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How I got into Music, by James

I never really expected or intended to be a music teacher, just like I didn’t expect to study Music at University, or even at A Level! I should explain; although I don’t really remember when it happened, Music was always my passion and it was the thing that I was most interested in. It’s just that in my head, having a ‘proper job’ or following a secure and structured career path was at odds to studying music and the arts. I suppose I managed to convince myself that Music wasn’t an ‘academic’ choice, or perhaps I was concerned about my future employment prospects. I need not have worried; in retrospect, my study of music has opened up more opportunities to me than anything else I’ve done in my life.
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I’ve played the piano for as long I can remember, but I vaguely remember being frustrated because I could play things by listening to them but found making the link between what I was seeing in front of me and hearing much more difficult. I stuck with it, and music theory helped me to fill in the gaps (I still prefer hearing things rather than reading things though!). On starting secondary school, I saw one of the peripatetic teachers playing the saxophone and thought it looked amazing. I started to play, and worked my way up the grades during my time there. Through doing this, I got involved with everything to do with music I could. On GCSE results day, suspecting I might have made a mistake, I changed my course choices for A Level from French to Music, alongside Maths, Chemistry and Physics.

In search of my ‘good career’, I went to university as a Chemistry student. In the summer before I moved after sitting my A Levels, I had a sneaking suspicion that I might have made the wrong choice (in retrospect, I probably should have suspected by then!). It wasn’t that I couldn’t do Chemistry, or that I didn’t like it; it was just that I enjoyed Music more, and I wondered whether there might be a better reason to choose a degree course than the search for a stable career. When I moved up to Durham, I loved the city and the collegiate feel of the university, but I still wasn’t convinced about my course choice. I chose two Music elective modules alongside Chemistry (when I was signing up, the tutor said they had never seen it before). Two weeks later, I made tentative enquiries to the senior tutor in college and she got in touch with the Music Department. They told me that if I wanted, and as long as I had my Grade 8 (which I’d taken on Saxophone the previous summer), I could simply change course!

pianosaxWhilst at Durham, my eyes were opened to a variety of different types of music, performance opportunities and composers who I had never even heard of. However, what I valued the most was the chance to work with like-minded people, and make lots of friends who were interested in the same things as me. I also had loads of opportunities and support in starting to play professionally, and began to do so for weddings and functions as a solo saxophonist, in clubs with DJs, and started my own soul band (‘Souled Out’ – I was very proud of the name!). I also found particular areas that interested me – Acoustics and Electroacoustics ‘bolted’ the theory onto the things to do with sound and computer music that always had interested me.

I always intended to study more, and was all set to stay on to do an MA, but an opportunity came up to train as a teacher; I’d always wondered whether I’d like to teach, so I moved to the North West to see if I’d enjoy it. I just wasn’t sure – but then when I stepped into a classroom and the bustling environment of the school music department I realised that I really enjoyed teaching, working with students, and running the ensembles that formed so much of a part of a school’s musical life.

When I qualified, I ended up getting the amazing chance to build up a new A Level Music and Music Technology department in a brand new sixth form college in Rochdale – and I loved it. A few years later I took on responsibility for the leadership of Art, Dance, Drama along with Music and Music Technology, and saw clearly the value of students’ study in those subjects, along with the wider employability and life skills gained by those who studied them.

I passionately believe in the difference a sixth form college education can make. My career has focused on teaching across the breadth of Music and Music Technology, but I have ended up focusing particularly on the areas that interest me the most – namely Music Technology and Rock & Pop Music. This specialism and focus has led to further freelance work as an examiner, trainer of teachers both across the UK and abroad and as an author of revision guides and study materials to help both students and teachers. I find this work really rewarding, and it complements the work I can do as a teacher.