AH: Hello, it’s Anita here, and welcome to this month’s podcast. In this episode I’m talking with Ollie Tumner from the Beat Goes On. Ollie teaches Stomp-style body percussion and Samba drumming to a massive range of different types of people in all sorts of different settings. Why I thought you’d be interested is because body percussion is such an accessible way of making music, and so it’s a really good way to improve inclusion. Research also suggests that there are strong links between rhythm and all sorts of learning skills including executive functioning. Also Ollie is great at spreading his enthusiasm about this type of music making, so I’m sure he’ll have some tips to share on that. And his recent online lessons have been so popular that he’s now offering this as a new strand of his work. So welcome, and thank you for coming on Ollie. It’s really great to be able to have a proper chat with you today, because in the past I think we’ve only been able to grab a really quick conversation at a conference lobby or bar, or something like that.
OT: Yes indeed. Lovely to be here. All good fun.
AH: Thank you. So I’d like to start, as I always do, by asking you how did you end up where you are today, and why is it so important to you personally?
OT: So I guess, I mean this can be a long-winded or a short-ish answer, but I’ll try to find a kind of middle ground. I’m very fortunate in that I come from what is, I guess, regarded as a musical family but certainly one where music was thoroughly encouraged right from the word go. And yeah, first and foremost I’m a kind of drummer and percussionist. I was always standing on the seat at the back of the hall watching the drummer play. I was like that from a very early age and got into playing at a similarly early age. With the body percussion side of things, I think that really kind of kicked-off when I first auditioned for Stomp when I was, I think I was still at university actually. I only got through a couple of rounds at that point. The first bit they taught me, I think they still do when they do auditions, is a kind of simplified version of one of the routines from the show. And having seen the show already, I was so lucky, ‘Oh, I’m getting to learn the bit from Stomp’. So I learned that and taught it to anybody who wanted it to be taught to. By the time, a few years later, when I auditioned again a little bit later, I already knew the rhythm very, very well. So I guess Stomp was my initial interest in body percussion, and then it’s kind of been a way that I’ve partly taught and played throughout. I’m one of those annoying people in queues who will always keep on tapping, tapping everything – much to the detriment of the people in the queue with me. That kind of carried on, and then, I guess yeah, being in the show, which we’ll talk about at some point I’m sure. You’ve got six weeks to learn the show really, and within that time you write your own body percussion solo so there’s lots and lots of options.
AH: Oh, wow.
OT: Yeah. I’m not sure how the show went when it’s going obviously, as I was caught up in the moment. Certainly when I was in it there was an opportunity to compose your own. So there was lots and lots of scope, not only to kind of try some ideas out, but also be inspired by the performers around me. And then obviously now, kind of nowadays, I kind of use it as a way of not only teaching body percussion itself, but also teaching, as you mentioned, Afro-Brazilian percussion, and body percussion and literacy and various other things which we can chat about in detail.
AH: And so, can I take a few steps back. You say you came from a musical family. What’s that kind of like? Did you have parents or brothers and sisters that played music?
OT: Yeah. So my dad was a primary school music teacher and played in a folk band called the Brighton Taverners. I think it was about the time of the folk revival in the late-70s, early-80s, and they used to play folk clubs around the south east and I think they might have been in the German charts at one point.
OT: Yeah. So within certain folk circles they were kind of, not exactly legends in their own lunchtime, but they’re known. And my mum’s a nursery teacher but also a music teacher and a pianist and a singer. And so I had music kind of surrounded from a very early age. At one point I was having piano lessons and drum kit lessons. I think I was about 9 or 10, and it was very obvious which one I was kind of more naturally, not gifted at, but I enjoyed more and kind of rocked-out on the drums and to me piano was a little bit more of a chore. So the drums was very much my passion. So as I say I started out on drums and then kind of moved into kind of percussion ensemble things of which there were lots of courses around. And when I eventually got to uni I got into Samba and various other styles and just sort of went on from there.
AH: So you did the sort of traditional going through music GCSE, music A-level, music degree?
OT: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
OT: I mean I’m from Brighton, which has always been a kind of a town of lots and lots of musical opportunities and kind of went through the music service. Weirdly I ended up teaching with and working with all my teachers, such is the music world.
OT: They’ve kind of known me since I was a gobby little kid, and now I’m a gobby little adult.
