I used to teach in a school. I won’t say where it was, but I was there for many, many years. I made some good friends there, and worked with some fabulous teachers. I loved the kids there – opening up all sorts of musical doors for them. It was there that I refined a lot of the stuff I do now – djembe drumming patters, chair drumming, many of the part songs I teach in choir. There were two very fair and far-sighted principals there.

As an ACMF teacher, I don’t work for the Education department. Most of the time I use that to my advantage – I’m a slightly ‘different’ teacher, and most of the kids I teach get that. Most of the teachers I work with get that too. In the schools I’m in, I understand that I expect a great deal. I will also give a great deal. I expect children to be engaged in my lessons. And if they aren’t, that’s my problem. I will rack my brains to work out how I can engage them better. I expect teachers to join in and learn with the children. I expect musical instruments to be treated with respect. And most of the time, I will expect teachers to teach a ‘revision’ lesson.

This may sound a lot, but let me explain further. Most schools ask for this. They want me to ‘upskill’ their teachers – to teach myself out of a job. I don’t just say to teachers ‘Well, do this.’ I give them a lesson plan, with all the backing tracks they need. I demonstrate very clearly in lessons how to do things. I am extremely methodical. If they want other tracks, or listening activities I will share it with them.

So, back to this particular school. After over-a-decade, you’d think that teachers would have seen what to do. And at the risk of sounding really egotistical, the music lessons I provide to teachers are really good. Really, really good, in fact. There were instruments there. There were backing tracks, both on-line and in CD format.

Sadly, the two fabulous principals I worked under left. Someone else came in. She called me ‘intimidating’ and wrote that my music lessons excluded children (not too my face, mind. Just on paper.). It was time for me to go, and with a heavy heart, I left. It was hard for me to leave a school I loved so much, but the staff had changed, and so had the culture of the school. I now hear that they are involved with a program run by another arts organisation that provides a few days of music training for teachers just for one year group. And that is their music program at the school.

I have nothing against this arts organisation. But we all know that a handful of training days does not an expert make. My reasonable husband said something like “But you should be happy – because a group of children get music lessons.” But we both knew it’ll be not-very-good music lessons.

And after all those years, I feel like I’ve been kicked in the guts. It doesn’t surprise me, knowing this principal. But it still knocked me for six.

I’ve run a number of concerts in schools for Christmas. For me, this is really important. It gives children a chance to perform proudly. It gives them a chance to learn something and really perfect it – I’ll often give a class or year group something that I know will take a number of weeks to really get good, and encourage their class teacher to practise it with them. Usually, it works. And the pride it instils is enormous. At least, that’s my opinion.

Fr every concert I’ll drill kids on how to walk on and off, how to hold their instruments when they move, how to behave on stage. This is from kindergarten (or even pre-kindergarten, when I ran early childhood classes), up to high school. I see this as really useful skills that can be taken anywhere with them – if they need to speak publicly, stand and receive an award – anywhere, really.

I take it seriously.

I have been criticised for this, you know. One principal wrote in a report that I was ‘intimidating’.  They didn’t say it to my face (maybe I was too intimidating? I write that cheekily. I can now see the funny side of this, but it took me some time…), but I suppose I could have been. I’ve been called bossy (but then I’ve been called that for years. Nothing new.). But I produce very good school concerts that run smoothly, and every child performs well. Most of them really enjoy it. Some of them surprise themselves.

And now I get to the point of this post. It’s actually not about the children performing. It’s about the audience.

I know that there’s no point asking why people video things rather than just experience them. I know I’m in the minority there. But why do parents stand up the back of concerts and talk (often quite loudly) during school concerts? Why do they allow their toddlers to run around the room (or even onto the stage?), or sit right at the front of the stage talking loudly? Can they not appreciate that it’s really hard to concentrate when this goes on? Or that I am asking children to do something they as adults probably couldn’t do – and it’s easier for the performers to do this in a quieter environment? We’re not at a barbecue, or the beach. We’re at a concert. And because they are organised to within an inch of their lives, they don’t go for very long.

I don’t understand it at all. I am even more proud of the kids who do focus, and perform really well. I am always amused when drumming starts – it’s impossible to talk over that. But I am perplexed as to why it happens.

I am writing this inspired by a little person I teach. You see, I had a school choir singing in a concert last week. I asked for it to be videoed to see if I could do anything differently, or better. Just for another pair of eyes, really. Standing right at the end of the choir is a little boy – let’s call him Braydon. Braydon has had a really tough life so far. Awful. And yet, he comes to school really cheerfully. It’s not only that part of Braydon’s life that inspires me though. Right at the end of the song, after he’d sung so proudly (and with all the right words, and looking at the conductor, and standing beautifully) he grinned. The sun came out over his face. He was delighted with himself.

Just seeing that made my day. I saw that music makes him happy. I saw that performing, on that day, made him happy. (And he needs all the happiness he can get, does Braydon.)

So I got thinking about what makes me happy. And maybe, after you read this, you can work out what makes you happy. Because then, you see, you can pursue those things, rather than get caught up in the other stuff. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Music makes me happy. Playing it (well, most of the time), practising it (yep – I do actually really enjoy practising…. most of the time) and teaching it. Sharing it with others. Music has always made me happy. I can’t imagine a world without it.

