Music Is The Great Leveller
2nd November 2020
Penny Rawlings, Manager, Preludes, The Bristol Ensemble
Preludes, the education arm of the Bristol Ensemble, works in areas of Bristol that are experiencing high levels of economic disadvantage and aims to put music at the heart of every child’s education.
It is run by manager Penny Rawlings, one of a group of dedicated music professionals, whose work aims to put enjoyment, confidence, coordination, speech and language skills into children’s education.
Penny, who left her work as a music teacher, said: “From the beginning, the schools absolutely loved it. They could see the value of it and doing music with kids in poor areas was really important.
"Some of the children have special needs and can easily feel like failures because they can't do as much academic work. But then you stick them in the music class and the roles might be totally reversed.
"They can do the music, or they can at least be equal. Music is a great leveller, we make sure that everyone can do it and not just those who are perhaps more academic. The teachers love it because it does level groups up and it makes sure that those children who are not succeeding in other areas can succeed in music.”
As one of the fantastic causes who benefit from the £30 million raised every week by players of The National Lottery Penny believes the funding has been “crucial”, especially this year: “A lot of charities who support us have had to cut back due to the pandemic so it's vital in us carrying out our work.”
Forced to curtail their activities due to lockdown, the group made 16 videos to send to schools using the music teachers who usually taught them – in some schools they were also able to continue teaching some vulnerable children – in addition to 45 online recitals with freelance Bristol Ensemble players who were in urgent need of work.
“There can be a lot of vulnerable children in those groups, so if they're not going to school, they might not eat that day. For us, it was trying to keep some of those more vulnerable kids going, giving them something to look forward to,” she says.
"We put in a lot of sessions of music for these children, largely in Knowle West and Lawrence Weston, but we had kids coming from other schools coming in as well. We were providing quite a service, there.”
After creating two videos dedicated to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of which is a comic take on the Lockdown experience and the other the Barber Adagio, Penny says the group’s latest plan is to reproduce a Vaughan Williams work from exactly 100 years ago. These two videos were both performed by the Bristol Ensemble players.
But, she adds, “More than anything, we just want to get back to normal.
"You're trying to teach music, going into schools, and some rules say that you can't use any instruments, or you can't sing.
"Every school and place has different rules. It's quite challenging!”