How Portsmouth Music Hub is bringing music to children's homes during lockdown

We’ve all heard the idiom, ‘music is good for the soul’. Whether you’re listening to or creating music, it has been proved to have positive psychological and physical effects on humans.

Saturday, 30th May 2020, 12:00 am
Portsmouth Music Hub teachers and students producing music at home through #gardengigs. Picture: Portsmouth Music Hub

And through the inspiring organisation, Portsmouth Music Hub, children across the region are continuing to enjoy music and reap all of its benefits during lockdown.

Sue Beckett, the chief executive of Portsmouth Music Hub, which was founded in November 2011, says: ‘The hub’s mission is to transform lives and inspire through high-quality music and cultural engagement.

‘During lockdown, instrumental and vocal teaching is taking place online via video platform Zoom and many students across the city are continuing to play and sing in their homes.’

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Harry Jackson and Dylan Houghton, both 12, are members of the hub’s Victory Rock Band. Picture: Portsmouth Music Hub

The multi award-winning hub – which is led by Portsmouth Music Service and funded by the Department for Education through Arts Council England – engages with young people, aged five to 18, through free music lessons, concerts, shows, ensembles and bands.

‘In 2011, there was a national drive to set up music hubs but we believe Portsmouth’s was one of the first,’ says Sue, 52, from Winchester.

During normal circumstances, staff would be engaging with youngsters at schools across the city or at the hub’s home at Paulsgrove Community Centre. However, at the moment, the team are continuing to teach their regular students through a variety of musical resources.

‘As well as providing virtual lessons, our website has lots of free online resources to enable students to continue making music,’ explains Sue, who used to play the cello and recorder professionally. ‘Our new digital song bank, Songsource, launched when the schools shut. There are more than 200 original songs, along with lyric videos, backing tracks and scores.’

Kalea Green, a pupil at Cottage Grove Primary School, Southsea, making music at home. Picture: Portsmouth Music Hub

Headteacher of Cottage Grove Primary School, Southsea, Polly Honeychurch is grateful to be able to take advantage of the hub’s resources. The 52-year-old says: ‘Our children are really enjoying singing the songs from the hub’s song bank at home and in school. Singing is an important way for our children to relax, distract themselves and have fun, while learning all sorts of facts about science, the environment, history and much more.’

Cottage Grove student Kalea Green, six, smiles and says: ‘I love making music.’

Through social media, staff have created a performance platform for students to share their music, with a new performance uploaded every day.

Sue explains: ‘The performances at home, renamed #gardengigs by one of the students, have been a great way to keep sharing our music. From an empty bottle improvisation, to a French horn quartet, double bass solos and ukulele songs, there have been some wonderful performances.’

Ellie Leon playing her oboe. Picture: Joanna Leon/Portsmouth Music Hub

The hub cannot run without the dedication of its staff, especially during lockdown. Music teacher Kate Barrett, from Rowlands Castle, became part of the hub’s staff family five years ago after she changed careers from a primary school teacher.

The talented pianist has many strings to her bow, teaching piano as well as percussion, ukulele, recorder and E-flat clarinet.

Kate, pictured in the top left box of the main picture, says: ‘I work in six schools across Portsmouth. Music education is absolutely key for all children to be able to access. Sometimes it can be the thing that makes them light up.

‘I grew up on the Isle of Wight and was lucky enough to be able to access a musical education in terms of free lessons, qualifications and bursaries which I didn’t have to pay extortionate amounts for.

Massed choir with children from across the city performing in the One World Showcase at Portsmouth Guildhall. Picture: Portsmouth Music Hub

‘Music helps children learn. When I was a primary teacher, I sang the times tables and it stuck better with the children.’

In lockdown she has transferred her music lessons online via Zoom. ‘I was worried they may not work or the students may not turn up but I really enjoyed it,’ explains Kate.

‘For a child who was used to having regular lessons to suddenly have none, it could halt their progress.

‘I’m currently putting together footage for reception and year one groups which has been recorded at home. We do a lot of singing, but last week I taught them about the dynamics of music.’

Ellie Leon, from Fareham, has attended Portsmouth Music Hub since she was 12. Now 17, the oboe player has been accepted into the Royal College of Music, London.

Ellie says: ‘From year five on, I was home-educated. My mum found Portsmouth Music Hub and I started attending the hub’s African drumming and singing sessions.’

Sue introduced Ellie to the idea of oboe lessons and the instrument has changed her life. ‘I had no idea what it was and I wasn’t overly interested in classical music. But the lessons changed everything.’

Ellie adds: ‘Music is everything to me. If I’m not playing I’m listening to it.

She owes her success to the hub. ‘I went from having no music experience to somehow getting into the Royal College of Music.

‘It’s not the same as playing with other people and I really miss playing in a band but my Zoom lessons with my oboe teacher are the highlights of my week.

‘Before lockdown, my calendar was filled with lessons, concerts, shows, meetings which have all been cancelled.

‘But everyone at Portsmouth Music Hub is still in contact with each other. It’s lovely they continue to inspire us with music.’

Sound Minds

During Mental Health Awareness week this month, Portsmouth Music Hub launched their new mental health initiative, Sound Minds.

Bringing together musicians, teachers, community groups and thousands of children across the city, Sound Minds will focus on how music can help support the discussion around our mental health.

As part of the launch, the hub is releasing a series of new songs starting with, When Life Gives you Lemons. During the next year, it will provide opportunities for students across the city to explore mental health issues through music. However, they are welcoming suggestions of what you would like to see during the campaign.

For more information and links to resources, go to portsmouthmusichub.org, their Facebook page or @portsmouthmusic on Twitter.