Pier 1 and COVID

by Adam Bushell

Pier 1 is East Sussex Music’s inclusive music ensemble, and has existed since 2018. Since its foundation, it has run a centralised ensemble, organised taster sessions, provided training for regular Pier 1 tutors and broader CPD at ESM inset days. The programme has been ambitious and successful – and then, along came Covid.

As well as having to deal with school closures, lockdown & social distancing, the local lead & driving force behind the ensemble Pier 1 was offered an excellent job with North Lincolnshire Council, leading to her departure at the end of the academic year. I’ve been involved with Pier 1 as a tutor since (nearly) the beginning, and have now taken on that role, and am working flat out to re-start delivery in term 4 with a slightly reconfigured project.

Part of Pier 1’s focus in the early days was to foster awareness of inclusive music-making throughout East Sussex Music, and to offer training to all tutors who were interested. We’ve now brought together a regular team of experienced SEND tutors out of ESM to form a solid core for Pier 1, while also developing a broader pool of tutors keen to be involved when delivery goes back to face-to-face.

Of course, our immediate task is to navigate our way out of lockdown – the same as for the rest of you. We have started work compiling a resource pack for schools – something to act as an introduction to East Sussex Music and Pier 1, whilst also providing materials and support for non-music-specialist teachers. It will include a song with multiple parts to play along with including video tutorials, ideas for creative music-making, suggestions for listening & discussion, sources for instrument hire & purchase… We hope to get a lot of useful information into one place, as well as drum up some interest in Pier 1.

At the same time, we hope to be running a project at a special school in Eastbourne. Assuming that current regulations still apply in March, the students will all be together in school with their teacher & TAs, while our tutor group will run three sessions via Zoom. These will be interspersed by 1-to-1 music sessions in which each student will work with one Pier 1 tutor via Zoom, working on creative ideas growing out of the main sessions.

It will be an unusual way to start an ensemble, having not met the students before, but we are looking forward to exploring this mixed way of working. We are anticipating having to create more content for the groups sessions in advance than we might do if we were meeting in person, and we may have a bit less flexibility during the session as a result. We will also need to work closely with the staff in the classroom & make sure that we can work together despite the inevitable timelags.

On the positive side, the young people will already know each other & have some sense of group identity, rather than being a group of individuals meeting for the first time. And perhaps more importantly, they will be able to make music in the room with each – it will only be the Pier 1 tutors participating over Zoom. So even if there’s is still a time-lagging, long-distance element to the music-making, most of the musicians will be playing together in glorious unison.

And in addition, we hope that the 1-to-1 sessions will increase the amount of personal attention and personalised learning that we can offer the young people, and help us build relationships with them.

Following any feedback from this initial project, we hope to use similar models in other special schools around East Sussex in the future. We also hope to start a centralised ensemble soon, inviting young people from around the county to join us for a Saturday morning ensemble based at one of East Sussex Music’s regional Music Centres.

So despite the problems of making music face to face we are still looking for, and hopefully finding, meaningful, enriching and fun opportunities to make music.

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