AH: Wow, that’s amazing. Because of course you’re in the same sector and the same circles I guess as the people who are working with Brighton & Hove Music & Arts.
OT: Yes. A friend of mine is the current music teacher at Downs Junior School in Brighton where my dad used to be the teacher. And as part of their lockdown stuff, she used some of the YouTube videos that I’d included. So there were two generations of Tunmers, both kind of involved in music education at Downs Junior School, so it was kind of a nice kind of little connection to make. And I think some of the parents of the kids remembered my dad.
AH: Oh lovely. Talking of music teachers, I guess most teachers, music teachers use a bit of body percussion or most maybe more primary school teachers in their teaching, but how do the schools and hubs that you work with tend to go about working with you and using body percussion? How does that work?
OT: Yeah, interesting that you mention that it’s mostly primary. Sometimes I’ll kind of call up schools, maybe to chase up an invoice, or for slightly more nice reasons. And it’s often kind of people have a perception that body percussion, ‘Oh, you’ll want to speak to the primary school’, you know if it’s a kind of all-through school. Um, ‘No, I’m actually working with the GCSE group’. And I guess the thing is with body percussion, you’re right, everyone’s been doing it. We were all clapping at nursery, you know, and what I do is just kind of developing what we’ve all got, our bodies, just kind of exploring the percussive and rhythmic possibilities, only a few of them. Body percussion happens in cultures all over the world, it has done for thousands of years. What Beat Goes On, what we generally do is kind of lots and lots of one-off workshops but we’ll always kind of make sure that the workshops are a platform for the teacher’s CPD as well. So we’re always keen that whenever we leave a school, the teacher is an ally. They’re not like, ‘Oh, that was fun, but now what?’. They know how to develop the ideas we’ve covered on after we’ve left as well. It can be particularly with some non-specialists, a kind of a confidence thing. Music seems to be one of those things that in some people’s eyes you can either do or can’t do. Which as far as I’m concerned is complete rubbish. It’s just that some people may have had a bad experience as a child. Either a teacher that wasn’t very supportive, or that kind of thing. Part of what we do actually is we work with non-specialists to build up their confidence using percussion, because it’s obviously a resource that everybody’s already got. And the Brazilian kind of thing, we kind of teach it, use it as a method to play Brazilian percussion and various other routes as well.
AH: That’s really interesting. So I wanted to have a couple of questions but split it really into what you do in primary schools, and what you do in secondary schools. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? So I’m really interested in this thing about building confidence among primary teachers to teach music. How do you start to work with teachers to build their confidence? And also do you think they’re still lacking in confidence about body percussion, or do you think it’s something that comes more naturally or makes them feel less vulnerable than singing would?
OT: In terms of a comparison between body percussion and singing, not sure because I don’t generally focus on the singing side of things. I often use the rhythms of words, not only as the sort of creative tool, so when I’m teaching Brazilian rhythms for example, I’ve got a little set of rhythmonics, which is a set of rhythms and mnemonics put together. It’s not anything I invented, but it’s like, for example, the clave rhythm for example [demonstrates]. I’ll teach it as un, dos, tres, clave. So you’re saying one, two, three in Brazilian Portuguese and then the name of the rhythm. And the rhythm of the words is the rhythm that you’re teaching.
AH: Oh, nice.
OT: So the rhythm you’re teaching is with the words, and then you learn the rhythm separately. In some cases I often teach that as a ‘say the words first’, and then ‘say the words while playing the rhythms as body percussion’, and then put that onto instruments. And it’s actually an approach that I kind of adapted from when I was working as a facilitator with Inspire Works which I did before setting up Beat Goes On, you may know about them. And I very much took that, but also used it as a kind of not only developing my own rhythmonics but also using it as a creative tool, kind of as a method of composition stimulus. And actually, in primary particularly, when working with non-specialists, I developed something called Body Percussion with Literacy, which is partly the result of work with a literacy specialist that some of your listeners might know, called Pie Corbett.
AH: Oh yes, yeah.
