Adapting to the new normal at SCYM

Posted on June 12, 2020


Saffron Centre for Young Musicians (SCYM), a Saturday music school for 4-18 year olds based in Saffron Hall, is one of our oldest and longest-standing partners. This week we asked Kate Nott, Head of SCYM, to reflect on the ways her fantastic team have adapted to the challenges of providing quality musical and educational experiences for young people during lockdown.

Since April, staff at SCYM have been teaching all of their students online. Individual instrumental and voice lessons have continued for every one of our students, and the flexibility that online learning affords us has meant that some have taken up new instruments or supporting studies.

However, SCYM’s core curriculum places an emphasis on group work and collaborative supporting studies classes. The joy of a Saturday music centre comes not just from a great lesson, but also from ensemble playing, singing together and thinking more deeply about music with like-minded friends and mentors. Replacing live or ‘on-site’ ensemble rehearsals with online groups was always going to be more challenging, or even impossible, we first thought. The learning environment created by playing music is not only truly unique, it is exceptional in terms of the wider positive impact it has on children’s lives. Not continuing throughout the COVID-19 crisis was never an option, and fortunately for us, not a choice we had to make.

Musicianship classes have come to the fore, and have remained the backbone of SCYM’s core curriculum. We can still compose, listen, talk about performance skills and learn more about how music works as much as we ever could.

Tutors leading ensembles have been creative, as they have had to turn away from the conventional rehearsal and concert routine. At SCYM groups for all students, whatever their age or experience are small, and we are finding that online students are enjoying playing as soloists in a comfortable and supportive arena, amongst their friends. A less formal and ‘imperfect’ way of performing is suiting many of our students very well, and is teaching children that it can feel relaxed and fun to play to others. Students are discussing each other’s performances and learning how to give helpful and supportive feedback.

Our older students include several accomplished young jazz musicians who now get the chance to talk about harmony, or compare legendary recordings alongside improvising and recording their playing. The drummers have a new class, focussing on jazz drumming, and the a cappella group are still singing and recording (Gabrielle’s Out of Reach). Masterclasses we be online this half term and will be shared with Norfolk Centre for Young Musicians. Guildhall School students will be working with ours online instead of visiting in person. Our string players continue to explore the classical and contemporary chamber repertoire.

Younger instrumentalists continue with wind and string groups with their friends and our percussionists are recording pieces composed by their teacher for them. Our youngest students (4-6 years) have continued their Kodaly method singing classes with their parents at home. These online groups work really well and look to be good fun!

For some children who have spent all week at a desk with schoolwork, a very sociable, creative and interactive Saturday is still enjoyable and productive, but in a different way. We have all, students and staff alike, gradually changed how we think, whilst changing our expectations of what we can do. This term will see some multi track recordings emerging, as well as two lunchtime concerts on Zoom. We could not have a term go by without some performances.

Being online has framed our teaching, thinking and learning very differently. Whilst we are working hard to plan for a socially distanced school in September we are confident that we can adapt and refine our online offer as and when needed, in order that an excellent music education continues as well as it possibly can.

We all want to sing, play and perform together really soon, as nothing can really compare to our usual Saturdays and performing in Saffron Hall.


Saffron Centre for Young Musicians is a partnership between the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Saffron Hall, Essex Music Education Hub and SWCHS. It provides outstanding opportunities for students with a special interest in music from absolute beginner to diploma standard.

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