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  • Writer's pictureDavid Stanley

The forward-thinking Manhattan School of Music

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

A familiar twang of nerves came over me as I stood in the lobby alongside musical prodigies clutching their instruments at the Manhattan School of Music. “Had I practiced enough? Will I forget the music? I hope they don’t ask for the Rachmaninov!” To my relief, I remembered I was just here for a meeting! *

From humble beginnings as a small local music school to an internationally renowned conservatory, Manhattan School of Music aims to “empower people to realize their potential through music”. Many music conservatories publicise community programmes. It helps them meet their local responsibilities and apply for community funding. These programmes are optional for their students, who even get paid for it! I predicted I would be greeted by the same story here, and the worthy mission statement didn’t apply to people with disabilities.

I was wrong. Students at Manhattan School of Music learn how to teach and perform music to people with disabilities as a compulsory requirement of their course. Jazz Arts, Orchestral Performance and Musical Theatre Major students are formally assessed through observation and written papers before they can pass this semester-long module and progress with their qualification. As a result, 250 students per year experience special needs music education – not Music Therapy, but education leading to performance!

In the words of Director of Community Partnerships, Rebecca Charnow, “We are teaching them to pay it forward”. This is great news for the disabled community. Finding teachers in this sector can be difficult. There is typically a binary choice between musicians who lack the confidence to teach disabled people and non-musicians who lack the confidence to teach music. Manhattan School of Music is addressing this problem by adding empathy, awareness, experience and community spirit to existing musical ability.

Manhattan School of Music is the only conservatory in the US to offer this service. Their students graduate with an understanding of disability, ready to use their talent to educate and inspire people who will benefit the most. With international students forming 53% of their 900+ intake, the impact of their innovation is global. Each graduate will soon receive a Music Man Project tutor job description too!

* I felt totally inadequate as a student at the Junior Department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama although wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I failed my audition to enter their senior department and failed at both the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music auditions too. 20 years later I delivered a seminar to students at the same Royal College of Music and performed a concert of my music in their recital hall. My teaching even forms the basis of PhD research at the college by Music Man Project director Natalie Bradford. Failure is just a rehearsal for success!

After my setbacks, I went on to study a Bachelor of Music degree and a Master’s in musical analysis at Kings College, London. Ironically my course included weekly piano lessons at the Royal Academy of Music (another previous failure!). I studied piano under an amazing teacher who I adored called Patsy Toh (wife of concert pianist Fou Ts'ong). Patsy once said to me in her best Chinese-English accent, giggling between her beaming smile, “You know David, you very tenacious”.

I felt so proud!

Read the final Churchill Fellowship report here.

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