View from: Chrissy Kinsella

29 October 2020

Part of Supercool's Arts + Culture In Lockdown series

NB: This piece is done interview-style; asking the questions – Katie Parry 👋

Chrissy Kinsella – Chief Executive, London Music Fund

Give us a quick intro to you and your organisation

Hello! I’m Chrissy Kinsella, and I’m the Chief Executive of the London Music Fund, a music education charity with the Mayor of London as our patron. We work across the city in partnership with music hubs and other education providers to support music education for young people in London.

We have two main programmes; a four-year Scholarship programme for primary school children from low-income families who show potential and commitment to learning a musical instrument but whose families struggle to pay for ongoing tuition, and our Partnership Programme, which funds wider musical collaborations with music hubs, schools, venues, professional arts organisations, addressing specific gaps in provision.

This year we expanded our programmes to include Amplify London, a new partnership with YouTube Music, which is a grant programme for small, out-of-school projects in non-formal areas, such as music studios or youth clubs.

Since 2011 we have funded 550 four-year Scholarships and 46 projects, covering every borough in London. In total we have awarded almost £3million to support music education in London in that time, which we are very proud of.

Five people stand in front of a large screen with Mondon Music Fund logo. At the centre is Lord Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and on the right Chrissy Kinsella, Chief Executive of London Music Fund
How have you and the London Music Fund team had to adapt during lockdown?

Like everyone, the first thing we had to do was get used to working from home full time!

We are lucky in that our normal office is City Hall (home of the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority), so the IT and technical support was all in place; though we did have to invest in some proper screens/keyboards etc. in order to really be able to function in a ‘home office’ environment.

I also needed a proper office chair, having been almost crippled by my Ikea dining table…

What normal workday thing are you missing most from the 'beforetimes'?

I miss the people! Without question. Not just my team and the wider GLA Culture and Creative Industries team that we work with, but people from other departments within City Hall that I having nothing really to do with, but chat to in the kitchen and lift etc. I even miss the lunchtime Microwave Wars…

On the other hand, what's been working well for you, and might you keep doing after lockdown's ended?

Definitely the flexibility and freedom of home working. Being able to have a hot lunch, go for a lunchtime walk / run / gym class; being able to finish at 5.30 and be ‘done’ – I think these are amazing gifts, really. We were pretty well set up to work from home before but never really took full advantage. I don’t think we will go back to a 5-day-a-week, Monday-Friday, 9-5 office existence ever again. Perhaps a 50/50 arrangement would give the best of both worlds!

Also, the accessibility of online meetings – knowing we don’t all have to be in the same place to achieve brilliant things.

What's been the most surprising thing you've learnt? (Whether a new online tool, a new skill – or something about yourself or other people.)

I have realised how important it is to be part of a team, and to bounce off others for inspiration and motivation. When lockdown was lifted my two brilliant colleagues, Dorothy and Georgina, and I met up for a socially-distanced day of working in town and it was so wonderful to be together in person.

Personally, I’ve also finally started learning to drive at the age of 43…nothing like a global pandemic to make you realise how much you rely on public transport!

Considering you're a small team, you're pretty prolific on social media! Catching up with your Scholars at home, fundraising, introducing us to your Scholar of the Month. Have you done anything new/different/more on social media or your website due to lockdown?

Credit here must go to Georgina and Dorothy who do so much to keep our social media alive. It became apparent quite early on that we were going to have to work hard to keep engaged with our Scholars, a number of whom were going to struggle to access online learning.

We also really wanted to be able to connect with our donors directly, to show them just how much music was helping children and their families in lockdown. The responses were amazing, and the feedback we had from both donors and Scholars has been incredibly moving.

“During lockdown I practise my violin every day. I try to research how to play some difficult scales, pieces and arpeggios online. Luckily, Lambeth was able to arrange online lessons every Saturday, which I am very grateful for. Playing music helps me to relax and take my mind off the hard times in quarantine. There are lots of challenges when learning at home, sometimes issues with the technology and connection problems. Being an LMF Scholar makes me a very fortunate person and I really appreciate it.”

