MUSIC:ED reviews the Bands of The Household Division’s annual concert at Cadogan Hall.

‘What,’ I hear you ask, ‘is Music Education UK doing at a concert by the Massed Bands of the Household Division?’ It’s a cold and frosty night in Central London and here we are in our best bibs and tuckers rubbing shoulders with the Army’s finest – what’s the link?

Quite simply, it’s about careers. Specifically, careers in Army music. Forty new cadets sign up to play in an Army band every year. You can enrol as young as 16 and stay on till you’re 55. You get to train at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, as well as to continue your studies at the London College of Music on the BA Hons or BMus course if you want. And you get to wear a cool uniform.

In fact, the uniform is what this annual concert at Cadogan Hall calls itself after – that and the well-known march by Lloyd Thomas. Scarlet and gold are the colours of the Household Division‘s parade uniform and they deliver military music on State Ceremonial occasions such as Trooping the Colour. Band members are drawn from the Corps of Army Music (CAMUS) and, according to Major General Ben Bathurst CBE in his foreword to tonight’s programme, ‘all of them are passionate about music’.

So it’s with a pleasant sense of anticipation that we settle into our seats and the lights dim to reveal not only the Massed Bands seated onstage but also an assortment of players dotted around the hall, poised to deliver a welcome fanfare. And what a fanfare it is! Stirringly performed by the State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry Band, it’s a fitting start to what the Household Division’s website calls ‘an evening of musical pomp and grandeur’.

The trumpeters are followed by a welcome from the Household Division’s Senior Director of Music, Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Roberts, and an introduction to compere, Alasdair Hutton, best known for his many years presenting the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. This warm, genial Scotsman, dressed from head to toe in tartan, is the perfect host, introducing an impressive array of ensembles, conductors and soloists over the next two hours.

The ensembles range from the small (the Household Division Saxophone Quartet) to the large (the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra). Conductors are drawn from across the Bands of the Household Division while soloists include winner of the 2017 Household Division’s Young Musician of the Year Competition, Stephen Shepherd (saxophone), Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate, Corporal James Sandalls (violin), and Honourable Artillery Company Band reservist, Ben Godfrey (trumpet).

What is particularly exciting about this eclectic musical evening is the range of styles covered – from traditional brass band music to Latin American, from sacred music to jazz, from classical music to specially commissioned new music like Nigel Hess’s New London Suite, performed to a film depicting the hustle and bustle of the capital. According to the programme, ‘this tapestry of London life starts with Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian’s journey across the newest bridge over the River Thames, followed by London Eye which depicts a flight on the riverside wheel and the panoramic views it affords. It concludes with Congestion Charge with its oom-pa-pas, whistles and jeering from the clarinets capturing the stressful attempt of Londoners to go about their business in the face of overwhelming odds.’

What’s also exciting is how well rehearsed and polished the performances are and with what precision they are delivered. Which is not to say that the concert lacks heart. On the contrary, the humanity of each player is evident. From small touches like the choreographed introductions to certain pieces (two players brought the house down with their po-faced pacing to some rather sombre music) to the evident respect afforded by the players to their conductors, there is a sense that these musicians take great pride in their work.

Here’s Major General Ben Bathurst again: ‘The Army is all about talented individuals working as a team and, as a result, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Being in a military band is exactly that, each musician playing their part and being able to depend on each other to do the same. The result is absolute commitment and performance to the highest of standards.’

Which brings us back to the start – careers. Perhaps it’s best to leave you with the words of Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Roberts – again, in the programme: ‘To lead State Ceremonial music has been the highlight of my career and the greatest honour of my life. Throughout my long career within the Army, I have been afforded the greatest opportunities to develop professionally and to perform on the world stage at events that, as a young musician, were beyond my wildest dreams. The musicians you see tonight are the most dedicated, talented and passionate men and women I have had the honour to work with and I consider myself hugely fortunate to conduct them and to work alongside them on a daily basis.’

We head off into the cold, happy to spread the word.

Scarlet & Gold ran from 6-7 December 2017 at Cadogan Hall.

Music Education UK reviews Grand Union Orchestra’s new family show

Grand Union Orchestra (GUO) has been a fixture on the London music scene for over 30 years. Led by composer and multi-instrumentalist, Tony Haynes, it has at its heart the grandest kind of union – that between people of different cultures – although, of course, its name also references London’s great canal, the source of much coming and going in its own right. The orchestra brings together musicians from all over the capital across a variety of musical genres and styles. It also features a host of singers from across the world and these become the voices – and representatives – of the different kinds of music.

Song of Contagion puts the singers at the front and rightly so since their songs tell the story of this new family show. Performed at the recently refurbished Wilton’s Music Hall in Cable Street, E1, the first song, sung by GUO stalwart, Davina Wright, with vocal backing from Mahamaya Shil and Delwar Hossain Dilu, takes us back 150 years to a time when cholera raged unchecked in London and Kolkata: ‘Turn the corner into Cable Street – a sharp breeze from the river catches you, sometimes the scent of the sea… the street remembers.’

GUO stalwart, Davina Wright © Gaetan Bernede

GUO stalwart, Davina Wright © Gaetan Bernede

And so begins an epic performance which not only looks at the history and politics of five diseases but also explores the music of the associated countries and continents. Thus, Song of Cholera moves between the UK and India; Song of HIV between the US and Africa; Mosquito Songs (dengue and zika) between Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil; Song of Broken Hearts (cardiovascular disease) worldwide via London and the music of Marie Lloyd and Mind Songs (mental illness) between Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

This last section looks particularly at post-traumatic stress disorder, described in the programme thus:

‘Three singers (Delwar Hossain Dilu, Jonathan André and Maja Rivic) tell their tales, individually at first, then overlapping. A survivor of the Bangladesh/Pakistan war obsessively recalls being hunted down in the mountains; in Angola, a Portuguese conscript soldier wearied of the relentless jungle warfare attempts suicide; a refugee from the war in Syria tries to console her child, haunted by the loss of her father and husband.’

This provides one of many thrilling moments when four jazz soloists – two trumpeters (Claude Deppa and Shanti Jayasinha) and two saxophonists (Chris Biscoe and Tony Kofi) – improvise frenetically over a climax in which all the singers eventually join, culminating in an echo of a medical orderly’s refrain: ‘Horror of war, beyond what words can tell.’

GUO horns with Tony Haynes (left) on trombone © Gaetan Bernede

GUO horns with Tony Haynes (left) on trombone © Gaetan Bernede

It’s powerful stuff and comes from a place of passion, integrity and protest. Again and again, the show delivers gut-punching, heart-wrenching messages about ‘politicians’ self-interest, patient activism, media headlines, corporate lobbying and national guilt’. Most of the time, the musical performances match the clarity, scope and ambition of the vision but, occasionally, there are weak moments – the odd tuning issue in the string section and, possibly, an over-reliance on the sheet music. Perhaps this is unfair – after all, classical orchestras use scores – but there was a sense that the piece was not quite ready for performance (admittedly, Music Education UK attended on the opening night) and this was exacerbated by the slightly laissez faire attitude of some of the musicians to being on (and at the side of the) stage – don’t chew gum or check your phones, for example! In a piece of such blistering dramatic possibilities, it would have been good to see GUO take the staging to the next level: scale back the music stands, commit to the visual as well as the aural experience. But these are small niggles in a performance with so much heart. (And to be fair, with funding for music other than classical at an all-time low, perhaps there just aren’t the resources to achieve this.)

