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  • Writer's pictureDavid Stanley

An Extraordinary Workshop at 10 Downing Street

Just a few years ago, ‘SEND Music Workshop’ meant children with special needs receiving instruction from school music teachers, local music authorities or renowned orchestras running community outreach projects. The lucky children got to hold a bassoon, sing a song or listen to a virtuoso mainstream musician. Too often these workshops just showed what people with learning disabilities can’t normally access on a regular basis.

Friday June 16th 2023 at 10 Downing Street - 11am.

The heart of UK Government is rocking to the sound of The Music Man Project’s greatest hits. Leading musicians with learning disabilities sing and play with their trademark energy and enthusiasm as they joyfully teach mainstream Westminster Primary School pupils to perform The Music Man Project Songbook. There’s the usual mix of laughter and tears as this once forgotten, and still largely misunderstood community inspires the next generation. Musicians with SEND are the now the teachers and the mainstream school children treat them like rock stars. They’ve come a long way from holding that bassoon...

The Music Man Project’s invitation to deliver a workshop was part of Downing Street’s “Lessons at 10” programme, hosted by the Prime Minister’s wife, Mrs Murty. It was another surreal moment for me, my students and the families I’ve supported for over 20 years. We’ve shared so many special moments together: the London Palladium, the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music, the USS Midway in San Diego, the National Lottery’s TV Advert and Big Night of Musicals, Westminster Cathedral, Painted Hall in Greenwich, a standing ovation from the King – the list goes on. Watching the Prime Minister’s wife dancing the Tango, Gangnam Style and the Floss with my students in 10 Downing Street was right up there.

Our music echoed around the huge Downing Street estate. Midway through our raucous rendition of ‘Note by Note’ I was requested to turn the piano down because “someone was on an important call downstairs”. I swiftly apologised to the Prime Minister when he joined us later. He smiled as he commented that my music and the Ashes Cricket were equally distracting.

As usual, The Music Man Project Global Ambassadors took everything in their stride. They had, after all, already reached over 12,000 pupils across South Essex with their acclaimed performance workshops for schools. The glistening chandelier, priceless portraits of Kings and Queens and photos of past Prime Ministers are not generally found in school assembly halls though! As the session continued I became increasingly paranoid that an over- enthusiastic 'high low middle' dance move would bring the beautiful chandelier crashing down... “Like Only Fools and Horses!” remarked our drummer Daniel with a grin on his face.

It was fitting that we were accompanied by our excellent patron and MP for Southend West, Anna Firth MP, along with her Constituency Secretary and our charity trustee, Julie Cushion. They both represented an important connection to our dear friend and charity President, the late Sir David Amess. We were all sure he was watching over us, beaming with pride.

I would like to thank Mrs Murty and the events team at Number 10 for their kindness and hospitality. The official photographer captured some wonderful moments, including a heartfelt embrace of the Prime Minister by our Ambassador Samantha. Moments before, the Prime Minister got more than he bargained for. Apparently, the PM went left, Sam went right and they both shared an accidental kiss in the middle. It’s a story I’ll tell for years to come!

I was deeply proud to take my most experienced students to 10 Downing Street. It was a highlight of my time as the UK's Disability and Access Ambassador for Arts and Culture. Like The Music Man Project Global Ambassors, my role is non-political and voluntary and I will always be grateful for the oppportunities the position has given me to influence policy makers at the highest level.

For more information about the extraordinary work of The Music Man Project Global Ambassadors please visit our website: Ambassadors - The Music Man Project UK

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