FAMILY MATTERS: A concerted effort to bring music to all pupils

Firth Park Festival.....Pictured are youngsters from the Sheffield Music Service 'Brassed on' entertaining the crowds
Firth Park Festival.....Pictured are youngsters from the Sheffield Music Service 'Brassed on' entertaining the crowds
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ASK a Sheffielder what they think of the local music scene and you’re likely to get an answer that involves Joe Cocker, Heaven 17, Human League, Arctic Monkeys and the like.

Yet there is an army of young classical musicians being nurtured at every level and in every neighbourhood across the city.

Sheffield Music School: LtoR - Rachel Ward (17), Tom Bradley (16), Lucy Bradley (14) and Charlotte Hetherington (16)

Sheffield Music School: LtoR - Rachel Ward (17), Tom Bradley (16), Lucy Bradley (14) and Charlotte Hetherington (16)

Huge attempts are being made to get as many children involved in music as possible, no matter what their background, and there is no reason why your youngsters shouldn’t get playing too.

And this isn’t about long, boring hours of practice, it’s about getting out there and sharing tunes with others.

Mary Heyler heads up the city’s music service and says Sheffield has lots on offer.

“People go around saying how unmusical Sheffield is but I’ve been here for three years and as a relative newcomer it strikes me as a very musical place.

MUSIC SERVICES CONCERT   Young musicians taking part in the Sheffield Music Services Annual Concert at the City Hall.  ' 20 March   2007

MUSIC SERVICES CONCERT Young musicians taking part in the Sheffield Music Services Annual Concert at the City Hall. ' 20 March 2007

“There are a lot of opportunities out there.

“There are opportunities provided by Sheffield City Council and also by a large range of voluntary organisations that directly provide services to young people.

“We have lots going on across the city.”

Sheffield Music Service has been helping youngsters follow a more tuneful path for decades and now provides more individual lessons, band and orchestra places to children than ever before.

Pictured at Fox Hill Primary school, Keats Road, Sheffield, is Mary Heyler the new city head of music.

Pictured at Fox Hill Primary school, Keats Road, Sheffield, is Mary Heyler the new city head of music.

It touches the lives of 13 per cent of all five to 19 year olds in the city every week and that is something Mary is extremely proud of.

“We are talking about the kids that learn every week - that is 8 or 9,000 children getting specialist lessons from experts provided by the council,” she said.

“What the music service has done is double the number of children from all over the city who have been able to use music services.

“We have used a national scheme called Wider Opportunities. It is a whole class of children from seven to 11 learning an instrument together.

“It is like you are already in your band and you are learning as a class. It has been incredibly successful and 88 per cent of primary schools in the city have at least one class learning a musical instrument for free.

“Many primary schools have the whole of one year learning for free with music tuition at an expert level.”

The city has 20 bands and orchestras for young people which take place after school - and they don’t just deal with the most talented.

Sheffield Music School has rehearsals every Saturday and is hosted at Sheffield University but works with an open to all policy.

Sheffield Music Academy throws open its doors at the weekend and works with the city’s young elite, selected through auditions.

“Those young children could eventually go into all the musical chances and opportunities there are for them across the city.

“What we are trying to do in the council is bridge the pathway and make sure the pathway is fair for every child.”

The city’s three senior youth orchestras are all fully subscribed as well as the Senior Schools Youth Orchestra and City of Sheffield Youth Orchestra - all creating music of a very high standard.

They are backed up by hundreds of private instrumental teachers who work from home.

Mary said: “We are absolutely determined that every child in this city can access these wonderful things.

“Music is part of being a human being. I don’t think there is anybody out there who would say they don’t like music.

“It is the best way to get teamwork going in a non-competitive way. It is a wonderful way to express yourself. The educational benefits are profound.”

Dr Stephanie Pitts, senior lecturer in music at Sheffield University, believes children get much more from music if they can share it.

She said: “I think the most important thing is giving people access to music and allowing them to enjoy it and express themselves through it.

“Sheffield Music Service does a lot of very good work in making sure children don’t work in isolation but perform and experience their music being appreciated.”

Dr Pitts started music lessons at the age of seven and, although she thinks it is positive to start children on the musical ladder as young as possible, says it is never too late to take up an instrument.

“People learn music in all kinds of ways. The pleasure that people get from going to concerts and listening is just as valuable as performing. You can’t beat live music.

“There is something very engaging about seeing music performed in front of you.

“I would encourage parents to take up all the opportunities available in school.

“It is a long term process. If the sound is horrendous on the violin at first keep going. It takes practice.

“To kids I would say give it a go. Get involved and make music. Take up the opportunities and get excited about making music with other people.”