by Michael Betteridge, 15 year old work experience participant, and performer in the London Youth Folk Ensemble.
The meeting at Chelmsford’s Civic Centre was my first experience of the Folk Educators Group, and I found it incredibly eye-opening and a very good exploration of the whole range of folk education. The educators present had very eclectic backgrounds and ways of teaching, from the kind of music they grew up with, to the exercises they use in classrooms. It felt to me like everybody present was genuinely dedicated to their work, and interested in exploring how folk is taught.
The day commenced with round the room introductions, showing how the participants varied from step dancers from traditional and well versed families, to classical musicians trying to learn about the nature of folk. From here, the first presentation was given by EFDSS’ Sarah Jones and Rachel Elliott. They discussed the progress they have made with the National Youth Folk Ensemble, and explored future plans as well as the formation of the group. This was significant as it showed by far the broadest project explored. As the name suggests, the Ensemble is designed to engage with the entire country.
This presentation was followed by that of the hosts of the event, Essex Music Education Hub. Charly Richardson, the Lead Officer of the Essex Music Education Hub, clearly and deeply explained both the implementation of the hubs and their philosophy and aims. This explanation was very useful for people like me who did not fully understand the nature of the hub system. The presentation went on to explore the Essex Folk Song Discovery Project that Essex Music Education Hub and EFDSS are undertaking together, and provided an excellent example of a successful project, as something other educators can learn from.
Dave Delarre (excellent professional folk guitarist and one of the leaders on the Essex Folk Song Discovery Project) followed. He charismatically demonstrated the teaching he uses with primary school children, exploring the techniques and methods he uses and demonstrating them for the purposes of similar projects. I felt as if he successfully engaged the group, similarly to how he (presumably) engages the children he works with.
At lunch, the entire conference was immediately friendly and welcoming. The educators were open and inviting, and I had the opportunity to discuss various folk experiences and backgrounds, which I found to be one of the most beneficial parts of the meeting.
Immediately after the break, Katie Howson took us through a history of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust. This provided insight into a particularly traditional and regional organisation; I was impressed by how specialised the work was, however this means it would not be totally applicable for every folk educator, due to the regional nature of the organisation. Similarly, this was followed by a step dancing workshop. As someone who had no real experience in step dance of any kind, there was a certain amount of assumed knowledge that felt alien to me as somebody from outside East Anglia.
In contrast, the presentation that Otis Luxton gave on his work with Aldeburgh Young Musicians (alongside the Young’uns and Folk East festival) was quite universal, and showed techniques that anybody could learn from. It was clear that AYM did not feel limited by the genre of folk, or by the fact that most participants played classical instruments or instruments like the sitar that are not commonly taught.
The final experience of the day was for me the most interesting one. To finish the day we were tasked to design and give a pitch on a project in groups. My group focused on youth, and we planned to tackle the challenges of rural isolation and depression using the powers of folk music and regional pride. Although the project was entirely fictional, it gave me an excellent view on how real projects like these were formed, and showed me what is thought about and what can make these ideas successful realities.