Music tutors in North Wales have hailed as heroes for coming to the rescue by pioneering online lessons during the pandemic.
Musicians’ Union education officer David Barnard praised the way the not-for-profit Wrexham and Denbighshire Music Co-operatives acted swiftly after school premises closed when the COVID-19 crisis escalated.
He said: “They should be extremely proud of the way they have set the standard for others to follow in online lessons delivery.”
The sister co-operatives were among the first to move instrumental and vocal lessons online at the start of the first lockdown in March 2020. They have maintained an extensive programme of online lessons ever since, building up to hundreds of lessons a week and surpassing many of their counterparts in England.
Two parents whose children benefitted from the lessons are Kathy Davies, of Coedpoeth, Wrexham, and Alison Tardivel, of Ruthin. Both praised the co-operatives for keeping children tuned in to creative arts.
Online tuition will now continue to be offered even as Wales looks forward to the return of socially distanced in-school lessons.
Music Co-operative founder and head of service Heather Powell thanked all the tutors for stepping up to the challenges of maintaining music education over such a difficult period.
She said even she was overawed by the amount they achieved during lockdown. It had exceeded all her expectations: “Online learning has been a huge success for us in 2021 with many new pupils engaging in digital lessons.
“At our peak we are delivering almost 800 lessons a week.
“We have delivered lessons across the region and worked hard at further developing our online resource – www.totallymusic.com. The tutors have been real heroes
“They are naturally keen to get back to live lessons where possible, with the use of perspex screens and sticking to social distancing health and safety rules. We encourage as many schools as possible to take up the chance of restoring in-class music lessons through our service over coming months.
“But it’s important to note how much we’ve all learned through this online experience and the value of keeping the provision permanently in our armoury in future.”
Her words were echoed by David Barnard a UK Musicians’ Union leader, trombonist, conductor, lecturer and freelance consultant specialising in music education.
He said: “I can’t praise Denbighshire and Wrexham co-operatives enough. Heather and her team embraced the challenges with real positivity. They were 100 per cent determined to maintain access to lessons for pupils who benefit in terms of musical education and general wellbeing.
“They’ve been pioneers in the field, the success they achieved is admirable. It goes far beyond that attained in some other regions. There are areas of England where take up of online music lessons has only reached about 30 per cent, but Denbighshire co-operative has been consistently above that from the start.”
One school where the online service proved invaluable is Ysgol Bro Cinmeirch in Llanrhaeadr, near Denbigh
Headmistress Gwennol Ellis said: “In usual circumstances 36 per cent of our pupils have music lessons through Denbighshire Music Co-operative. Out of those 65 per cent have continued with lessons during lockdown.
“Parents told us how it helps to enhance their childrens’ creativity, concentration and wellbeing.
“Many of our music learners have a good rapport with their tutors which they would miss if the online facility wasn’t available.”
Among them are Ysgol Bro Cinmeirch pupils, brothers Lucca and Nico Tardivel. Lucca, aged 11, has singing lessons with professional opera singer Sioned Terry, and Nico, nine, is learning guitar with tutor Alex Cartwright.
Their mum Alison Tardivel, of Ruthin, said: “During the first lockdown we chose not to sign up for online music tutoring for the boys. But we definitely noticed how much they missed music. So when the second lockdown kicked in we opted to take up online lessons through the co-operative and never regretted it.”
According to his headmistress Gwennol Ellis, Lucca’s singing voice is ‘angelic’. He recently had his lessons extended from 15 minutes to 30 as he prepared a piece to enter the Urdd Eisteddfod.
Alison said: “His tutor Sioned has been brilliant. It’s lovely to hear him singing and both boys practising in the week. It took away some of the isolation of home schooling.”
Lucca’s teacher, Abergele-based Mezzo-soprano Sioned Terry, said Lucca was full of enthusiasm.
Sioned, who has performed with artists including Catrin Finch, Wynne Evans, The Tenors of Rock and leading male voice choirs, said she welcomed the chance to teach online via Denbighshire Music Co-operative.
She said: “Opportunities to perform live dried up completely over the last year and face to face teaching was impossible with the required social distancing. But the co-operative has been a Godsend, allowing me to continue tutoring and singing.
“It and other online facilities have helped keep music alive. Heather has driven this facility forward and I thank her enormously for affording me this opportunity.”
Coedpoeth mum Kathy Davies applauded the co-operative in Wrexham. She said her son Ysgol Bryn Tabor pupil James Booth, aged eight, had his piano lessons online.
She said: “We bought him a keyboard for Christmas after he started piano lessons at school, but then the lockdown happened and we feared he would never get to fully enjoy it. That’s why we arranged online tuition. The keyboard has a piano option and James would set it up at the computer.
“He put his musical keyboard in front of the screen where the computer keyboard would normally go. Then he set the computer camera to face it so the tutor could see the keys. He also had a book with exercises to learn in preparation for lessons. It’s been a great way to boost his confidence ready for when he returns to live music lessons in school.”
Denbighshire Music Co-operative’s Artistic Lead, Wyn Pearson, who created online videos to promote the tutoring service said: “Pre-Coronavirus we had already thought about offering online options for students but the pandemic pushed this idea forward immeasurably. We knew teachers and performers could not do their jobs and pupils could not access lessons unless we adapted our service fast.
“We worked all out to provide the best possible online lessons and I think we can be proud of what we have achieved. It is hugely satisfying to know so many people have given us such heartfelt positive feedback.”
The co-operative use Microsoft TEAMS for its online delivery and lots of pupils have continued to sit online exams and take part in music competitions during lockdown.
Heather said: “My own children have continued piano, drum and saxophone lessons online. As a full-time working mum, I know firsthand that this has been hugely beneficial to their mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic.
“Many of our free school meal learners have also engaged with online lessons, and we have also been busy working virtually with young carers and children with additional needs.”
For more information about Denbighshire or Wrexham Music Co-operative, and their in-school music lessons visit: www.denbighshiremusic.com or www.wrexhammusiccoop.com and for information about online tuition sessions and recreational music activities visit: www.totallymusic.com