GUO does a staggering amount of outreach and runs the Grand Union Youth Orchestra (GUYO), providing young Londoners from all cultures and backgrounds with an opportunity to make music together. Both orchestras are hugely deserving and Tony Haynes should be applauded for his unswerving commitment. Song of Contagion is extraordinary, ambitious, heartfelt, mind-boggling. Thoroughly recommended.

Song of Contagion ran from 13-17 June 2017 at Wilton’s Music Hall and will tour throughout 2018.

Header photo: GUO singers (l-r), Davina Wright, Maja Rivic, Mahamaya Shil, Delwar Hossain Dilu, Tommy Vun Chueng Ng and Jonathan André © Music Education UK

Work with video in the new version of Dorico Pro 2

Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2: Review

  • Price information (Dorico Pro 2):
    • Dorico Retail – (boxed) £497, (download) £480
    • Dorico Retail crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £257, (download) £239
    • Dorico Education – (boxed) £300, (download) £282
    • Dorico Education crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £153, (download) £136
  • Price information (Dorico Elements 2):
    • Dorico Retail – (boxed) £497, (download) £480
    • Dorico Retail crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £257, (download) £239
    • Dorico Education – (boxed) £300, (download) £282
    • Dorico Education crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £153, (download) £136


Key information

Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2

Dr Steven Berryman checks out the latest releases of Steinberg’s score-writing software, Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2, a new ‘lite’ version.

My review of Dorico 1 for MUSIC:ED highlighted the benefits of this relatively new software for schools; something that can embrace a more natural, creative approach to writing that might intrigue teachers looking for an alternative.

This Summer (2018), Steinberg released Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2 – a new version – offering even more choice for schools but also an entry-level product in Elements.

The comparison of the two new versions reveals that the entry-level Elements is in no way reduced to prevent some creative work (you can read more here).

The significant difference for me is the flexibility in editing you get in the Pro version. Many students in Secondary schools might not ever use these features so it seems good that other useful things have not been compromised.

The limit of 12 instruments in Elements 2 shouldn’t hinder students’ creativity but I’d recommend teachers try both versions (as I did) to ensure they can make a sensible decision about which would be suitable for their department.

So what’s new?

No review can ever do justice to the wealth of features in Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2 but I was thrilled to see a new handwritten font (Petaluma). There can be a real tyranny of sameness when writing using notation software so seeing some variety (and fonts that are comfortable to read) is good and students will enjoy using this alternative font.

Other subtle but equally striking improvements include dynamics erasing the background when they cross bar-lines (all those times when you’re struggling to make scores look tidy will be no more!). Even more fascinating is that Dorico Pro 2 will play back microtonal accidentals.

Large time signatures are now supported with ease

Large time signatures are now supported with ease

Students will be pleased there is video support and this is an excellent feature considering how prevalent composing for film is in the GCSE and A Level briefs. It would be a great feature to use in Key Stage 3 too – when students are often introduced to film music.


I liked the new ‘System Track’. This reminded me of online notation editor, Noteflight, and how bars can be added and removed, and this would make Dorico a good follow-on for students who have been using Noteflight.

There is a great deal of finesse in the editing potential Dorico Pro 2 offers and, much as this might not be immediately applicable to students in schools, it will be an important set of features for advanced students and those considering further study.

What I love about Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2 is that you can start to write immaculate-looking scores and the time spent fussing over nuances will be saved by the software’s ability to create clean-looking scores with ease.

New tools for Dorico Pro 2

Dorico Pro 2 brings a set of new and very useful arranging/composing and editing tools that includes explode, reduce and multi-paste.

Explode is going to be so useful for students experimenting with how to expand (or explode) material across instruments. When I tried this, I thought the distribution of notes was quite effective but this quick process means you have more time to experiment with the voicing by saving time in clicking in lots of notes. This is going to be a powerful feature for those working on coursework as is the new reduce feature (which does the opposite of explode).

For teachers who are arranging music, these features will be particularly useful as will the new smart staff management features which allow you to create extra staves for solo instruments and ossias and divisi for section players.

Lots of exciting additions to Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2, including support for ossias and other extra staves such as those required for divisi strings

Lots of exciting additions to Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2, including support for ossias and other extra staves such as those required for divisi strings

Many music teachers create bespoke arrangements for their classes and Dorico is going to be a time-saver, and a joy to use, when creating what often can be complex arrangements that attempt to embrace the skills of the individual students.

The way divisi is handled, and how it accommodates at times complex needs, will be of most use to the budding string orchestra arranger.

Elements 2 – a good place to start

This entry level version might be a good place to start if you’re interested in exploring the potential of Dorico. I needed to spend time learning the workflow after decades with Sibelius but I found copying out scores (rather than trying to ‘compose’) helped me to gain some experience of the interface.

Elements 2 has the features of the Pro but has some limitations that should not reduce the creativity of students (such as only 12 players maximum). The new features of extra staves, divisi and reduce/explode are also missing from this version. I’d find these too useful to not have and would rather have the students use the Pro version to benefit from them. If you have ambitious students who are working on microtonal works, they’d also miss this in Elements.

Elements seems to concentrate on the writing process (as Engrave mode is not in this version) which was the feature I found most alluring about a potential move from Sibelius to Dorico. Now I’m finding this intuitive approach to writing very compelling and something I think students would enjoy.

A 30-day trial

I highly recommend music teachers in particular get a 30-day trial of Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2 and have a go: try and do an arrangement for a class or ensemble. You’ll see that some of the editing processes that would have taken some time might now reduce and you can see your scores being even more legible.

I’m enjoying seeing the development of Dorico and teachers should be part of it so that more voices can contribute to ensure it supports what we aspire to do in the classroom and enhances what budding composers want to and could achieve with their composing.

Header image: Work with video in the new version of Dorico Pro 2

About the author

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London (2017-2019).

He previously taught at the North London Collegiate School and the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music.

Steven has examined and moderated for GCSE and A Level Music and contributed composition chapters to two study guides for Rhinegold Education and a chapter for an edited volume from Routledge (2016). He has been a Teach Through Music Fellow and a Teacher Advocate for Music Excellence London in addition to education projects with the Learning Departments of the Royal Opera House, London Philharmonic Orchestra and NMC Recordings.

Steven studied composition at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Cardiff University, gaining a PhD in 2010. Cypher (2010) was selected by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for performance in their Welsh Composers Showcase and was performed by the orchestra in 2011, conducted by Jan Van Steen at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay.

In 2011, North London Collegiate staged Steven’s musical theatre work for a cast of over fifty girls, Juniper Dreams. Opera Holland Park commissioned Steven to transcribe arias by Donizetti for a dance performance, Dance Holland Park, in June 2012 and, the same year, he worked on music for two plays: Jamie Zubairi’s one-man show, Unbroken Line (Ovalhouse, December 2012), and Corpo: Lixa da Alma (Cena Internacional Brasil, Rio de Janerio, June 2012).

Versa est in Luctum was performed in Washington DC in January 2013 as part of the New Voices @ CUA Festival and, in September 2016, LSO Community Choir and students from City of London School for Girls performed Steven’s O Come Let Us Sing as part of Old Street New Beginnings, celebrating fifty years since the joining of the St Luke’s and St Giles’ parishes.

Steven is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art and a Freeman of both The Musicians’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Educators.


