Category Archives: School Music

Snappy Christmas is Coming

It’s that time of year again…. SNAPPY CHRISTMAS!!!

For five consecutive years the whole-class workshops have conjured some memorable moments for the children who take part. The jubilation and fellowship that’s shared between each and every child during these events is something that can only be captured at Christmas time. And this is partly the reason behind Snappy Christmas’ widespread appeal; the euphoric atmosphere that’s created is breathtaking for the parents who attend.

Snappy Christmas 2017 featured songs from countries around the world.

This year the scope and scale has not been minimised and we’re hoping for our biggest and most successful Snappy Christmas to date. Returning to the event is the Snappy Music band, formed collectively from TVMS staff, who will perform a medley of Christmas classics as well as introducing the pupils to several Snappy Songs; written, performed and arranged by Tees Valley Music Service.

2018’s event will also feature the largest number of schools we’ve ever had. Over 70 schools will take part in Snappy Christmas 2018 which accounts for more than 5000 children overall across all 5 days.

With the first of the five events scheduled for next week venue preparations have already been made, tickets have been purchased and the Snappy Band have had their final rehearsal. For up to date coverage of our Snappy concerts visit our Facebook and Twitter pages.

View the official dates and venues below from the posters along with the schools that will be taking part this year…



Hungarian Study Tour – First Thing Music Report

“It was a very interesting and disparate group that assembled ready to catch the bus every morning of the week. People from Singapore, Russia, Philadelphia… not just UK acolytes by any means, but all of them with a passion for the strengths of Kodaly-based music teaching. My tour companion was Susan Robertson, the Manager of Tees Valley Music Service, who was curious as I was about what we might learn.

There was certainly some excellent and impressive teaching, starting for me on the Monday morning, with the Kindergarten teacher whose 45 minute session we observed with twenty 3-5 year old children. The children were drawn into the songs and games – they were able to play in other ways if they wanted to – in the play kitchen; at the tables with craft equipment (paper, glue, textiles etc.); in the den; on the carpet with soft toys etc, but nearly all the time, the children were unable to resist the attraction of the inclusive musical games. Sometimes the teacher  used a puppet to create a narrative; sometimes the children recognised the songs and wanted to play the games they knew went with them. Forty-five minutes can be a long time to sustain the voluntary interest of 3 year old children, but there was no pressure involved to keep most of the group engaged for most of the time. The atmosphere was relaxed but lively.

During a group conversation with the teacher after the session, over coffee and various tasty snacks, we learned that this teacher had had daily singing input during her training on leading music with young children, and had to be able to demonstrate both singing and instrumental ability in order to gain the post as a Kindergarten teacher, as well as a thorough grounding in child development and pedagogy.

In the afternoon, Helga Dietrich ( a well-known exponent of Kodaly practice in the Early Years in Hungary), presented a workshop, drawing elements of best practice from her own vast experience, and true to Kodaly methods, getting us to experience them for ourselves.

This was then followed by a stunning demonstration of the power of musical leadership to create an atmosphere of fun, drama, finesse and precision around very young children, (roughly 0-3 yrs). The musical co-operation of the adults in the group was impressively driven by Vicktoria Gal, but the joyous smiles on all the faces of the participants belied the concentration. For the children there was bouncing, a tickling, a sense of beat coming out of the singing narratives, squealing anticipation of their favourite bits of familiar songs etc, but in the parents there was such a group focus it was spell-binding – music making at its most social, but precise – obviously deeply satisfying for all concerned. It was interesting to note that, apart from the Hungarian lute-like Cobza occasionally used by Viktoria to create atmosphere or introduce a song, there were no other instruments handed out to the group – the focus was entirely on the music created by their voices and bodies. No time wasted on clutter!

Over the following days, we were treated to observations of music lessons from 1st Grade, (6 yrs) to 9th grade, (14 yrs). It was fascinating to see how the progression worked itself out, from the introduction of simple rhythms over a steady beat, and a developing sense of pitch from higher/lower, right through to sight-reading Bach and Vivaldi in solfa at impressive speeds, and sight-singing duets from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas on request – something that degree level students might struggle with here!

What was common to nearly all the sessions was the enormous sense of fun and group involvement. Every child seemed to have confidence in their own voice, and their own ability to work round a challenge, (from describing the pattern of a melody in the air while listening with their eyes closed, to writing up aspects of musical notation on the class whiteboard), through the support of the musical group environment. There was usually a sense of a story, an emotional context in which the singing music would be introduced, whether by trying to find the puppet heroine somewhere in the classroom first, or through the teacher describing what their Mum used to sing to them when they were afraid of the dark…it was always a social sharing and interactive process – not really feeling like a subject being studied as such.

