This is the fifth birthday year of In Harmony Opera North so it felt like the perfect time to catch up with Andy Gamble, Executive Headteacher of the Low Road and Windmill Music Federation. The federation includes both Windmill Primary School in Belle Isle where In Harmony Opera North was first launched, and Low Road Primary School in Hunslet which joined the project two years later.
We asked Andy what had attracted him to the project in the first place:
I was the Head of School at Windmill Primary when I first heard about the In Harmony project. The school had always had a strong singing and musical culture, by nature of the fact that myself and others in Senior Leadership were musical. We would regularly perform for the children in assemblies and took every opportunity to maximise opportunities for engagement with the arts. I knew In Harmony was a special opportunity and one that we had to embrace, particularly knowing that Opera North were to be the partner.
What does music mean to you?
Music has always been a defining part of my life – having been a classically trained violinist from age 8 and going on to get my degree in music, I was fully aware of the impact that music could potentially have. In 1999, I secured my first job at Windmill after teaching a music lesson. Music taught me to be self-disciplined, to understand the importance of effort, aspiration and, ultimately, how to strive for perfection. Music taught me resilience, how to be part of a bigger team and how to interact socially with others. Importantly, it was a portal for perpetual success and a friend for life.
Did your musical experiences inform your decision to introduce the project at Windmill Primary School – and later at Low Road Primary School?
I knew, as an educator, that the greatest gift I could offer our pupils was a chance to experience the same as I had. Introducing the project at Low Road was a natural progression to ensure parity across the schools I lead. It’s difficult to imagine a time we didn’t work with Opera North. The energy and passion it brings to the schools is incredible.
Can you tell us how it works on a day-to-day basis?
All pupils and staff play a musical instrument and engage in choral tuition. The programme is delivered by a team of specially employed Opera North teaching artists who bring a calibre of musicianship which is inspiring. In believing that there is an instrument for everyone, the team has expanded the options from violin, viola, cello and double bass, to include brass and woodwind. Instrumental and choir sessions are embedded within the normal school hours, which means we have to think creatively about how to deliver other subjects, and there are plenty of after school opportunities. We also perform at a range of prestigious venues which gives our children an unmatched sense of pride and value.
In Harmony Opera North is now in its fifth year. Please can you tell us what you think the Top 5 benefits are for your pupils?
It’s hard to narrow it down to five, but here goes:
- Improves resilience
- Facilitates development of pride
- Promotes opportunity (for musical and social development)
- Increases self-discipline, self-regulation and self-management
- Reinforces the culture of success
How about your staff?
The staff benefit in a variety of ways. To begin with, delivery of a specialist subject is now undertaken by experts. We couldn’t dream of delivering such a deep, rich musical curriculum without the expertise of In Harmony Opera North. In addition, staff become learners again. They remember what it’s like to be at the beginning of the process, with all the challenges that presents. This helps them to be more empathetic to their pupils and improves bonds between the learner and teacher, promoting a ‘we’re going to succeed at this together’ attitude. It also gives staff opportunities to develop/ uncover dormant talents, or skills which they have never had the chance to explore for a variety of reasons.
What has been your favourite In Harmony event to date?
I don’t have one. For different reasons, different events and venues evoke different feelings. To see the faces of mums, dads and relatives during living room performances (when the children actually play their instruments in people’s homes) is incredible – they can’t believe what is happening right in front of them. But the scale and grandeur of Ripon Cathedral or Leeds Town Hall is hard to beat. Perhaps when we performed at the Southbank Centre in London. For children and staff involved, these memories will last a lifetime.
Can you sum up In Harmony in five words please.
I prefer to use two words: Life-changing
In Harmony Opera North currently reaches over 1,700 pupils every week in four schools in south Leeds: Windmill Primary School, Low Road Primary School, New Bewerley Community Primary School, and Richmond Hill Academy. We gratefully acknowledge the support of Arts Council England and the Department for Education; the project’s Ambassadors: The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, The Charles and Elsie Sykes Trust, and Trinity Leeds; and the project’s supporters: The Calmcott Trust, The Whitaker Charitable Trust, and the W W Spooner Charitable Trust. To find out more about becoming an In Harmony Opera North school, please contact the Education Team.