Students using Cubase © Steinberg

Cubase 9.5: Review

UK Education prices including VAT
Cubase Pro 9.5 – (boxed) £308, (download) £291 
Cubase Artist 9.5 – (boxed) £171, (download) £153 
Cubase Elements 9.5 – (boxed) £58, (download) £57 
Special educational pricing is available for all Steinberg software products saving 40% off the suggested retail price. There is further discount on site license orders, updates and upgrades.
Please contact your local retailer for more information and price quotes.


Jazz musician and producer, Steve Rose, reviews Steinberg’s Cubase 9.5.

Key information

  • Title: Cubase 9.5
  • What it is: Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
  • Developer: Steinberg
  • Available from: local retailers and the Steinberg website


  • Extensive audio and MIDI manipulation
  • Integration with other Steinberg products
  • PC and Mac compatible
  • Ability to collaborate with other Cubase users over the internet


  • Steep learning curve, especially with Cubase Pro
  • Virtual Instrument sounds can be a little unrealistic

These days, choosing a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) has become a major investment – not only in money but also in the time needed to learn the considerable feature sets that today’s software offers. 

There is a wide range of rivals: besides Cubase, some of the more popular choices are Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, MOTU Digital Performer, Avid Pro Tools and Propellerhead Reason.

Each has a similar overall concept albeit with variations, providing the ability to record both audio and MIDI information, together with extensive editing and creative possibilities that grow ever more sophisticated with each software version.

So why is Cubase 9.5 a good choice of DAW?

Cubase 9.5

While Logic Pro X has become very popular due to its strong MIDI instrument set and editing possibilities, it still runs on an Apple-only platform – so if you have a PC, you’re out of luck.

Cubase runs on both platforms and because it has been around since 1989 (when it was then only able to record MIDI information), it is a mature and well-featured piece of 64-bit software. It is equally suited to recording a large acoustic ensemble, creating loop- and sampler-based modern music genres or making a film soundtrack.

Complete beginners might be daunted learning the workflows associated with such sophistication but Steinberg has various versions in its Cubase 9.5 range, starting with a very basic cut down DAW in the shape of Sequel (currently £68 from the Steinberg online store here), which provides a selection of loops and a basic ability to record audio & MIDI. Here, a beginner can get up and running in a relatively short space of time but they might feel the limitations of the software after only a few weeks of use.

For more sophistication under the Cubase banner comes Steinberg’s Cubase Elements (£85), followed by Cubase Artist (£265), with the flagship Cubase Pro (£480) offering a dazzling array of features. The system requirements obviously grow as the power features increase.

Cubase Pro

As its name suggests, Cubase Pro is aimed at audio professionals and consequently has the biggest learning curve.

As a recording musician for over 30 years, I began using various tape machines at my home studio back in the 1990s but gradually incorporated computers as their power grew. I used an early incarnation of Cubase in about 1998 together with the revolutionary Yamaha DSP Factory sound card – revolutionary because at last computers could record audio reliably, which was a major step forwards.

Now, 20 years later, I was curious to see how quickly I could become reacquainted with the software which has grown out of all recognition since those early days.

Initial setup

Initial setup took me hours when I expected it to be minutes – I can’t say Cubase Pro is very intuitive on this. The relevant ‘Audio Connections’ page required me to enter all the inputs and outputs of my Universal Audio Apollo sound card before I could hear anything at all.

Fortunately, the internet is full of useful videos and advice from many users who have come up against the same problems plus the Manual is pretty clear. Dedicated learning Music Technology sites such as Groove3 also can be worth the subscription fee for the time it takes to thoroughly familiarise oneself with a new piece of software.

I always say learning the idiosyncrasies of a new DAW requires similar dedication and patience to learning to play an instrument. Both can be very frustrating!

Fig 1: The Audio Connections page is where Cubase 9.5 is configured to work with computer hardware

Fig 1: The Audio Connections page is where Cubase 9.5 is configured to work with computer hardware

What can it do?

Having at last got everything working, I began testing out the capabilities of Cubase Pro.

There are thousands of good-quality audio loops already loaded in a variety of styles, together with the ability to slow them down and speed up, fit to a given length, play backwards, drop into a sampler for playback on a keyboard plus anything else the user can imagine.

Recorded audio can be similarly treated, tuned and quantised and Pro offers over 90 high-quality plugins to tweak things still further.

The ability to take a piece of recorded audio and replace it with MIDI blurs the barrier between the two and allows such things as the replacement of drums at a later stage of production.

I like the idea of online collaboration using Pro’s VST Connect software – getting a musician anywhere in the world to play on one’s own track in virtually real time is now a possibility thanks to Steinberg’s groundbreaking features.


While not primarily score-writing software, Cubase Pro can produce decent-looking scores and parts (although they can’t be refined as much as dedicated engraving tools such as Sibelius or Steinberg’s new Dorico).

However, writing basic parts for live performance from, let’s say, a MIDI track can be handled easily even in Elements and Artist but Pro adds more functionality.

I hear there are plans to integrate Cubase Pro with Dorico, which would be an amazing achievement, but as yet it hasn’t happened.

Fig 2: Cubase Pro’s scoring facility

Fig 2: Cubase Pro’s scoring facility

MIDI sounds

MIDI instruments built into Cubase 9.5 are largely centred around their HALion software, a sample player that incorporates over 3,000 instruments in Pro.

I find some of the sounds a little uninspiring when compared to, for example, Logic’s excellent Alchemy but nevertheless, there are plenty of useable sounds, especially when complemented by Steinberg’s other Virtual Instruments.

Certainly, Cubase has a full set of textures on offer right out of the box but for really excellent pianos, strings and other acoustic emulations, 3rd party VST instruments would be better.

Other features

Cubase Pro has excellent Video writing facilities: finished soundtracks can be exported to video directly from Cubase, which uses the same engine as Steinberg’s Nuendo (a DAW dedicated mainly to video and game audio production).

I like iC Pro’s ability to use an iPad or iPhone as a remote control for Cubase, which ends running to and from a computer when recording on one’s own.

Also worthy of mention is the seamless linking to Wavelab, Steinberg’s mastering software, for example, allowing the use of forensic editing tools to get rid of that fire engine that went past during the perfect take at the click of a button.

Who’s it for?

I would say that Cubase 9.5 Elements or Artist has a good balance of features to usability/learning time, perhaps something school students aged 14-18 might put to good use.

For University level, Cubase Pro 9.5 has all the features that would ever be needed while Steinberg’s Sequel might be ideal for younger children to learn the basics of Music Technology.

You can compare the features of each package here.

There are too many facets to Cubase 9.5 to cover in this review but I’m very impressed with the overall feel and unique workflows that Cubase offers. I’m even starting to use Cubase over my familiar Logic Pro X for some recording projects, which must mean I’m a convert!

Header photo: Students using Cubase © Steinberg 

About the author

Steve Rose is a freelance double-bass player, pianist, composer and educator with over thirty years’ professional experience. 

Steve RoseHe has worked primarily as a jazz performer, both in the UK and at festivals across the world, playing with the Jonathan Gee Trio for over twelve years and as a bass sideman for Joe Lovano, Benny Golson and numerous other musicians.

As a keyboardist, he played regularly with Paul Weller, the Fine Young Cannibals and Samantha Fox while, as a session player, he is to be found on numerous film and TV soundtracks.