E., aged 10 – Lambeth – Violin – 2019-23 Scholar

You must be excited at the prospect of Amplify London starting soon – the first face-to-face musical activity for young people since March. Tell us a bit about this partnership with YouTube Music …

The London Music Fund (then known as the Mayor of London’s Fund for Young Musicians) was set up in 2011 to address two very specific issues in music education; to help children from low income families access ongoing tuition, and to support collaborative projects with professional arts organisations.

Back in 2017 we began asking ourselves, as an organisation, are the issues in music education still the same? What other gaps in provision are there? What can we do to widen our reach across the capital, and across music genres? Can we use our unique position to support the music industry and the music education sector together?

From that we developed the concept of a new grassroots partnership fund, to support small, local projects working in non formal, out-of-school settings. We were very lucky to be introduced to the music partnerships team at Google, and YouTube Music, last summer, and they have been amazing. Just so supportive, which is hugely important for such a small organisation like ours, and they really got the concept from our very first meeting. We have worked with them over the last year to develop this pilot scheme, and we are so thrilled to be launching these new projects this year.

The five projects we selected cover a wide range of song-writing, production, and performance skills, and will work with young people aged 11-21 from a variety of backgrounds, some of whom may be most affected by the ongoing pandemic. I am also thrilled that we were able to support five very deserving organisations at a time when they need it the most. We are just about to launch Round 2 this autumn!

In late July you wrote a response piece for Slipped Disc – 'Why teach music? Because it makes kids enjoy school' – nudging aside the never-to-be-won debate about whether or not music lessons make children 'smarter'. Instead, your focus is on music being fun; a relaxing thing to focus on, and an emotional outlet that makes kids happy. Refreshing! What prompted you to write this; and what's the reaction been to your article?

As music educators we often tie ourselves up in knots trying to prove the ‘need’ for music education, either in the curriculum or as an extra activity. There are constant studies and articles about music being good for brain development, for speech and language, communication skills, maths, literacy…you name it. But an article appeared from a study in Japan suggesting completely the opposite; that music does not in fact help children’s learning, which of course had everyone up in arms.

My argument – and one I feel very strongly about – is that by constantly having to justify music education as a means to something else, be it literacy or numeracy, we are doing the very act of music itself a massive disservice.

The reports we had from our Scholars in lockdown proved that; it was a huge source of comfort, support, recreation and joy to them at a difficult time. Music is everywhere, in all our lives, every day. Music education should enrich that.

… by constantly having to justify music education as a means to something else, be it literacy or numeracy, we are doing the very act of music itself a massive disservice. The reports we had from our Scholars in lockdown proved that; it was a huge source of comfort, support, recreation and joy to them at a difficult time.

Next year you'll be celebrating 10 years of London Music Fund. (Congratulations!) It may be a bit early yet, but – anything you can tell us about how you're planning on marking this milestone?

Thank you! It really doesn’t feel like ten years. We have lots of exciting things planned, though of course we are having to think about contingencies now, and what might happen if we need to socially distance. But in theory, we are planning to publish a 10 Year Impact Report in the spring, followed by a gala concert in July 2021 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, featuring a showcase of all our work over the last ten years, the projects and collaborations. Also, we are planning an ensemble of current and former Scholars – some of whom have gone on to amazing musical heights, such as the National Youth Orchestra, the BRIT School and the Menuhin School. So we are keeping everything crossed!

Our biggest challenge in 2021 will be ongoing fundraising, as it will be for nearly all charities. We want to be able to show the enormous impact of our work, and how proud we are of all the children we have supported over the years.

And now – your call-to-arms. What one thing* could we in the arts do or change following the pandemic, in order to be more inclusive, and 'build back better'?

*Can be more than one thing

Don’t stop. Never stop creating, being innovative, imaginative, collaborative, exciting. Things might have to change for a while, but I have been so moved by how quickly the music education sector adapted to the challenges we faced in March; activities moving online, and finding new and exciting ways of creating together. We will get through this, one day, and we will be better for it.

Part of Supercool's Arts + Culture In Lockdown series

Related Posts