Student concertinas all packed up and ready to start a new primary school concertina teaching project. This will be the fourth year I have taught the English concertina to Y4 pupils in Peterlee, County Durham.
Here is an article I wrote about the project in 2015 for the ICA magazine.
10 children, 10 weeks, 10….CONCERTINAS!
On a drizzly Thursday morning in Peterlee, East Durham, I am sat with 10 triumphant Y4 students who have just completed their debut performance for the rest of their year group, playing the English concertina. The concert was the culmination of a 10 week teaching project in Howletch Lane Primary School, where I led weekly sessions with the 8 and 9 year olds.
From the first lesson, the students were intrigued by the number of buttons on the instrument, and it took considerable concentration for them to coordinate moving the bellows and pressing the buttons. They loved the sound of the concertina, and were keen to perform on their own for the rest of the group. Using a system of colour coded notes, (the colour of the button corresponding to the musical notation) the children learnt to play 5 pieces over the 10 sessions, developing from 2 note pieces, to trickier tunes using 4 buttons (C, B, A and G.)
During the final concert, students proudly presented and demonstrated the instrument to their peers, their enthusiasm and sense of achievement obvious. Children in the audience were fascinated by the performance, and were brimming with questions about the concertina, and the students’ experience of learning to play it.
A particular highlight was a week when one girl came to the lesson excited to tell me that her great-grandfather used to play the concertina. She was thrilled to be continuing a family tradition.
This is the third time this project has run in the school, part of Durham Music Service provision, funded and enabled by generous ICA support. In 2012 I applied to the ICA committee for a grant to purchase instruments to establish a primary school teaching project to raise the profile of the concertina amongst children in County Durham. With the funding from the ICA, and a few individual donations, I was able to purchase 11 instruments to begin the project. After a trial project in 2013, the school has bought the project in addition to their traditional woodwind, brass and string tuition for two successive years.
The project has not been without its challenges. The Scarlatti instruments we use are cheap, but unfortunately have design faults, the most problematic being buttons frequently sticking in when pressed. This is frustrating for the pupils, it can waste time in lessons, and requires time maintaining the instruments between each session.
As a concertina player first and foremost, I was thrilled to see the children’s enthusiasm for the concertina, their determination to develop their skills, and the pride and ownership they took over the instrument. When asked at the end of the performance, if they would like to play the concertina, there was an almost unanimous raising of hands among the audience…surely an encouraging sign.
Unfortunately, the lack of good quality, low priced instruments is a barrier to mass take up of this kind. The Jackie, of course, provides an ideal starting point for many players, at a lower price than older instruments, but to purchase these on a larger scale for projects of this kind would require much more substantial funding.
I feel passionately that if we are to successfully encourage young people to take up the concertina on a wider scale, we need a playable, durable, low-cost instrument, in line with the entry level models available for other instruments.
Judging by the buzz of post-concert excitement as they pack the instruments away, there is no shortage of enthusiasm for the concertina amongst these young people.
I would like to thank the ICA once again for their financial support and encouragement which, in a climate of cuts to music education funding, was essential in establishing this initiative.