He has composed extensively for theatre and dance companies, adverts, films and TV and has been composer-in-residence for theatre companies such as Major Road, Strange Cargo and Emergency Exit Arts.

As an educator, Steve has taught at Middlesex University and toured schools and colleges with Rambert, London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Northern Ballet.


Nursery Rhythm Kit

Key information

Music Education UK reviews the EYFS percussion resource

There was big excitement at Music Education UK with the delivery of Drums for Schools’ and Sound Children’s Nursery Rhythm Kit. The large, square bamboo basket was a pleasure to unpack; so much so that we were tapping, banging, scraping and shaking our way through the contents within seconds of lifting the lid!

Fifteen wooden and/or metal instruments cover the basics of world percussion – from the guiro (played all over the world but used particularly in South American music) to the kokiriko (originally from Japan and Korea) – with two copies of most instruments included as follows:

  • 2 animal clackers
  • 2 horio shakers
  • 2 frog scrapers
  • 2 tiktoks
  • 2 agogos
  • 2 one-bar chimes
  • 1 cow bell
  • 1 (small) djembe
  • 1 shaman drum

There is also a book of 30 music cards with ideas for leading Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) music sessions as well as guides to ‘What’s in the basket’ and ‘Where it comes from’. The book, written by Anna Ryder of Sound Children, is not specifically related to the kit – a slight disappointment as it would have been nice to see ideas for using the actual instruments provided – but this is a small niggle given that it is bursting with creatively presented musical activities for children at EYFS.

We decided to trial the Nursery Rhythm Kit during Black History Month (which takes place during October in the UK). We took the kit to four different nursery settings and used it with groups of 12 to 15 two- to three- and three- to four-year-olds in music sessions of up to 30 minutes in length. The teacher (a peripatetic EYFS music specialist) introduced the instruments in sets of three over a number of sessions, allowing the groups to familiarise themselves with the look and sound of each instrument as individual children were invited to handle and play them in turn. This was combined with simple repeating word rhythms (using examples of fruit and vegetables from Africa and the Caribbean) which all of the children were able to join in with – first by clapping and then on claves (provided separately).

Once all the instruments had been introduced, an entire session was devoted to the Nursery Rhythm Kit which was placed in the middle of a circle of children, all of whom were invited to choose an instrument. The teacher used the shaman drum to lead the group while the children familiarised themselves with their instruments by chanting and playing the fruit and vegetable word rhythms they had learned during the previous sessions. The teacher then introduced a simple song from Nigeria which highlighted different children by name as everyone played along to a steady pulse. By the end of the session, children were enjoying holding and playing their instruments, chanting and singing in time, experimenting with pulse and rhythm, working as a group and following a leader. In some groups, the teacher was able to take this one step further by inviting a child who was able to keep a steady pulse to the front to lead the rest of the group using the shaman drum.  Children were excited to be singled out in this way and took pride in wielding the big beater and banging the biggest instrument of the lot in front of their friends!

Feedback from both children and staff was overwhelmingly positive and the Nursery Rhythm Kit was a resounding success. The teacher had a few concerns when she first saw the kit: that the younger children might find it hard to manipulate the larger instruments; that the nature of the materials used and slightly ‘homespun’ feel might result in the odd splinter (not an issue); that some of the instruments (eg the frog scraper) were not as well made as other examples on the market; and – most concerning of all – that the basket used to store the instruments might not be suitable for peripatetic use. This last was the only issue of ongoing concern: the teacher found it difficult to carry the kit with the rest of her equipment (guitar, stand, CD player, props etc) and ended up making two journeys to and from her car to each nursery and from room to room within each nursery. While this would not pose a problem in settings which purchased the kit for use in situ, it was a significant problem for a peripatetic music specialist – one which could be solved with the simple addition of a clasp, hinges and handles to the bamboo basket, preferably made of leather to ensure sturdiness, longevity and ease of carrying.

Overall, the kit is good value at £127.00 for educational use (£181.43 otherwise with a discount for online purchase) and would make an excellent addition to a set of musical resources for children at EYFS, whether that be in a nursery or children’s centre, a child’s home or – with appropriate improvements to the bamboo basket – for use by a peripatetic music teacher or EYFS music provider. Due to the nature of some of the instruments (the tiktoks and agogos have their beaters attached to them with cord), children using the kit should be supervised at all times.


Key information

  • Title: Dorico
  • What it is: Scoring software
  • Developer: Steinberg
  • Price information: Dorico Retail – (boxed) £497, (download) £480 / Dorico Retail crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £257, (download) £239 / Dorico Education – (boxed) £300, (download) £282 / Dorico Education crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £153, (download) £136
  • Available from: / or music shops

Dr Steven Berryman road-tests Steinberg’s new score-writing software

The background to Steinberg’s Dorico – a new notation software to join the likes of Sibelius and Finale – has been told well in previous reviews and music educators might be interested in new software but might have plenty of scepticism towards it too.

Investing in music technology equipment and software is an expensive venture – it needs regular updates and quickly dates. I was keen to see if Dorico offered something that might tackle the frustrations that users have with other programs in addition to matching the well-used interfaces of software such as Sibelius and Finale. I have used Sibelius since the beginning and, while I was not particularly sceptical, I knew it would be a steep learning curve approaching new notation software after so many years of using Sibelius. I went in with an open mind and, thankfully, Daniel Spreadbury at Steinberg (@dspreadbury) was able to give me an introduction to the software at Steinberg’s offices in London.

Bringing it all together

To those of you familiar with Cubase, Dorico was built to make use of Cubase’s audio engine, meaning Dorico has access to the same VSTs and the various procession tools (amp modelling and synths for example). This is good news for those schools or users that might have Cubase already as now you can have the notation editor that can give you a superior result to the inbuilt notation editing facilities of Cubase.

A more intuitive approach to writing

One thing I always found frustrating with other notation software was that you needed to obey the rules of music theory from the outset. In some respects, I needed to know what I wanted to write in Sibelius before I entered it as changing musical details (note lengths particularly) would necessitate bigger changes. For students in the classroom, particularly at GCSE and beyond, I would often see a plague of common time: students entered their compositions without thought to metre but their music would be in common time (4/4) by default. Discovering that they meant their composition to be in triple time meant a hefty rewrite. This is in no way a significant criticism of Sibelius but a flaw in a software as a composing tool. You are not free to express yourself devoid of the rules of music theory. Dorico provides a flexibility I personally always wanted in Sibelius and an approach I use in my own composing: not quite knowing the metre required but writing free of bar-lines and adding in these details once the musical ideas become longer. What surprises you upon using Dorico for the first time is that you can enter notes and the ‘bar’ keeps growing to accommodate. I can add in details such as time signatures later and even change the note values without disrupting the material and necessitating significant rewriting. Daniel called these ‘non-destructive edits’ and you are pleasantly surprised by the automatic re-notation of the material as a result of any edits.

Starting the writing process

Starting the writing process

I missed the ability to move the notes around with the cursor keys as I would in Sibelius when I clicked in the wrong note. I did enjoy being able to add a bar line where I wanted, free of any considerations about my metre. Being able to add the metre later is a real joy and being able to change it and have Dorico re-notate your music correctly in the new metre is a dream. Dorico separates the process of ‘writing’ and ‘engraving’ and it is good that you can save the necessary tweaks to a separate part of the process. I think this is a clear message to students of the work process: set up your score, write your music, ‘engrave’ your music, play it and then print it. As Daniel put it, Dorico looks to ‘stretch what a scoring programme can be: out of your brain into the software’.