Having said that, the progressive accumulation of theoretical knowledge gained through this approach meant that children seemed as able to read music as they were to read words on the page, and to increasingly understand the devices being used to make the music express what it did – beats and rhythms, melody shape, certainly, but also shades of dynamic colour, altering mode by changing mode etc. – the sort of thing that English music students might only encounter in secondary school, and by then probably without being able to ‘read’ the language.

So, what lessons can be learned from this – what aspects of the musical approach in these Hungarian schools could be made relevant to English schools?

At the very least, a child could attend a general primary school that would offer two 45 minute music session per week. Then there are ‘singing schools’ and also schools with a maths specialism and schools with a science specialism if one wanted to attend a singing school, there would be 4 weekly music sessions, plus one extra-curricular activities such as being in a choir, or instrumental lessons, but a child would need to audition in order to get a place. The state education would remain free, (except in the case of instrumental lesson, which involve a nominal charge of £20 for the year). Children in the 1st Grade are making these choices – much younger than such options are offered to English children. Parents who had attended singing schools themselves tend to aim for the same for their children, not only in the hope that the children would become pr4ofessional musicians, (only a tiny percentage of students went on to do this), but because of the percieved overall benefits for child development. (Not unlike the ambition some parents have to get their children into grammar schools in the UK.

Kodaly himself founded two of these schools – the Kodaly Schools in Budapest, and in Kecskemet.

However, reports were that the access to this kind of specialism is shrinking. Where there 167 singing schools a few years ago, now those numbers have nearly halved, and the trainees aren’t coming through.

If the benefits are so plain to the observer in the classroom, then why is this decline happening? Is music the only part of the curriculum to be suffereing in this way? Is this part of a wider focus on STEM subjects across Europe? Or is it down to budget restrictions? At this point, let’s look at the UK again:

In 2011, Feversham Primary in Bradford was 3.2 percentage points behind the national average in English and 2.4 points behind the national average in maths. This year 74% of pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, against a national average of 53%.

The Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb, has just written to congratulate them on becoming part of the top 2% performi9ng schools in the country. A large part of what has turned the school around is the introduction of 4 hours curriculum time a week for music, plus an optional extra two hours for extra-curricular musical activity. The music is being led by Kodaly-enthusiast Jimmy Rotherham, backed up by a committed leadership team.

This sounds very like what is currently accessible in the Hungarian education system, particularly in specialist schools, but which seems to be under threat. Can we afford to ignore the evidence, both in Hungary and in the UK.

There is much to think about, especially in the context of the joint Education Endowment Foundation and Royal Society of Arts funding for Thirst Thing Music, aiming to investigate the impact of daily musical activity in Year One, based on a Kodaly approach. With the input from top practitioners, like the BKA’s Zoe Greenhalgh and Lucinda Geoghegan, teamed with open-minded support and keen interest from Tees Valley Music Service, can we help to put much back where it belongs – arguably right at the centre of child development, if not general human social cohesion? Will we then see a rise in UK schools of the confidence, focus, creativity and playful group cooperation that I witnessed in those Hungarian schools?

It’s certainly worth our best shot!”

– Lindsay Ibbotson, 01/05/18


Snappy Christmas 2017 – Recap

The Snappy Christmas events took place over 5 dates this year and involved 69 schools from Stockton, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland. More than 3000 pupils participated in the massed singing concerts where a medley of Christmas songs were performed to hundreds of parents.

This year, the Snappy Christmas concerts incorporated a theme into the festive celebrations. The theme was ‘Christmas across the Globe’ which included music from different countries. In keeping with this theme, pupils performed the first verse of Silent Night in German followed by the chorus and remaining verse in English as a call back to the Christmas Armistice when British and German soldiers played football on the battlefields of World War One.

Another new element added to the events was the involvement of unique instruments from different cultures, many of which are used in TVMS’ Yangchin group. Other highlights from Snappy Christmas 2017 were the Snappy Songs such as Bad Dog and Can you Imagine? These songs have been written, produced and distributed by Tees Valley Music Service with CDs now on sale at the TVMS Office for £5. All profits will go to the TVYO Tour to New York fund.

