One of the biggest secrets of The Music Man Project is to keep it purely about the music. When I started teaching two decades ago, I had no training in disabilities, syndromes, behaviours, medication, social care or even clinical Music Therapy. This was actually the key to my early success. I taught the individual rather than the disability with higher expectations than some of my more experienced and qualified colleagues. I had enough ignorance to forge my own path!
Music education for its own sake remains vitally important. We train our students to be musicians rather than attempt to correct anything. However, it is clear that this mini musical empire has become incredibly important for families on a far deeper level than just musical achievement.
I recall one particular testimonial from a parent back in 2012 when I was about to take the plunge and go full-time with Southend Mencap. I had been running the weekly music school for many years but had no idea about the impact we were making. This line still chokes me up every time I read it:
“I can only say that without music school, my daughter would still be sitting in the corner of the lounge, getting more fearful and frustrated with life, leading me into a deeper and darker place wondering if there was ever going to be any good come into hers or my life.”
I adore my students and their families, and I am continually astounded by their resilience, determination and demonstration of love in all its many forms over a lifetime. This blog, along with the Music Man Project Podcast, websites and our social media platforms can play an important role in supporting families in hours of need – a fulcrum for parents as they and their children get older.
I originally conceived the song Have You Ever Stopped to Think while performing with the Music Man Project UK Ambassadors at a Primary School. I looked across at my amazing students entertaining 500 school children with confidence and charisma. The children were treating them like rock stars. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is why I was put on the earth!”. I rushed home to commit the following lyrics to paper:
Have you ever stopped to think why you were put on the earth?
Have you ever stopped to think and find you question your worth?
What role you play right here today and don’t know what to say?
For the Music Man Project family, the answers to these questions come later in the song:
This is why we’re here today, showing you what we can do
How we love to sing and play, hoping to inspire you
So, you know why we’re here
Our students all have their own unique backstories which I love to talk about whenever I get the chance. My interviews with parents for The Music Man Project Podcast inspired me to explore new ways to record their incredible journeys for future generations. Perhaps their stories of survival and hope would be as inspirational to other people as they are to me?
Nowadays a song is not a song without a video. We are dominated by screens, and creative artists compete to get their content noticed amid millions of videos uploaded to social media and YouTube every day. I thought a series of images of Music Man Project students as babies set to my new song could be a fitting way to tell their stories. I had no expertise in this area and would usually enlist the help of our resident film-maker Paul Carpenter. But this felt more personal. I had time to explore video editing during lockdown so, partly for my own amusement, I gave it a go.
I enlisted the help of my singer and flugelhorn-playing wife Sarah, along with MMP podcast producer, bassist and volunteer Jon Weber and our musical arranger Al Steele. We recorded the song during lockdown between three households and two countries (England and Wales). Jon produced the piano and vocal recording before passing it to Al to arrange and record for strings and to produce the final edit. As I have described in a previous blog, there is nothing more exhilarating for a songwriter than to receive a recorded arrangement of your music from Al Steele. This track was no exception. His arrangement of my music was the perfect backdrop to tell the stories of our students for the digital era.
I invited parents to send in pictures of their children as babies with a sentence or two about their particular prognosis. I was moved to tears as I read each account. I struggled to include all the baby photos in the video, let alone their detailed stories. I selected a few examples for inclusion and promised to share the others through my blogs and podcasts.
As the years pass and families die out, many of our amazing musicians will not be able to tell their life stories and they will be lost forever. We must not let this happen. Please share my little video as much as you can to keep these true stories alive for future generations.
Please read my next blog “The Stories Behind the Babies 1” to begin. For many these stories will be familiar and for others they will be surprising or even shocking.
As the song goes:
When you find your purpose, you can turn the dark to light.