I can add barlines where I like, free of metre

I can add barlines where I like, free of metre

I can choose the time signatures after the notes

I can choose the time signatures after the notes

Spacing and parts

Music teachers are endlessly producing arrangements and parts for classes and ensembles and the quality and ease of producing these will be a significant concern to those working with groups. I wanted to see how Dorico would fare with scores I have already produced in Sibelius so I exported these via XML. I opened up a Bach Chorale exercise from a student and this appeared without any error and the look of the score is very pleasing. Extracting parts was easy and the look is excellent and print-ready without much editing needed – though I am looking at very straightforward material.

There are plenty of options to adjust the look of the score

There are plenty of options to adjust the look of the score

Music frames and the potential for handouts

I am probably not alone in trying to create worksheets and handouts for students that feature musical examples lovingly engraved and I have grown fond of the ability to export graphics from Sibelius and be able to insert these examples into documents. Daniel introduced me to ‘music frames’ and the possibilities are quite exciting. An ingenious way of creating a worksheet or handout directly in Dorico without the need of exporting material but also a way of replicating the various instances where you might need a small additional staff on a score (for example, if you are putting the plainsong at the start of a choral work or a small example at the bottom of a score for how an ornament might be realised) or other occasions when you might need to add additional musical details without conflicting with other material. I would need even more time to explore this feature but, already, I can see some quick ways to devise handouts suitable for teaching in a variety of contexts from school to university. Being able to create frames that can be altered in size and remain as editable music and not a fixed graphic is thrilling.

I can add additional music frames without conflict with other material

I can add additional music frames without conflict with other material


Having spent over two decades working with Sibelius and being at the stage where I felt I would not need to look for an alternative software and trying something new and learning the various shortcuts and processes would be daunting, I was pleasantly surprised by Dorico. Of course, it is different but some shortcuts were similar and I was able to discover various processes through exploring. Also, by looking at the impressive YouTube channel, you can discover more about the software and learn in a relatively short space of time how to get started. It might not have a lavish printed manual but having instructional videos is incredibly handy, particularly if you are in a class context and want students to be able to learn various features of the software independently. I recommend taking a look at Dorico – you will be surprised by the intuitive nature of the ‘write’ process and will discover some possibilities that other software has not been able to do with such ease. The Dorico journey is not quite over yet and you might find some features that do not match the likes of Sibelius but, given time, I sense we are going to have an impressive software that is going to allow greater freedom in the composing process not only for those in schools but also those working professionally. Steinberg shows a great deal of energy and support for those working in education and I welcome this as a school teacher. We often pick up our music technology skills on the job and knowing there is a good support network and a dedicated education officer who you can contact for advice is fantastic.

About the author

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London (2017-2019).

He previously taught at the North London Collegiate School and the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music. Steven has examined and moderated for GCSE and A Level Music and contributed composition chapters to two study guides for Rhinegold Education and a chapter for an edited volume from Routledge (2016). He has been a Teach Through Music Fellow and a Teacher Advocate for Music Excellence London in addition to education projects with the Learning Departments of the Royal Opera House, London Philharmonic Orchestra and NMC Recordings.

Steven studied composition at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Cardiff University, gaining a PhD in 2010. Cypher (2010) was selected by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for performance in their Welsh Composers Showcase and was performed by the orchestra in 2011, conducted by Jan Van Steen at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay. In 2011, North London Collegiate staged Steven’s musical theatre work for a cast of over fifty girls, Juniper Dreams. Opera Holland Park commissioned Steven to transcribe arias by Donizetti for a dance performance, Dance Holland Park, in June 2012 and, the same year, he worked on music for two plays: Jamie Zubairi’s one-man show, Unbroken Line (Ovalhouse, December 2012), and Corpo: Lixa da Alma (Cena Internacional Brasil, Rio de Janerio, June 2012). Versa est in Luctum was performed in Washington DC in January 2013 as part of the New Voices @ CUA Festival and, in September 2016, LSO Community Choir and students from City of London School for Girls performed Steven’s O Come Let Us Sing as part of Old Street New Beginnings, celebrating fifty years since the joining of the St Luke’s and St Giles’ parishes.

Steven is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art and a Freeman of both The Musicians’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Educators.



Kings College London-based a cappella group, The Rolling Tones

Music Education UK reviews the vocal extravaganza

The London A Cappella Festival (LACF) is an annual fixture on the UK choral scene, attracting performing groups from all over the world as well as hundreds of workshop participants and concert-goers. Based at Kings Place, with satellite events taking place at nearby LSO St Luke’s, the festival runs for four days and is an ambitious mix of concerts, workshops, children’s events and showcases.

Curated by a cappella supergroup, The Swingles, this year’s festival – the 9th – ran from 24-27 January 2018. Media partners, Music Education UK and sister site, attended on the last day, enabling us to sample workshops, showcases and the final concert.

What struck us first and foremost was the friendly, almost intimate, atmosphere of the event. Festival-goers were in evidence from the moment we arrived, hanging out on the ground floor of Kings Place or chilling in the basement where most of the action takes place. Riding down the escalator, we saw the foyer open up to reveal the showcase stage, situated between Hall 1 (where festival concerts take place) and Hall 2 (which hosts festival workshops). With Vocal Dimension Chorus’s showcase in full swing and an appreciative audience standing or lounging on banquettes or the floor to listen, applaud and sing along, there was a feeling that this festival is as much about chilled-out participation as spectating. Many of the people around us seemed to know each other and we sensed that people come here in groups – families, friends and, above all, fellow choir members.

All-female a cappella group, Vocal Dimension Chorus

All-female a cappella group, Vocal Dimension Chorus

This was echoed in the first workshop where participants were quick to shed bags, coats and even shoes in their eagerness to get comfy for the warm-up – a two-minute meditation-style exercise led by the beatboxer from all-female contemporary vocal group, Musae (stepping in at the last minute to cover for Huun-Huur-Tu, a throat-singing group from Tuvan on the Mongolian border, who’d had problems getting visas). While the rest of Musae watched from the stage, Mel Daneke and fellow singers, Jessie Litwin and Sam Creighton, led 80 of us in a session exploring what it takes to prepare for a performance. It’s always good to feel the fear and do it anyway and we found ourselves sharing some quite intimate experiences, including moving across the floor to music representing water, air, earth and fire, discussing where we feel confident and where fearful and, for eight lucky people, lip-synching a stage performance to a backing track! I found myself next to LACF’s Festival Patron, choirmaster and broadcaster, Gareth Malone, and was delighted to see him getting stuck in as we swam, flew, stomped and sizzled our way through the session.

Musae’s workshop

Musae’s workshop

The second workshop was a sit-down affair in which beatboxer supremos, Grace Savage and Hobbit, talked us through the basics of beatboxing. Not being as au fait with the contemporary a cappella scene as I might hope, it took me a while to work out why beatboxing had been given such a prominent spot in the festival until I realised that a cappella groups performing any kind of music with a groove need a ‘rhythm section’ and beatboxers provide that. I counted about 120 participants in the workshop and it was great to see everyone having a go at this most challenging of musical forms. As before, people were keen to get stuck in and the hall was soon full of impromptu vocal drum grooves and faux-electronic whistles and woofs. The audience had its fair share of beatbox aficionados, all keen to jump on stage and improvise with Grace and Hobbit, and, for me, this encapsulated the spirit of LACF – an event where lovers of a cappella can congregate to listen and learn, share and network and, above all, perform. You could almost feel the thirst for knowledge in the Q&A section and there was no sense that people felt intimidated – rather, this was a friendly community of a cappella brethren, united in the study and practice of group singing.