OT: Pie and I met at a conference a few years back. I’d never heard of him, but it turns out he’s a bit of a living legend. He liked what I did, this was pre-Beat Goes On, and we did some work together whereby he did some creative writing either with adults or a class, and then I took the rhythms of the words they’d come up with and I turned them into body percussion. At the time I was kind of, well sometimes I still do challenge myself to do it live, so whatever words they come up with I then have to create that it into a rhythm that they’re going to be able to get in about 10 or 15 minutes. Which is an interesting challenge in itself. But, that is a nice one to do with non-music specialists. Because in some ways I’m kind of demystifying the whole music thing. So I’d start with a rhythm that just goes over a count of four pulse beats, and we’d have a go at doing it, and then they would come up with their own rhythms perhaps either using a sentence they’ve come up with or some creative writing from one of their students. And they end up composing their own rhythm with the words as a basis. And then once they’ve got those words they then adapt that rhythm onto their bodies. And so without having kind of done, ‘We’re going to do music composition’, and all the scary kind of perception that they might have with that, we’ve just done it using the rhythm of words over a count of four pulse beats. So it’s a nice way to knock down the walls, demystify it a little bit. Um, as well as in primaries, BBC Ten Pieces which in itself has been a great initiative, started off as BBC Ten Pieces 1 has grown into many, many different strands. And when it first came out, we, well I’d kind of developed a body percussion workshop based on Connected, the Anna Meredith body percussion piece, and used that if ever schools were doing stuff with BBC Ten Pieces I’d include that. And obviously when BBC Ten Pieces 2 came out, and Mambo! from West Side Story was featured, I kind of created a body percussion and Latin percussion workshop with that. And it seems to have gone down well, and it’s a kind of nice way to keep all of my workshops very, very interactive and proactive. There’s very little sitting down.
AH: I’ll bet.
OT: Often teachers will kind of get me, get us in to do some of the more practically stuff, and then they may do more of the sitty-downy or kind of listening side of things as part of a more in-depth scheme of work.
AH: Oh, interesting. So I love that idea of introducing it through the rhythm of words. Sometimes when I do more creative writing a lot of the stuff I do is on the rhythm of words, and that’s a really lovely way to make, as you said, it not feel so difficult if somebody’s a little bit scared of music. It also occurs to me that your stuff is really cross-curricular and can fit into such a lot of other different things. And I want to go on to hear a little bit about your work in secondary, but in terms of primary, do people actually brief you that they want you to focus on an aspect of the curriculum, or literacy, or wellbeing? Do you get that sort of brief? Or does it tend to come under the music umbrella?
OT: It depends. Yeah, some are quite specific in terms of what they want, and they’ll be, ‘Right we want you to work with this year group, or this class, and this is our topic or this is our book’. And they’ve got quite specific learning outcomes for their children as well. Some [laughs], I turn up at some schools and they literally don’t know what they’ve booked. They may have heard about Beat Goes On, about some guy who used to be in Stomp, we think, and they’ve heard that it’s a bit of fun. Which hopefully it is, but it’s also, hopefully at the end of the day, it’s not just a bit of fun. I try not to be tokenistic. But yeah, it varies in terms of what it is they’re trying to get out of it. And obviously with lockdown happening, there’s a huge wellbeing focus which kind of more and more recently people are saying don’t worry too much about the specifics, the nuts and bolts of body percussion, just make it fun so that at the end of the session people feel better. Which sounds quite simple, but it’s actually obviously online quite a challenge. So I’ve been thinking quite carefully about particular types of rhythms, and the pacing of certain sessions, just to try and ensure that whether you’re in a small group in a school or at home, that that’s very much one of the main outcomes of whatever it is we’re doing.
AH: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s very different, lots of different things to think about as people have gone online and I’ll come back to that in just a second because I’ve been talking to a lot of people about their online delivery. So in terms of secondary school. What’s the difference between your teaching in secondary school as opposed to primaries?