And then, just to contradict myself, silence makes me happy. Not so long ago, my neighbours has renovations done, and the noise – the full-on, quite constant noise really upset me. It surprised me how upset I got. Sometimes no sound is a fabulous thing.

The friendship and love of my husband (and bestest friend) makes me happy.

Friends make me happy. Sitting sharing a glass of wine (or champers, or gin, or cider – not fussed here.) with them. Maybe some food as well.

Lack of clutter makes me happy. I keep passing ‘stuff’ on. By the time I’m in my 60’s I’m not sure I’ll have much left.

Colours make me happy. Colourful clothes, colourful flowers.

Gardening makes me happy. Eating the stuff from the garden makes me happy too. And smug.

Doing yoga makes me happy. Sometimes it makes me exhausted, sometimes frustrated, but mostly happy. The learning behind it – body awareness, breath, patience, persistence – this all makes me happy as well.

Being around cats makes me happy. I love the way they deal with life. When I come back to this earth, I’d like to be a cat.

And drinking tea makes me happy. Good, leaf tea. With just a dash of milk.

Over to you now…. you know my list.

It’s a pretty full-on time for me at the moment. I’m in the thick of school concerts. That means there’s a lot of lining children up, getting them to remember the place that they are on stage (or wherever), keeping their instruments still – this is before the playing or singing even happens.

And this is what I’ve noticed….. I don’t seem to teach kids who are very good at solving problems. Not major problems – like world peace, or keeping Donald Trump from doing stupid things, but little things. Things like if someone is away, and there is a space next to them, to just move up. Or if someone forgets to give them a triangle beater, to go and get one themselves. Or if someone needs to get past them, they need to step forwards or backwards.

A lot of the kids I teach have experienced trauma. And it’s been scientifically proven that this will stop your brains from reacting in any way – it sort-of closes down. They can’t problem solve. This breaks my heart. But other kids I teach have not experienced this. And yet they can’t do it either.

I wonder… why is this? Is this because, as adults, we solve everything? We don’t let kids walk home from school, fall over, hurt themselves and have to sort things out? We don’t allow them to negotiate with their peers? We don’t just leave them alone?

I don’t have the answer here. And I don’t think it’s just one thing.

But it is something I’ve noticed.

Over the last few months I’ve had a few interesting discussions with people about concert programs. One upset me, and one didn’t – and I’m not sure why. It’s made me think a bit about things though….

One discussion was with someone who asked for something ‘modern and angsty’. They were approving the program, so we (me and my associate artist) felt that it was a valid point. I don’t really like this sort of music. I haven’t really liked it for many years now. Luckily for me, the person I was playing with said ‘I have something like this’, and played it in the concert. It seemed to go down really well – but interestingly, it wasn’t the piece that people came up and talked to me about.

The other discussion was with someone who, unprovoked, sent me a slightly shouty email, about how, in their opinion, I worked with too many of the same artists, and played music they didn’t really like. (Bizarrely, this was the one that upset me. They weren’t a concert promoter. They weren’t a professional musician. They were on a music club committee.)

Both of these things got me thinking – and this are my thoughts, in no real order.

I take a lot of time over the programs I devise. I think about keys from one piece to another, and if it’ll be jarring for listeners. I think about how I can link things, and what will go with what. Often the program people will hear in a concert will be the sixth or seventh version of what I start with. Various things get abandoned, or added.

do choose music that I like to play – and what my associate artists like to play. I’ll often program something because the person with whom I’m working has said ‘This is my favourite piece right now’. This generally means, because I love what I’m playing, I play it better. It becomes far more exciting for me, as a performer – and that changes things for the audience, I think.

I work with musicians regularly that inspire me. That means the relationship between us on stage deepens. We can play more organically together, and explore more complex repertoire. We hardly ever play the same thing (someone once asked me ‘Aren’t you sick of this by now?’, and it was only when I walked away they I realised they thought I was playing the same program over and over.)  when we meet again. Admittedly, it is the same sound palette – but with different music. But how many times have I listened to, say, the sixth Brandenburg concerto, or the Mendelssohn Octet? Does this make my umpteenth listening of the piece less than the first time I heard it?

And I don’t often program angsty stuff. I do play music by living composers (I have been criticised by one living composer that I don’t do this enough, but I try and put something in in every program I play…). I don’t like listening to it much – I find it upsetting. Perhaps this is my reaction to hearing upsetting stories of the kids I teach? I want something that is uplifting? I’m not sure. But I know I don’t really like it. It’s made me wonder why I listen to the type of music I do… Perhaps this will change over time. Perhaps not.

I am always a bit taken aback when I meet people and they say ‘Oh, I read your blog!’ – so I’ll ask you a question. Why do you go to concerts? Is it always for the same reason? I think I go to be taken somewhere. I remember once going to an ACO concert – I’d had a really tough week. And for the first time I felt my body relax. I sat and smiled. I cried a bit. And I left feeling totally wonderful. I also go to be inspired by the performers. I don’t go to be challenged. Not at the moment. Maybe that’s close-minded of me. Or maybe that’s just where I am at the moment.

Why do you go?