L-R: Grace Savage and Hobbit improvising with a member of the audience

Post-workshop, we hung out to three more showcase performances by NoVI, The Rolling Tones and The Gold Vocal Collective before making our way into Hall 1 for the final concert by The Swingles. Founded by Ward Swingle in 1963, this London-based group performs everything from Early Music and Bach to contemporary folk, pop and jazz. With effortless blending and consummate control, they are hugely impressive and well deserving of their reputation as masters of their craft. For me, the path they tread between their obvious classical training and the need for vocalese to sound ‘cool’ can be a little unconvincing at times but this is more than made up for by their ability to bring nuance to their dynamics. So many of the other performing groups ‘belted’ their numbers that it was a joy to listen to quiet as well as loud singing!

Contemporary a cappella group, The Gold Vocal Collective

The group was joined on stage towards the end of the night by many of the other festival headliners – including Musae and New York Voices – as well as Gareth Malone. The warm camaraderie between the performers and the audience confirmed that LACF is a labour of love and a place of sanctuary for the a cappella community. Roll on next year!

Header photo: Kings College London-based a cappella group, The Rolling Tones

Novello Guide to Sightreading

Key information

  • Title: The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing
  • What it is: Sight-singing guide and online resource
  • Authors: Ralph Allwood & Timothy Teague
  • Publisher: Novello & Co
  • Price information: £18.99-£19.99
  • Available from: / / (with a 5% discount)

Choral director, Brian Cotterill, reviews Novello’s new sight-singing guide

Ella Fitzgerald once said that ‘the only better thing than singing is more singing’. A major problem for so many potential singers though has always been how to sight-read. Sight-singing is different from sight-reading on other instruments because it involves pitching notes oneself, rather than ‘simply’ playing the correct note.

As a choral director, I have often found that the most useful singers in a choir are not necessarily those with the best voices but those who can sight-sing accurately.

This work – and it’s much more than just a book – is a fantastic publication. It can be used by students, teachers and choir directors alike. There is so much in it that it is, dare I say it, the ultimate resource.

Sight-reading has always been the scourge of music exam candidates. The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing should be in everyone’s music case. The authors have used their huge experience to produce the first truly interactive resource to teach the art of sight-singing.

The book

As a text book, this will be of immense use to singing teachers in lessons with their students but can also be used by students on their own, outside lessons. Although necessarily extremely detailed, the book guides the student through the theory and skills required to sight-sing effectively, notably rhythm, intervals, melodic shape etc. I particularly like the way the authors advise students how to pitch intervals – a common difficulty among singers.

The exercises are cleverly chosen from ‘real’ pieces of music and each one focusses on a particular aspect of sight-singing. The annotated musical examples in the book, while initially appearing quite daunting and reminiscent of university students’ analysis assignments, on closer inspection give a vast array of tips and techniques to improve one’s skills.

Screenshot 1

Additional Case Studies, Example 1

The book provides explanations, exercises and tips and tricks covering:

  • basic music theory
  • scales and stepwise motion
  • larger intervals and awkward leaps
  • fast and effective reading of choral scores
  • examples from popular choral repertoire
  • general good practice for choral singing

I don’t know of another book which brings such a thorough approach to the art of sight-singing. Singers are taught to notice things in a score as they sight-sing (arpeggios, scale passages, repeating patterns etc), aspects of sight-singing which are crucial.

Additional Case Studies, Example 2

Additional Case Studies, Example 2

The book is extremely thorough; indeed, perhaps a little too thorough for use by a student on his or her own. Nevertheless, for use with a teacher or by a choral director, it is a box of delights.

The online Soundcheck resource

The unique aspect of The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing is its online Soundcheck resource. By logging into SoundWise, not only is the whole book available as an E-book on screen but also all the exercises are available for practice, each pitched for both high and low voice.

Once the chosen Soundcheck exercise is on screen, the student can try to sing it (through the microphone of his or her computer) and the performance is then ‘marked’. The student can try each exercise as many times as he or she likes, hopefully improving his accuracy. ‘Stars’ are awarded to celebrate achievement.

Following a successful ‘performance’, the student is encouraged to do a ‘lap of honour’ by singing the exercise again. This helps confirm the skills used (and also checks that the previous performance wasn’t a fluke!).

SoundWise's Soundcheck resource

SoundWise’s Soundcheck resource

This online resource is of huge value and is the main thing which, for me, puts The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing in a different league from the old and crusty sight-singing books I have on my music shelves. Here, for the first time, the student can practise the art of sight-singing on his or her own with an online ‘teacher’ who marks every exercise instantly and will do so 24 hours a day – fantastic!

The SoundWise online aspect of The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing can be accessed on all media devices, including phone, tablet and personal computer, so is available for use anywhere – in a lesson, at home, in school etc – I even tried it in the bath!

In conclusion, I highly recommend The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing. It will no doubt establish itself as an extremely useful resource in the choral world. If I have one reservation, it would be that the book can appear too detailed for the student working alone, especially if he or she is young, but for use by adults, teachers and choral directors, it will doubtless prove invaluable. Ella Fitzgerald would have approved.

About the reviewer

Organist, pianist, choral director, composer and teacher, Brian Cotterill spent over seven years as Director of Music at Lanesborough School (the choir school of Guildford Cathedral) before becoming Director of Music at St Edmund’s School in Hindhead, Surrey, where he oversaw the running of seven choirs every week.

He has undertaken choir tours to Salzburg, Rome, Venice and Tuscany, which have included performances for Pope Benedict XVI. Brian is the official accompanist of Song Circle, a chamber choir formed from members of the BBC Symphony Chorus.


In the Gap

Key information

Primary Music Specialist, Finn Ros, tries out a new book and CD introducing young children to improvisation

In the Gap! is a brand new, beautifully illustrated book and CD, aimed at introducing young children to improvisation within their individual and class music lessons. Written by musician and teacher, Hannah Brady, it lays out each lesson clearly with original catchy songs and ideas.

The seven songs cover a range of topics including healthy eating, Spain, traffic/vehicles, weather etc. The activities are suitable for learning purely as a means for encouraging improvisation and building confidence in the classroom or, alternatively, these songs could be built up to be performed as concert pieces. The pieces are suitable for a variety of instruments and both concert and Bb transcriptions are included.

I used the upbeat song, Vamanos Amigos, in my Year 5 ukulele Wider Opportunities lesson and, I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about the idea of getting 30 lively 9-10-year-olds to improvise but they absolutely loved it! I found the planning clear and helpful. I personally adapted it to work with my class but I believe that it would be just as successful delivered exactly as prescribed in the suggestions. The song was immediately popular and the performance track got them dancing; always a good sign… We were able to have an in-depth conversation about improvising and I found that even those who were not keen on it in the first week were enthusiastically joining in by Lesson 2, trying out new techniques and commenting on and complementing each other’s efforts.

