'In an ideal world, I’d like to see everyone playing music'
Classic FM musical teacher of the year for SEND Jason Redhead explains why he’s on a mission to encourage everyone to learn to play music, whatever their age or situation.
ISM Music Academy has been a presence in Kettering for many years. It welcomes students of all abilities, from beginners to high-flyers, whether they want to play just for fun or have ambitions to be rock stars.
Leading the team at ISM is owner Jason Redhead. He talks to Julia Thorley about his teaching philosophy, why music is important to individuals and to the community at large and why he believes he never goes to work.
The first thing you notice when you arrive at ISM Music Academy in Silver Street is the enticing sound of several different musical instruments, each playing a different tune, drifting into the reception area. It’s a long-established family firm led by Jason Redhead, an experienced and accomplished musician. His principle instruments are piano and keyboard, but he also has a working knowledge of guitar, drums and voice.
“I love what I do. I never think of it as going to work. The company was originally run by my dad [Roger, who still works for ISM], which meant I was lucky enough to have access to free music lessons. Playing definitely came first for me, but once I began teaching I realised that this is what I should be doing. Before I started working full time here, I’d worked in sales in the corporate world, but although the financial rewards were great, it just wasn’t what I wanted to be doing every day for the rest of my life. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but no one really ever said ‘Thank you’ in my other job. Now someone says it every day, which is lovely. This kind of reward is priceless. All our students and families really appreciate what we do for them.”
ISM offers one-to-one music lessons on a range of instruments, including piano, keyboard, guitar, bass, drums and voice. It also runs choirs, rock band workshops and holiday clubs, as well as working with many local schools offering peripatetic music tuition.
“Music comes from the heart, so on a day-to-day basis we’re down to earth, friendly and approachable, while also getting the job done. Students need to see results and so do their families, so our younger students generally work through the grades of their chosen instrument, but not all of them. It’s fine if they just want to learn for the joy of playing. Many of our adult learners sit the exams, too, because they enjoy the satisfaction of passing and it’s confirmation that they’re making progress.
“We want to give every child that comes to ISM the chance to experience the sheer joy that comes from playing music. If a student turns up one week and their families are worried that they’ve not been practising, I reassure them that practice isn’t the be all and end all. The most important thing to me is that they’re still enjoying the lessons and leave with a smile on their face. It’s not the end of the world if they don’t practise every day if I can still see some progress. Maybe they just need to ease off for a couple of weeks, and then they’ll be back on track. You never know what’s going to happen down the line. That’s not to say I don’t encourage them to practise, of course.”
Jason and other members of the team work in schools, offering individual and group lessons.
He believes their success is due to their approach being all about giving children the chance to express themselves.
“It’s about using music to bring life into schools. Students are free to have fun without restrictions. I go in with a plan, but I’m always prepared to throw it out of the window. It’s important to respond to the students’ mood on the day and to adapt accordingly, while still fulfilling our formal professional obligations. Percussion sessions are very popular in primary schools. They often don’t have access to keyboards, so we turn up with some buckets and beaters and off we go.”
Much of the work that Jason does in schools is with SEND (special educational needs and/or disabilities) students, an initiative that started with Kingsley Special Academy and has grown to embrace other schools.
“Every day is a different day but very rewarding. When you see a breakthrough it’s incredibly powerful. It’s about the joy and excitement you see on children’s faces.”
Jason was recently named Classic FM Music Teacher of the Year for SEND teaching for his work at Corby’s Red Kite Special Academy, which caters for pupils aged 4 to 18 with a range of special educational needs. He is modest about this achievement.
“I’m just doing my job, nothing special. The Classic FM award was very much about the work that I do at Red Kite. We have a lot of fun in our sessions at the school, but I was amazed to be nominated by one of the students and even more amazed to win.”
ISM doesn’t restrict its activity to teaching, but also encourages students to perform, though he says there is no pressure to. It’s more about showcasing what they’ve done, and its holiday clubs have a role to play in this. They are an ideal way to encourage youngsters who wouldn’t necessarily think of having formal music lessons to come and have a go in a no-pressure environment.
Jason says: “We love working with local groups, too. For instance, we had a stage at KettFest this year, which was amazing. I loved the community spirit behind it. I should say here how much we appreciated the support of everyone behind the scenes, but particularly Jamie’s Butchers who let us perform in front of their shop. We’ve also taken part in Young Voices this year, which brings together schools from all over the country to create what it calls ‘the largest choir concerts in the world’.
“I don’t see other music teachers as competitors, because we’re all working towards the same goal of sharing music with as many people as we can. We’ve got great connections with other local organisations, including Picture The Difference and Tresham College.”
ISM has plenty of ideas about what it is going to do next, chief of which is the development of its current premises on Silver Street, with improved accessibility so that they can increase the range of sessions on offer.
“Most of our SEND work at the moment is with children and we’re hoping to expand this, but we’re also exploring funding options to set up sessions for adults with additional needs.
“One of our latest ventures is taking music into residential homes. The smiles and laughter that this has brought is amazing and staff have reported that residents are benefiting socially, mentally and physically. It’s good exercise to beat a gym ball with a drumstick. Also, some residents can feel isolated, so to have them in a circle with other people having some fun is incredibly beneficial. They interact with the teachers, of course, but also each other.
“The thing to remember is that people in their seventies were teenagers in the 1960s, so they’re more likely to want to play The Beatles than songs from the war. It’s all about making connections and being led by our students, whatever their age.”
Jason says the academy’s success is down to the team.
“I must acknowledge all the people I work with here at ISM. We have an amazing team that pulls together. There’s no hierarchy. Each person is as valuable as the next, just like each of our students.”
You can get in touch with the academy on firstname.lastname@example.org Or find them on Facebook.