On 31st December 2020 it was officially announced that I am to receive an award from Her Majesty The Queen in the 2021 New Year Honours List. There are many categories, but mine was "Medallist of the Order of The British Empire" for services to people with special needs in my role as CEO and founder of The Music Man Project. I was over the moon!
I have taught in this industry for over 20 years but I never imagined that my work would be recognised in this way. I am a big advocate of the Honours system. I think it is motivating and encouraging, and I certainly feel inspired and re-energised to campaign even harder for my cause. It is of course lovely to be personally commended, but the biggest reward is that it will open more doors for me to create even greater opportunities for my students in the future. I always hoped for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall but duplicating my education service around the world was beyond my wildest dreams. With this Honour I will double my efforts on behalf of musicians with learning disabilities, who I proudly describe as the best of humanity.
The House (trade magazine for Parliamentarians)
I accept this award on behalf of our entire international family. There are so many people who have helped me on this journey, such as all the regional directors, teachers, carers, volunteers, designers, filmmakers, photographers and fundraisers. However, I must make special mention of the following:
Jenny Hitchcock ("The Music Lady"). Jenny has been alongside me almost since the very beginning, first as my student and volunteer, and then as co-lyricist and Regional Director of our headquarters in Essex.
Natalie Bradford (national charity Director). Natalie was the first to duplicate my teaching method entirely independently in another region and she has written a PhD based on my teaching.
Sarah Mann (national charity Director). Sarah's inspirational teaching and leadership has built a thriving Music Man(n!) empire in Kent which drives me forward in my own work. Sarah is creative, tirelessly hardworking and generous in equal measure.
Marc McOwens ("The Boss"). Without Marc and Southend Mencap none of this would have been possible. I owe him everything.
I also thank the trustees of the Music Man Project charity who have shown such faith in me and the project. Finally, I pay tribute to our incredible musicians and their families. They are my inspiration and the reason I have the best job in the world.
As important as it is to celebrate this special moment, we must not forget that 2020 ended amidst great turmoil and uncertainty for everyone. Two decades after this adventure began, the restrictions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic brought everyone to a standstill. The New Year looks equally bleak and once again we are forced to rely entirely on online learning and communication across all our Music Man Project regions.
I was immensely proud to witness our community adapting to the challenges of lockdowns. Our music has actually reached thousands more people through all the Zoom rehearsals, Facebook live sessions, YouTube videos, video calls, virtual concerts, podcasts, blogs and doorstep visits. Thanks to the National Lottery and Government funding, we were able to deliver £6000 worth of musical instruments for isolated families to play at home. Some regions returned to in-person teaching, with all the rules and regulations that entailed. I thank everyone who made this possible and congratulate the students who coped so well and kept smiling. See my blog "The Music Man Project's COVID 2020 - A Video History"
At this time, we think of those members of our musical family who did not make it back to our classes; those who have been in isolation for almost a year; those who do not have the means or support to access the internet. They must feel totally abandoned. We do not yet know the long-term impact on their health and wellbeing, but we will need to show patience and understanding when they do finally integrate back into society. It is so important that we don’t forgot them.
The original Southend Mencap Saturday music school, which was the forerunner for the Music Man Project we know today, has of course been closed since March. I particularly miss the children and it was wonderful to work with some of them at Glenwood School and Kingsdown School. We were delighted to record and produce a special Kingsdown School Christmas CD this year which you can hear on my Christmas Special Podcast.
In 2020 we tragically lost three members of our musical family - students Elliot and Riley and David Cater, charity trustee and father of our resident conductor, Daniel. Our hearts go out to all their families. We will always treasure the memories of their time with us.
Fundraising and donations continued to help both local regional organisations and the national charity to maintain provision and even develop new services. It was wonderful to see our musicians performing again, albeit in virtual concerts which raised money and awareness, and gave something for us all to smile about. The central charity has the big advantage of minimal overheads because everyone works voluntarily, but fundraising continues to be as vital as ever, enabling us to support vulnerable people living in the most difficult circumstances.
2019 was memorable for our Royal Albert Hall debut and TV advert appearance. But 2020 shows us that this global campaign for accessible music education and inspirational performance opportunities continues whatever challenges we face. We will get to Broadway! We will start up new centres in the UK and reach new continents around the world! We will break more world records! We will return to the Albert Hall! We will have our own purpose-built facility too! Not even a global pandemic can stop us! And if anyone doubts our determination we must show them how far we've come already...
On behalf of the trustees at The Music Man Project UK, it is my honour to wish you all a better 2021, full of Peace and Hope.