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Bridget’s Blog: ‘Tis the season

11th December 2023

Bridget Whyte CEO

By now most of you will have sung at least one carol, eaten a mince pie and perhaps become an expert in exactly how many days (or hours?!) it is till you can finish for the holidays! We all look forward to the end of December, whether we celebrate Christmas, another religious or secular holiday or we simply welcome the opportunity to hibernate for a week or two. However, we also look back at the year as we approach its end reflecting on what we’ve achieved or not. Did the New Year resolutions of 2023 stick, did we achieve what we hoped? 

At Music Mark, this time of year gives us a chance to share our achievements for the last academic year and reflect on our Annual Survey (completed by over 400 of our members in the spring). Previously we have published an Annual Review, but this year we’ve embraced technology and gone to social media – to Instagram to be precise. 

Hopefully many of you have been following the Music Mark Advent Calendar? The posts celebrate what a year of busyness we had through graphics, videos and quotes. I have to admit that I hadn’t quite realized how busy we’d been! 94 events in a year is such an exciting statistic. In my first year at Music Mark I think we ran perhaps 10?! The events highlighted on Instagram demonstrate the diversity of what we offer – for those who lead, teach and support music education. Whilst the number of events is a useful stat to quote, it’s the content and its value that is important of course, I am excited to see some really important topics being discussed and training offered in 2024. 

Whilst it is great to have our collective reflections across December in our Instagram posts, for me, when reflecting on 2022/23 (and creeping a little into this academic year too), there are perhaps three stand out moments: 

The Talk into Action conference – running across the country (and thanks to various strikes from November to May) with virtual and in person events was a logistical challenge, but with so many great sessions and learning opportunities it was definitely worth the increase in grey hairs! For me a highlight would be the keynote from a head teacher, from Southend, at our Derby conference day, although there were so many more I could mention including the fabulous Open Up Orchestra performance in Newcastle. We’ve had another conference now, learning from the series in 2022/23. Our two days in Southampton were just as exciting, and I’m not sure if Hampshire Youth Jazz Orchestra or the students from Rap Club got the larger cheers! I know that many of us were blown away by our Keynote – Dave Coplin – and will be exploring how Chat GPT could help us (although this is all my own work – honest!). 

With such a large network in England to support, it could be easy to forget that we are a UK-wide organisation. But we are delighted to have the music services in Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, the MOD Music Service in Cyprus, as well as all the Music Services in Wales in our membership. With that in mind, my second highlight was our first face-to-face Regional Meeting in Wales in the spring this year. Kindly hosted by Cardiff and the Vale Music Education, we had a great day talking through the exciting developments being implemented as music educators across Wales begin to deliver the new Welsh National Plan (published in May 2022). Despite being slightly challenging to bring all the music services from across Wales together in one place thanks to the country’s geography, with the help of running the meeting hybrid we had some really valuable discussions. And I think there will be more exciting developments in our programme of support, connection and influence in Wales to come in 2024! 

And linked to our Instagram posts yesterday and today (11th December), perhaps unsurprisingly my 3rd highlight is securing significant funding to increase the scale of our support, connection and influence. I have always seen Music Mark as a ‘sector support organisation’ – supporting the music education ecology through training, events, resources and of course support at a local, regional and national level. And from 2018 to 2022 we were fortunate to receive funding from ACE to expand our support for Music Education Hubs, especially during and following the COVID pandemic. However, it wasn’t until April 2023 that we were officially recognized by Arts Council England with funding for that role. We heard back in November 2022 and much of 2022/23 was about planning and setting up to be an IPSO – Investment Principles Support Organisation. The most significant element of this was the expansion of the staff team. I started at Music Mark in June 2017 and was one of three staff. We are now a team of 12 full- and part-timers. You can meet them all on our website and in 2024 I think it very likely that you’ll get to know them all more! 

2022/23 was certainly a busy year and the start of 2023/24 didn’t let up. As we cross over the calendar year marker later this month, I’ll be taking a breath, but know it will be back with a bang in January with lots more to do. Our membership is our priority and we’ve been listening and learning from you and hope that is reflected in what we’ve achieved. Reflecting on my new year’s resolutions and plans… the key thing I said I would be in 2023 was ‘Bold’ – one of our core values. We’ll continue to be Bold, but I plan to add another of our core values to my work – useful – how can I and the wider Music Mark Team be useful to you in 2024?