The song can easily be adapted to instrumentalists of varying levels, from the very beginner to small ensembles, with different parts to play. Planning, as mentioned, was very straightforward as each song comes with such a comprehensive set of notes including information on and suggestions for:

  • Style and background of song
  • Things to listen out for
  • Rhythm work
  • Melodic work
  • Improvisation

In the Gap! suggests that it is suitable for use with Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) straight through to Key Stage 2 (KS2). I believe that the Early Years would enjoy listening to and perhaps singing some of the songs but I think that the activities are far more suited to KS2 as the EYFS are naturally inclined to improvise anyway so it might provide too much structure, therefore limiting their creativity. Having said that, I can see some of the simpler songs working with, for example, a Key Stage 1 (KS1) recorder ensemble.

In the Gap! provides opportunities for experienced and less-confident music teachers alike to plan and deliver engaging lessons, with opportunities for the children to improvise creatively alongside learning fun new songs, for performance opportunities or purely for the experience. Piano parts for the songs are available to purchase separately on the website for £3.99.

All in all, my students and I enjoyed the experience of using In the Gap! and it has given me the confidence to experiment with improvisation more in my planning. I would recommend it to KS1 and KS2 peripatetic and Wider Opportunities teachers alike.

About the writer

Hannah Brady is a musician with considerable teaching experience across different settings – from Whole Class delivery at KS2 to workshop leader for Sheffield Jazz.

Her recent projects include partnerships with Jazz North and Sheffield Music Hub.

Twitter: @HannahIntheGap

About the reviewer

Finn Ros is a trained Primary school teacher, specialising in Early Years and Music Education.

In 2011, she founded Crescendo, which provides quality music sessions for Early Years children across London.

Twitter: @crescendouk

In the Gap! on Soundcloud

Review: MusicGurus’ ‘Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques’

This two-part online course taught by Stefan Grossman costs £15 per part

Key information

  • Title: Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques
  • What it is: Two-part online guitar course
  • Presenter: Stefan Grossman
  • Publisher: MusicGurus
  • Price information: £18 per part
  • Available from: Part 1 / Part 2

Guitarist and teacher, Robert Ahwai, checks out the online guitar course

MusicGurus publishes a collection of varied online courses taught by accredited performers (the gurus) on their respective instruments and available at various prices in the form of instructional videos, supported by pdf. downloads. The full range of courses, prices and levels of ability required can be viewed on the MusicGurus website.

The course that most appealed to me was the two-part Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques, partly because the acoustic guitar is going through a renaissance at the moment with many young, successful artists – such as singer/guitarist, Ed Sheeran – using fingerstyle picking in their accompaniments. In fact, I find I am teaching more acoustic guitar than electric these days because of these artists. On top of this, the course is taught by Stefan Grossman, whom I know to be a master of his craft as a blues/folk guitarist (the only other MusicGurus tutor I’ve heard of, to be honest, being the great Chet Atkins on The Guitar of Chet Atkins course). So I thought I’d check this one out at £15 per part. I will refer to the tutor as Mr Grossman out of respect for the great man.

The parts are conveniently divided into short video sections or ‘lessons’, each no more than about five minutes in length, some just two minutes, which makes it easy to go back and view the sections again to fully understand the instructions – a bit like re-reading a short chapter of a book to make sure you are following the plot. A great idea! It is also very easy to scroll back to the right place, using the small inset ‘stills’ that follow the cursor.

The quality of the video (on this course at least) is excellent, with close-up camera angles on the guitar providing a clear view of Mr Grossman’s skilful finger work. Coupled with his very precise instructions, delivered in simple terms, at a good pace and with a voice that is easy on the ear, I enjoyed listening to him and picking up new ideas. Some of the sections are just old video footage of legendary guitarists performing one of the classic tunes being taught with Stefan Grossman then playing his own interpretation in the next section. This, I found rather unnecessary as, with just a link to the video on YouTube, I could have checked it out if I’d wanted and not wasted valuable lesson time if I hadn’t. There was not much to be learnt from the old, grainy footage, I thought, and it looked like padding to me.

Although I think the course is excellently presented and taught, I’m not sure I would recommend it to my acoustic students, who are mostly in their teenage years, simply because of the very narrow style of music played. Despite a brief preview describing the course as ‘Mr Grossman explores the world of Fingerpicking’, he focusses exclusively on ragtime blues music, which was popular in the 30s and 40s and still has its niche today but which young learners will most probably find too corny to relate to. I know from experience that style is important when trying to teach music to young people and, if they can’t relate to it, they will reject the whole package (‘baby with the bathwater’). Having said that, some pupils, on being introduced to ragtime, may find the genre interesting and pick up on it and, of course, there are the more mature learners who may particularly want to learn old-style blues, as played by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in the 40s, and even up to the 60s in the folk revival period, but, to be honest, it’s not something I have ever been asked to teach.

I would love to see a more modern version of the course with a nod to more contemporary artists who use this style in their playing. To go back a bit, I can think of the music of Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, George Harrison (Here Comes The Sun), coming right up to date with the likes of Ed Sheeran as I’ve mentioned, Jason Mratz and James Bay – to name just a few. Some of the earlier names above may not register with my students but the style of the music would definitely strike a chord. I hope MusicGurus can come up with such a course as the cost works out at about the same as a private lesson and you can watch it over again with all the extra information provided. Now that I would highly recommend!

To sum up, I think the Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques course is very well presented but, with no disrespect to Mr Grossman who is an excellent guitarist and teacher, the content is too dated for me.

About Stefan Grossman

Stefan Grossman is an American fingerstyle acoustic guitarist specialising in blues and folk music.

He was influenced by old blues recordings of artists such as Woody Guthrie and Reverend Gary Davis, with whom he studied for several years. Active in the folk rock scene in America in the early 60s, he travelled to Britain in 1967 where he stayed with Eric Clapton and began playing in folk clubs with British guitarists such as Bert Jansch and Ralph McTell. Later, he returned to America and started to produce instructional videos for his own record label, KM Records.

About Robert Ahwai

Robert Ahwai is a self-taught guitarist and teacher with over 30 years’ recording and gigging experience with artists and producers such as Chris Rea, George Michael, George Martin and Brian Eno.

He has been teaching in schools and privately for several years, in all styles, while still actively touring with Chris Rea.

El Sistema

Key information

Music education lecturer, Jonathan Savage, reviews the latest critique of the Venezuelan project

Geoffrey Baker’s new book, El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth, is a stinging critique of the Venezuelan instrumental and social music education programme. Baker’s research is far-reaching, drawing on observations of the programme throughout Venezuela and interviews with key participants in the programme and students themselves. As a piece of qualitative and ethnographic research, it is beautifully constructed. Throughout his book, Baker is at pains to justify his assertions about the programme and, when necessary, points to the limitations of his research and the conclusions therein.

Following a general introduction, the book is divided into four main parts. Part One introduces the institutions of El Sistema and the various people involved, notably ‘el maestro’, José Antonio Abreu, the conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra. Part Two addresses the issue of music education and pedagogy within the programme before Part Three considers the issues of whether or not the programme has made a positive social impact. Finally, Part Four considers the wider impact of El Sistema, including the political, economic and cultural impacts both claimed by proponents of the programme and evidenced through Baker’s research. The book closes with a fascinating set of alternative proposals for music education in the twenty-first century that might, Baker suggests, provide a broader, more inclusive and pedagogically rich experience for children than those found in El Sistema.

