ethnically and culturally diverse borough of Lambeth, which is the fifth most deprived borough in the city. A range of teaching methods has been used, from Kodály and Dalcroze to Suzuki. Harry Nim is sold on the whole thing. ‘I love the Bridge Project and my violin teachers so much,’ he says. Music Medals candidates (selecting one of five progressive levels from Copper to Platinum) are assessed by their teachers, not external examiners, within groups of equal or mixed ability. Violin teacher Matt Hickman has been teaching around 120 children at Ashmole Primary and trained several pupils to leap over their Music Medals hurdles. ‘The process required the children to prepare for a solo piece, an ensemble piece and also a more musicianship-based challenge,’ he explains. ‘Most did a call and response game, where they had to improvise in a particular key, having heard an initial theme played by me. Others did sight-reading. They were well prepared for solo performances by our approach, but the musicianship section added something new. The children did really well.’ Bridge Project Manager Robert Adediran says that Music Medals were just what was needed to take his pupils on to the next stage in their musical development. ‘The Medals really got us focused on ensemble repertoire and the potential for playing in parts. Going forward, students will take Music Medals just before joining their school string ensembles - a great preparation.’ Robert was involved in carrying out the required filming of the assessments, giving him a close-up view of how the various students coped. ‘They all seemed very relaxed, maybe because they were playing with their friends. More than once I had to ask a student to start all over again because the camera’s batteries ran out... but they were brilliant about that. They really enjoyed ‘presenting’ their videos - they’re all stars!‘ Patience Vivor reports that daughter Aseye ‘enjoyed her assessment as much as she does any other violin exercise. She told me she played in a pair and solo, and that all aspects of her performance were tested.’ So, the Bridge Project’s first experience of how ABRSM Music Medals can dovetail with its ongoing work in the schools has been a resounding success - work which has now been extended to a third primary school, Churchill Gardens, in Westminster. Says Robert Adediran: ‘The plan is for all children now to be offered Music Medals assessments.’ The scenario is all the more interesting given that having completed two years’ tuition on the violin, Bridge Project pupils have now had the option to move to other instruments, with Music Medals there to provide the appropriate assessment structure. ‘It’s been great,’ enthuses Robert. ‘We now have proper orchestras!’ 'The Bridge Project has had a huge impact on the lives of our children,’ says Lillian Umekwe, Head Teacher of Jessop Primary School. ‘It’s helped to raise confidence, discipline, fine motor skills and self-esteem across all areas of the curriculum.’ Harry Nim has clearly been undaunted by any challenge the project has thrown at him - including the Music Medals. Quite simply, he’s been bitten by the music bug. ‘I’m now looking forward to doing fundraising with my violin to help London Music Masters buy lots of violins, so that more children can learn and play... like ME!! It’s my dream.’
Andrew Green is a writer, broadcaster, producer and reviewer, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire, UK.
This article was originally featured in the May 2012 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.