From Small Beginnings to Big Impact Learning
Posted on 15th September 2016 at 15:00
This month marks the 14th birthday of the Music Workshop Company. To celebrate, Maria Thomas, Founder and Artistic Director, tells us about her inspiraton, highlights and vision for the future. Alongside her work at MWC, Maria is Programme Leader for the Music Industry Management Programme at the University of Hertfordshire. Her specialism is entrepreneurship and small business.
“Both my parents are music teachers and keen semi-professional musicians, so I was introduced from music from a very young age. I learnt to read music when I learnt to read words, and played recorder and piano from the age of 3. I took up the oboe when I was 9: I wanted to play the trombone but my arms weren’t long enough! The oboe gave me the opportunity to play regularly in a fabulous range of ensembles including orchestras and wind bands. When I was about 14, the music service had vacancies for bassoon players and saxophone players. I looked into playing bassoon, my arms still weren’t long enough! So I took up saxophone alongside oboe, recorder and piano.”
“I studied oboe at Trinity College of Music (now Trinity Laban) on what had been called the BMus Plus course, which offered students the chance to tailor their studies to their interests. We were introduced to workshop skills in our first year and I loved visiting schools working with children on performance and composition. I was very lucky to have an inspirational workshop skills tutor, Kate Buchanan, who encouraged me and allowed me to sit in on workshops she was leading. Whilst at College I had vague ideas of working with other musicians to run workshops, but I never thought I’d end up setting up and running a business!
I loved visiting schools working with children on performance and composition
In my final term at Trinity, Kate told me about an internship opportunity that was being advertised through the Education Department at The Royal Opera House. As a big opera fan, I applied immediately. The job was in the Orchestra Office and after a summer of interning, I was able to join the team in a full time role, working with the orchestra, stage bands, as well as co-ordinating auditions, chamber music concerts and Health and Safety.
While I was at the Opera House I began to think seriously about the idea of setting up a kind of agency supplying workshops to schools. I knew teachers who were keen to have workshops but didn’t always know what would work for them, or which musicians would be best, and I knew lots of musicians who were running inspiring workshops. So I left the Opera House to set MWC up as a bridge between the two.”
“One thing I was keen to do was to create the projects that schools wanted. Other workshops organisations who were around at the time each had one specialism – one would feature singing, another African drumming – I wanted MWC to be able to offer a wide range of projects that could be tailored exactly to the school’s need.
At the beginning I really didn’t know much about running a business, and although I was lucky enough to have support from my local Enterprise Agency with advice on contracts and general marketing, they didn’t know the specifics of working in Arts Education. I wish I had known more about running a business before I launched MWC, that’s why I’m so passionate about my work at the University. It’s very full on, and I try to ensure that my students know both the real life challenges and benefits of running their own business. I have learnt a great deal through trial and error.”
Growing the business…
“Our initial market was schools as that is where my experience lay, but since launching we have worked with a wide range of organisations such as community groups, event managers, businesses and Universities.
The growth into areas such as community groups and businesses was not something I originally planned, but we have worked with a great range of people from Brownie camps in Lancashire to businesses in Southampton. The team has grown: What started with just me in the office and a team of 5 musicians is now a business with up to 4 people in the office and 40 musicians!”
The future of music…
“I am passionate about access to music for everyone and schools offer a great opportunity to give children and young people the chance to actively take part in music making. We hope to inspire people to follow up their MWC experience through school or online resources. One of my favourite experiences is when we run open workshops in venues such as shopping centres. Children have the chance to show parents the rhythms they have learnt at school or adults come and join in having not played an instrument since they were at school.
I believe that Music and the Arts should be an integral part of education at all levels
I believe that Music and the Arts should be an integral part of education at all levels. So many skills are developed: Team work, performance skills, motor skills, language skills and confidence… So much research shows that access to the Arts is a vital part of life, we need to do everything we can to widen access both in schools and out.”
“MWC visits a wide range of schools, many of which are doing great work at engaging children and young people with music and see it as an important part of school life. few see a one-off workshop as their obligation to music completed, which I think is very sad.
My hope for music education is that it is compulsory for all schools to engage with music up to Year 10 and that students are encouraged and supported to take part in musical activities post Year 10, whether that be playing in a band, attending concerts or just playing for their own pleasure.
I hope that MWC inspires participants, through exposing them to new genres of music or inspiring them with our talented workshop leaders who bring their performing expertise to the workshops. I’m also keen to develop MWC’s online learning resources. The archives of blogs, articles and Top Tips are growing but we have plans to develop this further with more teaching resources.”
“I love everything about running music workshops! I enjoy liaising with the clients to find out what it is they are looking for and leading a workshop, but my favourite moment is when the participants perform the piece they have been working on whether it’s an informal performance at the end of the session or a performance in a school assembly. Seeing the development from a group who may never have seen that particular instrument through to an ensemble that can perform a piece is something I find hugely rewarding.
I also love returning to work with the same group over time. One of the groups I have worked with is a local adult Mencap Group. I’ve been running workshops for them since 2007 and have got to know the members really well. It’s great to repeat their favourite activities alongside introducing them to new instruments and rhythms.”
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