As someone with a broad interest in music education and an active researcher, but nothing more than a general knowledge about El Sistema drawn from listening to fellow educators and researchers talking about the movement within education conferences, reading publicity about the programme and commenting on evaluations of ‘spin-off’ programmes here within the United Kingdom, I was thoroughly engaged with Baker’s critique of El Sistema throughout all four parts. Baker’s carefully worded and eloquent prose is evidence indeed that all that glitters is not gold (and the elite Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra can certainly glitter!).

I note in other reviews of Baker’s book that his critics have argued against his research methodology and methods. I have no complaints on this front. Baker adopts a qualitative, ethnographic approach throughout and is entirely aware of the limitations of such a methodology. His methods too – formal and informal interviews, observations of the day-to-day business of El Sistema (including rehearsals, lessons and administrative activities in different regional centres, the study of documents and written evidence) – have their limitations but, again, Baker is completely candid about this. Throughout the book, you will find statements like this:

The scope of my research is limited. … This book is not a comprehensive or conclusive narrative but rather a critical, informed analysis of some of El Sistema’s key actors and core claims. … I can only open a window onto these complex realities; there is much more to explore, many other research methods to be applied, and a vast number of stories still to be told (p20).

Whilst this opens up Baker’s approach to criticism, I take this as a major strength of the book, its author and its critique of El Sistema. Baker has very challenging things to say about the El Sistema model. For him, and many other cultural observers, El Sistema is a testimony to Abreu’s mastery of the dark arts of politics and economics, driven by his autocratic management style, his intolerance of competing visions and a relentless pursuit of power (p47). Its benefits for participants are musically, socially and culturally compromised by this.

For example, as a social development programme, Baker argues, El Sistema is conceived as a cultural and educational continuation of mid-twentieth century modernist theory. It’s large, centralised and top-down development structures are characterised as paternalistic, authoritarian and exclusive. In all aspects, Baker argues, it swims against the tide of progressive thinking in arts education (p107).

In terms of music education, too, Baker is highly critical of the model adopted by El Sistema. He questions the legitimacy of the orchestra as a positive social, educational or professional environment for the development of young people’s musical skills. His research reveals that large numbers of classical ensembles are permeated by social dysfunction, questionable ideologies and pedagogical flaws (p132). All of these and many more are evidenced through El Sistema and reach their pinnacle in the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra, which, he claims, exploits children mercilessly in pursuit of ‘excellence’ in its grand-scale, staged, performances across the world.

Despite the significant and worrying nature of these assertions, for a music educator such as myself, Chapter 6 and its focus on learning and teaching in El Sistema is perhaps the most troublesome. Here, Baker exposes numerous aspects of El Sistema’s pedagogical approach and critiques them rigorously. Amongst other things, he explores:

  • The intense and exploitative work schedules of the young musicians that have resulted in a ‘work-centred’ rather than a ‘child-centred’ approach to learning (p134 & p139)
  • The sequential and repetitious nature of the lessons and rehearsals (p135)
  • Hierarchical and teacher-centred pedagogical approaches that underpin an old-fashioned view of teaching as ‘transmission’ and fundamentally undermines children’s own sense of musical creativity (p136)
  • The limited musical repertoire and the consequent effects this has on children’s ability to play more fluently across musical styles or engage with their own folk musics (p140)
  • Limitations in pedagogical approaches adopted by established teachers and through peer teaching, with an emphasis on ‘teach as you were taught’ rather than an openness to more contemporary approaches to teaching and teacher education (p142)
  • The lack of critical thinking, or any divergent thinking really, in El Sistema, which fails to give children the opportunity to stop and think for themselves and certainly does not allow for any dissent from students or teachers about the pedagogical approach that is inherent within the programme (p144)
  • The mono-dimensional nature of music education within El Sistema, which prioritises musical performance to the exclusion of everything else and leads to students having major gaps in their musical knowledge when they move onto other musical studies (p147)
  • The devaluing of Venezuelan traditional and folk music as legitimate alternatives for music education

To sum up this important chapter, Baker states clearly, and I would agree with him on this, that El Sistema’s ideology and practices ‘lie far from much recent research on music education, equity, and social justice’ (p150). Furthermore:

El Sistema argues that learning to play orchestral music will make you a better person; critical educational theory suggests that focussing on orchestral music may curtail genuine education and lead to social oppression rather than justice. (ibid)

One of the most worrisome sections of Baker’s book comes in Chapter 10, Realities, Dreams and Revolutions. Here, Baker discusses issues relating to allegations of sexual abuse within El Sistema. Baker describes the ‘relative normality of sexual relationships between teachers and pupils’ (p227), reporting one ex-Sistema musician as describing the programme as ‘like a chain of secrets and favours – like a secret society’ (p228). Baker has found no concrete evidence that these allegations or suspicions are true. Here, particularly, he is open and transparent about the limitations of his study as a foreign ethnographer and musicologist. However, the regularity with which allegations surfaced across the data he collected through interviews, conversations and via document analysis of internet forums was striking. Following on from numerous criminal prosecutions for sexual abuse of young children, from institutions such as Chetham’s School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music, and with further criminal prosecutions to follow within courtrooms across the United Kingdom, it seems that the issues associated with sex and music education are, sadly, only just beginning to be uncovered both here and abroad.

Given the scale of the ‘success’ of El Sistema, it is not surprising that there have been copycat models developed throughout the world. By late 2012, Baker cites models in around fifty countries on six continents (with over 70 projects inspired by El Sistema in North America alone). Whilst many of these projects are built upon El Sistema’s illusions as much as its realities, Baker is careful not to tar all these projects with the same brush. Rather, he claims that many have improved on the traditional El Sistema model in many ways, notably through a more rigorous and productive use of educational evaluation and public transparency. However, the traces of El Sistema are only too evident in movements such as Sistema Scotland which, he argues, is still in ‘thrall to the orchestra and classical music, and shows a dismissive attitude toward popular and traditional music’ (p306).

Baker’s book closes with examples of how El Sistema has been genuinely superseded by other, more productive in his opinion, models of music education across the globe. Citing examples such as Sheila Nelson’s string project in Tower Hamlets, Peter Cope’s Scottish fiddle project and the Musical Futures initiative, he argues that more progressive models of music education such as these have significantly more value that the state-sponsored, modernistic, bureaucratic and tyrannical model found in El Sistema. Whilst El Sistema has undoubtedly opened up ‘extraordinary space for music education’ (p322), it is suited to a bygone age, the nineteenth rather than the twenty-first century. Whilst its ‘elite’ performers stun audiences around the world:

‘… problems lie just beneath the surface; skeletons are rattling in the closet; experts cannot continue forever to confuse propaganda and fact, or to ignore the gulf between progressive theory and conservative practices.’ (ibid)

About the author

Geoffrey Baker is a Reader in the Music Department at Royal Holloway, University of London.

His books include Imposing Harmony: Music and Society in Colonial Cuzco (2008), which won the American Musicological Society’s Robert Stevenson Award, and Buena Vista in the Club: Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution in Havana (2011). He has also created a series of ethnographic films about childhood music learning in Cuba and Venezuela.

About the reviewer

Jonathan Savage is a Reader in Education at the Faculty of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University.

He is Managing Director of UCan Play, a not-for-profit company that runs consultancy, research and training as well as providing a point of sale for musical instruments, audio and video technologies.

He is a widely published author, having published over 14 books for Routledge, the Open University Press and SAGE as well as numerous academic papers.