To end the event, children performed Feliz Navidad, the Spanish translation for Merry Christmas. in addition to singing in Spanish, pupils memorised accompanying choreography. Snappy Christmas is always well-received by parents and teachers alike, along with the pupils who participate in the event but this year garnered particularly high praise. Below are some comments we received on the TVMS Facebook page regarding Snappy Christmas:

  • “Thank you for such a lovely afternoon. I know how much time it takes to put it all together. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed herself.”
  • “It was absolutely amazing!”
  • “What a fantastic event! The children were amazing and so well behaved, a credit to their schools and parents. The staff were fantastic too. Absolute magic!”
  • “I thoroughly enjoyed this performance. Well done to all the children, teachers and TVMS. My daughter enjoyed participating and hopes to do it again next year.”
  • “What a great concert. Possibly the loveliest Christmas event I’ve ever been too.”

Well done to every pupil who participated in Snappy Christmas 2017. A massive thank you to the schools and teachers as well as to the TVMS Staff who, without the support and dedication, Snappy Christmas would not be possible. And last, but by no means least, thank you to the pupils who performed and the audiences who attended the events. Your enthusiasm and support for music opportunities helps to reinforce a need for music activity in the Tees Valley.

Bring Your Day Alive – First Thing Music Launch

First Thing Music – Official Statement

“It was in the January of 2015 that I first met Susan Robertson from Tess Valley Music Service. We were at a Musinc event in Stockton, and we had been listening to a presentation by Douglas Lonie, Research and Evaluation Manager at Youth Music.

It was becoming obvious that there was a lack of hard evidence demonstrating the impact of music, though there were many encouraging anecdotal reports and observations. I was determined to find a way to ‘firm up’ the situation, and conduct some research in a randomised control format – the nearest thing to a clinical trial that music might be! Susan and I got chatting, and at one point, we looked each other in the eye, saw a shared purpose and shook hands! We were going to find a way to make this happen in Teesside. And thus, First Thing Music was born.

Since then, a lot has happened. I took advice from a senior researcher at Durham University – Dr Beng Huat See, who had co-written the Arts in Education Review 2012, for the Education Endowment Foundation and began preparation for a proposal to fund such a project. As a keen advocate of Kodaly-based music practice, I developed a series of 15 minute sessions aimed at Reception-aged children and Susan put me in contact with 5 schools in the area, inviting them to a meeting at TVMS to explain the approach. Over the summer term in 2016, supported by TVMS I went into these schools for 4 days per week, on the following basis:

  • Class teachers should be involved in the music sessions with their class
  • Head teachers should contribute their observations by participating in at least one session themselves

Over 4 weeks, we kept records of all sessions, including the teacher experience and the observations of the Head Teachers, and Dr Beng Huat See came to look at what we were doing. She felt there was some potential for a randomised control trial, within this format, as long as we felt confident that we could demonstrate real impact through these musical activities.

There were times when the determination was put to the test – several applications for funding were rejected and there was a general lack of resources. The Arts Council funding for Music Hubs across the country did not include anything for children under the age of 5 yrs, though this was where we felt most strongly that the work should be focused.

So, the only option was to continue working unfunded. Fortunately, two Teesside schools (St Francis Primary school and St Mark’s Elmtree Community Primary) were happy to collaborate with me, and assign two interested teachers to work on the project. Over two full terms in 2017, I visited the schools for 4 days per week, engaging the music groups in 15 minute music sessions. At the end, we compared the progress made by the two groups. ALthough the difference across the curriculum was small, it was significant especially in the areas of behaviour, writing and numeracy.

On the strength of these activities we again submitted a proposal of funding, this time to a joint investigation into ‘Cultural Learning’ being set up by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Royal Society of Arts.

This time the application was successful. A grant of £150,000 has been awarded to Tees Valley Music Service, as part of one of the largest RCTs ever conducted in UK schools and the only one focused in the North EAst.

First Thing Music will bring music sessions into 50-60 schools in Teesside and the North East and lay the foundations for music to be part of every child’s education.

Much has been achieved since that first hand-shake, but the exciting thing is that we are only at the beginning….”

Lindsay Ibbotson 

First Thing Music

First Thing Music – Bring The Day Alive!

We can confirm that funding is now in place to begin the Kodaly based research project First Thing Music.  This exciting piece of work is a partnership between Lyndsay Ibbotson, Tees Valley Music Service, The Education Endowment Fund, Royal Society of Arts and the British Kodaly Association.

First Thing Music will bring daily music sessions into 50-60 schools in Teesside and the North East, and lay the foundations for music to be part of every child’s education.

Any schools who may be interested in First Thing Music can look on the FTM page on this site or contact for more information.

