This week, I’m writing my blog as Storm Eunice rages outside my little garden office, and causes chaos and damage across the UK. With the power and internet having been off for over two hours and only limited phone signal, it certainly feels very strange. The meetings planned for this afternoon have had to be postponed or run without me and the lack of notifications pinging on my computer is frankly unnerving. Initially I couldn’t decide whether this situation was frustrating or whether the forced quiet, the lack of distractions, provided a golden opportunity.
In the end I went with taking it as an opportunity and have been spending some time reflecting on the first 6 weeks of 2022, on what is coming next, and, perhaps most importantly, accepting this enforced breathing space as exactly that – time to breathe!
So having taken some deep breaths (just as Tamba Roy told us to in the Music Mark wellbeing session last April), switched my mind off for a little while, grabbed a cup of herbal tea (thank goodness for a gas hob) and lit a candle, I’m ready to take stock.
It has been a full-on start to the year, but then as I think about it, the past two years have been just as full-on. At Music Mark we had a face-to-face team meeting this week (in the throes of storm Dudley, which resulted in fun and games for some getting home) and I’ve also been doing a couple of annual staff reviews with colleagues. A regular theme in the discussions was how much we’ve been doing, how reactionary, flexible and nimble we have had to be in order to support our Membership and the wider sector. Of course that is the key role of a membership association – we are there to support our members, to provide and facilitate connections and to influence on their behalf and we do that primarily as a response to requests. But it does seem as if, recently, there have been more calls for our help.
And this is in part because it has been just as busy for music teachers and leaders in music services, hub partners, other music organisations. Whilst the news reports that COVID restrictions are being lifted across the country, the reality on the ground is that many of the challenges remain. When you also factor in the resurfacing challenges that were there before the pandemic which have simply been paused or exacerbated by it, it can all seem a little overwhelming.
I take another few deep breaths, look out into the garden and see the first snowdrops and daffodils coming up. Even if they are getting a bit of a beating today in this storm, they remind me that this is a time for new beginnings – and I then reflect that this year, that’s also the case for music education across the UK too.
Conversations in Wales, Scotland and England about new or updated plans and strategies are proving to be exciting and dynamic. Each country recognises that music education is vital and they are seeking to find ways to provide equitable, diverse and inclusive opportunities for children and young people. I’m off to Northern Ireland in a few days’ time to find out more about their plans as they continue to merge a set of music services into one. I feel privileged to be part of these national discussions and to listen to the passion of colleagues who are also fighting for a high-quality offer. I realise that a strategy or plan isn’t going to, of itself, solve the challenges in providing an equitable, diverse and inclusive music education, but a unified approach, which celebrates partnership and puts the children and young people at the centre – something that is common across all discussions – is a good starting point.
Whilst not having electricity is likely to be more challenging as it gets dark and less of a novelty if it continues for days rather than hours, in some ways I am grateful for a ‘powerless’ afternoon – of time to take stock. It can often be hard to see the bigger picture or the ‘why’ when we are right in the thick of the day-to-day, so I’m thankful for the chance to do just that today. Perhaps I will even look at my diary for next week and add another ‘power cut’ so I can regularly take a breath and reflect.