A pioneering new service has been launched to provide professional online lessons and fun music challenges for children in North Wales to ensure they don’t miss out because of the coronavirus restrictions.
The platform, totally-music.com, has been created in record time by the North Wales Music Co-operative whose peripatetic teachers would normally tour the region providing singing and instrumental lessons to individuals and groups of pupils in different schools.
From a standing start once the lockdown was imposed, it took just eight weeks to set up the online service with backing from the Welsh Government, Wrexham and Denbighshire county councils.
The North Wales Music Co-operative includes two sister organisations, Denbighshire Music Co-operative and Wrexham Music Co-operative, which were set up after funding for peripatetic music teachers was cut.
Now they have come together to offer a face-to-face live online platform via which they can directly teach pupils who are learning from home.
The hope is that schools and parents will get firmly behind totally-music.com and encourage pupils of all ages and skills levels to sign up.
Professional guitarist Wyn Pearson, the artistic lead of the new website who is also one of the tutors, said: “Totally Music is a brand new resource for teachers and parents and guardians aimed at ensuring the wellbeing of children of all ages.
“It’s a fun-filled website packed with video tutorials to promote the musical development of our youngsters.
“A project like this would normally have taken several months to complete, if not longer. But we have managed to get it up and running within weeks which is a real achievement.
“We’re all extremely proud of the service and the opportunities it offers to children who may not otherwise have access to music lessons. The aim is to provide access to high quality music resources, with a focus on fun.”
According to Rachel Piggott, the mother of one gifted young singer from Denbighshire, the service was a Godsend, preventing her son Henry, nine, from falling seriously behind in his music studies.
Rachel said: “It’s so beneficial. If it were not for this there was a real danger that Henry could have fallen back a grade on his singing. That would have been a desperate shame as he works very hard and puts so much energy into his music.
“The lessons follow the same principles that they would do in school but the only difference is Henry is here singing at home. It’s quite nice as we can all hear the latest songs he’s learning.”
Henry, a pupil of Ysgol Bro Cinmeirch, in Llanrhaeadr, said: “It’s just like having my teacher come into our home only it’s via the screen.
“I can talk to her live, go through exercises and she tells me how I’m doing and what to practice between lessons. It’s really helpful and enjoyable too.”
“What’s really good is that it helps me focus and it slows my brain down. It helps me relax and stops me worrying so much about the coronavirus crisis and all the news headlines.”
Heather Powell, the head of service in Denbighshire and Wrexham, said plans were already underway to launch an online platform when the Coronavirus epidemic struck and that made the need for it all the more urgent.
She said: “We really had to act quickly to get things moving and make the service widely available to ensure the wellbeing of children of all ages.
“As well as lessons we put together a fun-filled package of online music challenges and games for children.
“For instance, we have a beat-box challenge with well-known Welsh Beatboxer Mr Ed Holden aka Mr Phormula. In this challenge we teach the children the basics of beatboxing and how the sounds are made.
“Children need no equipment to be able to do many of our sessions thus making it very accessible when in lockdown and at home’’
“We are adding more content to it all the time and every Monday we will send out the programme timetable to schools so they can send details out to kids learning at home or use as a quality resource in class.
“It is bilingual, too, so children can have lessons and enjoy music related activities in either English or Welsh.”
Heather added: “This is a service which we hope will continue to be widely used long after the lockdown is eased and social distancing measures are hopefully reduced.
“We see it as a valuable addition to our existing services, making music lessons more easily accessible to children of all ages. Learning to play an instrument out of school in the less pressured environment of their home is something children truly enjoy.”
The chairman of Denbighshire Music Co-operative, Councillor Mark Young, said he was hugely impressed with the quality of the service and the speed with which it built from a purely ideas stage into reality.
He said: “I witnessed one session where a teacher even taught a pupil how to restring their guitar online. This is an online generation and through initiatives like these children – and adults – have the potential to learn new and exciting skills no matter where they are based.
“Music is a vital part of all our lives, it has the potential to change our mood, and bring communities together like no other medium, which is why I feel privileged to be a part of something so tremendous. A lot of hard work, time, effort and resources have gone into creating this online service which I wholeheartedly commend.
“I call on everyone, schools, families and individuals to support it and keep Wales’s long famed love story with music at the heart of our communities.”
Denbighshire Councillor Huw Hilditch-Roberts, Cabinet Lead Member for Education, Children’s Services and Public Engagement, said: “The council is delighted to support the launch of the Denbighshire music cooperative’s new online resource, Totally Music.
“We have continued to work alongside the cooperative to ensure that the best resources are available for our learners in Denbighshire – this is especially important at this time as we all work toward successful blended learning.
“The new resource focuses on both well-being and fun and this is something as an authority we are keen to ensure reaches our pupils both at home and those in school at the moment – we wish the cooperative the very best in this new online resource and we look forward to watching it develop.”
Wrexham violin teacher Sophie Davies-Ngom says the feedback from her online pupils and their parents has been hugely positive.
She said: “I love doing the lessons online. It’s safe for everyone involved and all my pupils have taken to it quite naturally. I’ve found their concentration is increased and they see it as aen entertaining thing to do, in no way a chore.”
Her sons, double bass learner Fallou, 10 and cellist, Seris, particularly love the free, fun challenges part of the package.
Fallou said: “I love music and, because I’m tall, the double bass is the perfect instrument for me.
“Though Seris and I don’t currently do the online lessons we can still access the fun inter-active tasks which are a big part of totally-music.com and are fantastic.”
Sophie added: “In the longer term it will also make learning an instrument so much easier for children faced with time constraints or who have no transport to get to lessons in the wider community.
“I’m really hopeful that schools will endorse and support it, helping spread the news to pupils and their parents about the brilliant new service that is totally-music.com.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Austin Bowers, headteacher of St Mary’s School, Brymbo, near Wrexham, also welcomed the launch of totally-music.com.
He said: “It is a brilliant additional resource to schools who are keen to keep music alive in the curriculum and the community. I totally endorse it and would encourage all music learners to get on board.”
Phil Wynn, Wrexham Council’s Lead Member for Education, said: “We’re very pleased that the Wrexham Music Co-operative has developed these online learning resources to support our schools during these difficult times.
“The interactive and engaging sessions were well-received by the pupils, parents and staff in the schools where they were piloted recently, and we’re excited to be able to rollout the offer now to all Wrexham schools.
“The resources can be used to supplement the schools’ own blended learning offer and can be accessed by pupils whether they are at school or at home. We look forward to seeing this valuable resource continuing to develop over the coming weeks.”
To find out more about the online service or to book lessons go to www.totally-music.com