As a class music teacher in the 1970s and 1980s, my aim was to get all children playing instruments as well as singing – so for me, the TV Coke advert became “I’d like to teach the world to play”.
In teaching whole-class keyboards, guitar and tin whistle with children aged 7 to 14, this ambition was pretty well realised, and the 15 guitars that I bought from Moore and Stanworth’s in Leicester in 1978 are still in use at Winstanley High School, hanging from the pegs where I first placed them 35 years ago (photo evidence can be provided!).
I first saw ocarinas in museums in Latin America, whilst backpacking from San Francisco to Tierra Del Fuego. After running out of money in Buenos Aires I started busking with ocarinas, tin whistles and a silver flute to earn the funds to fly home.
Through these experiences, I realised that in class, the ocarina could be by far the best instrument ever invented. I gave up teaching for a while to develop the English 4-hole ocarina and its music for use in school. That was 30 years ago.
So what is it like for me, a company director of Ocarina Workshop, to be invited to teach 4,000 people to play a musical instrument together in the Royal Albert Hall?
Well, in recent years, I’ve been teaching increasing numbers of first-time ocarina players in Primary Schools. Along with my wife and fellow director Christa, we’ve taught 500 Junior-aged children at a time to play ocarinas from scratch and make a good sound after only 50 minutes.
The impact of these sessions is phenomenal. Once a child realises they can play a musical instrument so easily, they go on to even greater things. Comments like “I feel like I’m playing in an orchestra” and “I can play proper tunes” are frequently heard as children read the Ocarina Workshop music tablature and play a full octave of notes effortlessly in minutes. Rather than a ‘Tune a Day’, it can be more like a ‘Tune a Minute’ with the ocarina. And it will have to be like that at the Royal Albert Hall.
The challenge for me as teacher on the 5th November is to harness such a large group of children and adults of all ages and abilities to give a professional performance. Although we only have nine minutes to prepare on the night, the children on stage and in the audience have been working hard for weeks so our performance of “Ode to a Joyful New Star” should appear effortless. Parents have also been practising, using our online teaching resources, to give a good concert performance.
The challenge for me as company director has been to gain the sponsorship to allow all this to happen. Music for All is one of six sponsors who are helping us to start simply, with the ocarina, to create something massive, a world record and a generation of all-age musical instrument players who see how easy and enjoyable it is to make instrumental music together – playing, not just singing. We’d like to thank all who are supporting us in this Guinness World Records™ record attempt, which will raise substantial funds for Barnardo’s.
And the next challenge? The New Music National Curriculum for England requires all children aged 5 to 14 to play tuned musical instruments in whole-class music from September 2014. This is where I started in 1976. Ocarina Workshop is ready to equip schools and the music trade for ongoing musical, and business, successes in the coming years.