Music in the time of Coronavirus



During the Summer of 2020, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) undertook research on how the pandemic had affected the provision of music in UK schools. Most of the respondents (75%) were from the state sector. The research was published in December in a report called ‘The heart of the school is missing: Music education in the COVID-19 crisis’.

The research shows that 39% of secondary school teachers have reported a reduction in music provision as a direct result of the pandemic. Furthermore, 28% of secondary schools have not continued face-to-face instrumental lessons in the 2020/2021 academic year, and in two thirds of schools, extra-curricular music activities are not continuing at all.(1)

This news is incredibly disappointing. As a music teacher of over 30 years, I know only too well how beneficial music education can be for pupils, both academically and psychologically. In terms of academic achievement, it is well documented that learning a musical instrument can contribute to a child’s academic performance.(2)

And children’s mental wellbeing has undoubtedly suffered during the pandemic. Anyone who plays an instrument knows that immersing yourself in that activity offers a great deal of relief from the pressures of the outside world, and helps to reduce stress and anxiety, yet it would appear that many children are being deprived of this outlet.

Whether or not your child is a musical prodigy, I truly believe that learning and performing music is a critical part of your child’s wider educational experience; it improves their wellbeing, enriches what they do academically and enhances their other skills.

This is where an independent school education can be extremely beneficial. Schools in the independent sector usually have access to excellent musical facilities, such as specialist teachers and equipment, and Pangbourne College is no exception. For example, as one of only 20 ‘all Steinway’ schools in the UK, we have three concert pianos housed in our Recital Hall and Falkland Islands Chapel.

As an independent school, we are in the fortunate position of being able to continue our one-to-one lessons during the national lockdowns, albeit online. When we reopened in September 2020, we reinstated our individual music lessons, providing over 140 one-to-one lessons in our state-of-the-art music centre, every week. Of course, along with all other schools who have maintained their music provision, we have had to work very hard to adapt our teaching, ensuring that we follow Government guidance at all times.

For most musicians, it’s really important to have the opportunity to perform to an audience, and we really want to continue engaging with our local community. So, instead of ‘live’ performances at local and national events, we have shared recorded versions of what we would normally perform live. For example, our pupils have delivered beautiful performances for a recorded Service of Remembrance, a College Carol Service and provided Advent music for a collaborative service with other choirs in Pangbourne village. We have produced two music ‘showcases’ with recordings of our most advanced musicians which have been shared with the College community online.

Of course, we are a long way from being back to ‘normal’ but I hope it won’t be too long before all schools throughout the UK can reinstate their musical education; it’s far too valuable to allow it to disappear. In the meantime, at Pangbourne College we will continue to provide a safe environment for our pupils to learn, practice and perform music. 

Chris McDade is Director of Music at Pangbourne College, an independent, co-educational boarding and day school for pupils aged 11-18 in West Berkshire.

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