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The Glasshouse

How a traineeship shaped my career as a music leader

by Chris Clark

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I remember being obsessed with the piano at school. It was the first thing I really got excited about in my education, and it has stuck with me ever since. I received piano lessons at school; and later learnt how to play the bassoon too. Regular music and instrumental lessons like these, along with school trips to listen to Royal Northern Sinfonia at Newcastle City Hall were inspiring and gave me the drive to pursue music. A few years later I joined Young Sinfonia and applied to study music at university. This was a really special time as I was the first person in my family to go to university. During my studies, I focused on composition and worked regularly as a piano accompanist for instrumentalists, singers, schools and theatre groups, including the English Touring Opera for a short time.

After completing my Master’s Degree at the University of Manchester, I moved to China, where I spent a year teaching English and two years teaching piano at a college in a city north of Hong Kong. After returning home to Newcastle, I spent a number of years supporting and teaching in early years, primary and special school settings. I loved this work as it enabled me to be a creative and playful leader through bringing music, drama and play into the classroom.

After the Covid pandemic, I began to struggle with my mental health. Anxiety and low confidence had become a barrier to my work in the classroom and I found myself unsure about what direction to take next in terms of my career. It was at this point I learnt about the traineeship, an opportunity my wife discovered and suggested I apply for. Some of the key questions I asked myself during the application process included:

Am I passionate about nurturing children and young people’s musical, social and personal progression? Yes

Am I trained musician? Yes

Am I motivated to develop my creative practice? Yes

Do I consider myself to be an emerging music leader? Yes (I felt that my musical leadership hadn’t really gotten going in the way I had wanted so the opportunity seemed perfect)

Is this a good time to make a change? Yes

A typical week would begin with a group session lasting two hours. These sessions provided a safe and confidential space for personal and group reflection, creative play, learning, trying out new ideas and meeting other music leaders.

Afterwards, I would normally decide which music sessions I wanted to observe the following week. There were a number to choose from and I was encouraged to see a wide variety of them, especially during the first half of the traineeship. To begin with I attended at least three to five sessions a week, including Music Spark, Loud and Clear, In Harmony Newcastle Gateshead and a number of classes from the Make Music weekend programme.

Observations and reflective discussions with music leaders were invaluable, as I developed my music and social pedagogy (a relationship-centred approach to learning) and began to form ideas about how I could develop my own leadership style.

I had fortnightly personal mentor meetings with an experienced music leader, which again felt very much person centred; for me there was no agenda or external aims, targets or pressures. In these sessions I was encouraged to seek the answers to my own questions and set my own goals over the course of the traineeship. This approach to mentorship really helped me build my confidence.

Initially, some of the challenges I had related to my musical ability. I have strong sight reading and piano skills but didn’t feel that confident when it came to singing, playing music by ear or venturing away from the piano. To overcome these challenges, I spent time at home practising new skills and learning the ukulele and guitar; I also joined a choir to get myself singing more. This gave me the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone and try new activities across a wider range of sessions. By the second half of the traineeship, I had begun seeking freelance work in the community and co-leading sessions on the traineeship.

There were many standout moments during the traineeship and it’s tricky to choose just one. What I can say is that I met many stand out people. Throughout the traineeship, these people supported and mentored me and welcomed me into a community, which I hope to remain part of.

For a long time, I wanted to work as a freelance musician, but didn’t really have the confidence to give it a go, especially during these last few years. The framework of the traineeship enabled me to take that leap. It did seem daunting at first, but now that I’m doing it, I can feel that my confidence has grown a great deal more.

Since the traineeship I’ve gained regular work as a community musician for a local Newcastle primary school and The Cultural Spring, a community project which aims to create life-long involvement in the arts, based in Sunderland and South Tyneside. I’ve also taken on more private tutoring too and have covered Music Spark and Loud and Clear Adoptive and Foster sessions at Sage Gateshead and Together for Children in Sunderland. Going forward, I hope that the knowledge, skills and confidence I gained during the traineeship will help me to thrive as an inclusive music leader.

If you’ve always had a passion for music and a burning desire to share it with others then the Traineeship programme could be a good fit. Find out more here.