Kodaly Project

Awards for Young Musicians

The closing date for ‘Awards for Young Musicians’ 2017 (AYM) is fast approaching. They’re offering over £100,000 worth of grants in 2017 to ensure all young people who are eligible know about how to apply and the benefits this opportunity can bring.

The programme is open to young instrumentalists aged 5-17, all genres are welcomed.

The grant supports a variety of musical costs including instrumental purchase/hire, instrumental tuition, music service or junior conservatoire fees, travel for musical activities, software and much more!

‘Awards for Young Musicians’ work with an independent adjudication panel of music education experts who review every application. The adjudication process will take place across March and April and the Awards will be announced in May 2017 where the grants can be claimed shortly afterwards.

But money to support musical progression isn’t the only incentive the Awards programme can offer. In 2016, they were able to offer more than 100 opportunities to over 180 young musicians, including but not limited to: free tickets to concerts, opportunities to observe professional rehearsals and studio production masterclasses. To stay up to date with the very latest opportunities that have been developed for young musicians please read the most recent newsletter.


Applications are made online on the AYM website.

For more information please contact Hannah Turner, Assistant Director, on 0300 3020023 or email or visit


TVMS Christmas Concert

The TVMS Christmas Concert, which took place on Sunday 11th December at 5PM, was a roaring success. The event saw TVMS premier ensembles Tees Valley Youth Orchestra and Tees Valley Youth Choir being joined by various Teesside schools as they performed a repertoire of festive music.

Taking place at Teesside High, the event was met with high praise with many audience members complementing the professionalism and high quality music making the groups displayed (not just in this concert but also in previous events).

Both TVYC and TVYO yet again displayed to the spectators that hard work and commitment pays off as the complex music pieces were played with seemingly little effort needed.

The photos that were taken from the event can be viewed below:


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Snappy Christmas Underway.

This year’s Snappy Christmas kicked off in style with around 500 children from Stockton on Tees schools performing to over 900 parents and family members.  The following day “Snappy” rolled into the Borough Hall in Hartlepool for another enormously successful event and the next two weeks see a further three; two consecutive days at Eston Sports Centre on December 12th & 13th and a return to Thornaby Pavilion on December 7th due to massive demand, the latter to feature live on BBC Tees!

Summer School Success

In July 2016, two Summer Schools took place at different parts of the Tees Borough. One in Hartlepool and the other in Saltburn. Both were a success as a record number of pupils got involved in the two day event.

The aim of both workshops were to increase the confidence of the pupils who attended as well as provide them with a unique, memorable and rewarding experience. Pupils who attended the Saltburn school even gained a nationally recognised qualification from being a part of the all day workshop. Both days consisted of a morning and afternoon session. The morning schedule included familiar activities such as singing, instrument playing and drumming while the afternoon session offered pupils a chance to try something entirely new! These activities varied from steel pan drumming to art and craft projects.

To conclude the past two days of music making, a concert was put together for parents showcasing everything that pupils had learnt. This final event was met with high praise from teachers, parents and pupils alike. Many had expressed feelings of admiration and awe when watching everything the students had accomplished over the Summer School.

Giving pupils and teachers who were involved in the events a big thank you is appropriate due to their hard work and determination which is the main reason why both Summer Schools were a huge success!



The Ebor Quartet – Matthew Johnson

“The Ebor Quartet was formed in late October 2014. Since then we had been working on large pieces of music for our finale concert on the 2nd May 2015. We love exploring musical pieces composed by Beethoven and Mozart, playing purely for the love of these amazing works. We meet twice a week and push ourselves to play to the highest achievable level a quartet group can possible reach.

Tees Valley Music Service supported all four of us and gave us a solid music education that has benefited us greatly over the past 5 years and I have no doubt will continue to benefit us in years to come. They do such amazing work with young musicians and continue to support their students, past and present. There are many talented people who have helped me to develop my musical ability over the years but two people, I believe, should be praised  specifically. Penny Ferguson (cello teacher) and Jeff Sawdon (area coordinator when I was there)  are two brilliant examples of the dedication the staff give to the young musicians they teach and support. The commitment and enthusiasm The Ebor Quartet has when together is down to the commitment and enthusiasm TVMS staff show towards each and everyone of their pupils.” – Matthew Johnson

Since this quote was documented, Matthew has gone on to achieve a Degree in Cello playing and is hoping to gain a Master of Arts Degree in Chamber Music while studying at York University later in the year.

String quartet 1