OT: Well I guess one main difference is, in primary a music co-ordinator may be a very, very experienced musician, they may also be somebody who played piano once when they were 10. And then they’ve been told, ‘Right, you did that so therefore you’re in charge of music for the whole school and everything in between’. With secondary, obviously you’ve got a music specialist but then because music itself is so hugely broad, they may be a specialist who’s particularly into music tech, or particularly coming from a Western classical background. Or they may have some knowledge of, for example, Samba but they want to develop it a little bit. Nobody is a specialist in every area of music. I don’t think anyone’s got a lifetime to be able to do that. We’re particularly brought in to make it something that develops the use of rhythm, which is obviously not just for drummers and percussionists. Possibly to develop the use of Samba and other Afro-Brazilian rhythms. We do a lot of stuff with upper Key Stage 3 and GCSE classes and A-level classes about how else we can go beyond what they may have learned as a Rio-style Samba Batucada which is often the kind of starting point in learning Samba. I’ve been involved as a performer with a band in Brighton called Carnival Collective, who’re very well known for doing Samba drum and bass, and particularly when GCSE teachers hear that they go, ‘Yeah, we’ll do a little bit of that please’. You can do that, you can really pick on individual students and kind of draw on their prior experiences. If you’ve got any kit players, ‘OK, right, I’ve got quite a challenging stick part for you, you go off on that’. But that said, at the same time with the lovely thing about Samba is that actually often the most simple parts are also the most important. So if you’re doing the Rio-style Samba stuff, the surdos who are playing the pulse base [explains]. Although that’s the most simple part there, it’s the heartbeat of the band. Without that being really solid, you haven’t got a Samba. You can emphasise the importance of the simple parts. So Samba particularly in that case is quite a nice way to differentiate rather than going, ‘Oh right, we’ll get the kid who’s having difficulties, we’ll get you to play triangle’. As is the kind of common joke.
OT: No, no, no, no. Get them to play the most important thing and very much, you know, kind of taking pride in the fact that they’re responsible for keeping the rest of the class in time. So, in terms of the primary/ secondary difference, I think potentially you can go to more in depth areas obviously with the older you get and there can be a bit more input coming from some of the students later on. But then also you’ve got some student, often in year 8 or year 9, with some insecurities and confidence issues that we have to kind of overcome, but Samba particularly, and body percussion, those kinds of things can be a really lovely platform to explore those and build the confidence within.
AH: It’s really adaptable isn’t it. It’s really bad of me, but I think of it as being a really interesting way into music for people, and really good at primary level and for maybe those young people in secondary school who don’t feel they’re musical, or maybe have dropped music so it might be a way to re-engage them. But as you’re talking, I’m reminding myself of course how intensely musical and also complex body percussion can be. It can support GCSE and A-level students as well, would you say?
OT: No, absolutely. And obviously, for example, you’ve got Stomp [laughs].
OT: Where you’ve got unbelievably complex patterns going on which only a small percentage of the world can do, you know. So yes that’s the lovely thing, as you said, with body percussion is the differentiatable thing with it. But within any ensemble actually, depending on how you compose it, the nice thing is you can have somebody who’s completely new to it and an absolute professional in the same ensemble supporting each other. And actually, in both those world’s there’s a guy in the States called Keith Terry, who has an organisation called Cross Pulse, and him and his community and his family all organise the International Body Music Festivals which go all over the world and collaborate with artists all over the world. And it’s lovely. Because although you’ve got some incredibly talented artists and teachers, there’s absolutely no sense of elitism. You don’t need to have come from a privileged background to do it. Some are dancers, some are percussionists, some people who just like playing music, they call it body music rather than body percussion because they kind of incorporate some vocal elements as well. And it’s a lovely, connecting way to bring everyone together. And likewise with Samba. Samba is community music. It started in the streets in Rio. It’s absolutely not for, you’ve got to audition for this school. I mean there are some places where you do audition but that’s the choice of the people who run it. Generally it’s a community music which again makes it suitable for all and brings communities together.
AH: I was really interested to hear about your example of differentiation and the drum and bass and samba. So that brings me on to the question of how it supports inclusion? Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
OT: Yeah. Well I guess it’s just the accessibility of both of them. I mean with body percussion, you are the instrument. You don’t, you literally, because we’ve all kind of been clapping, and we can all hit ourselves to a certain degree, you can achieve a lot in a very, very short space of time. No disrespect to violins, but, you know, but when they start off, ‘Ow’. With body percussion you clap, it sounds good. When you stomp, it sounds good. And obviously, as we’ve already discussed, there’s a long way you can go from that starting point. And you can just keep going, and keep going, and challenge yourself technically and be inspired by new musical styles. And body percussion actually as I mentioned features in cultures from all over the world. You’ve got Flamenco dancing, you’ve got Gumboot dancing from South Africa. All these kinds of styles evolve as well, as they go around the world. Obviously Samba is played outside of Brazil. So, in terms of the inclusive aspect, you’ve got your body, you can literally play it anywhere and at any time. There’s no set-up time. Sometimes when I’m doing, particularly like corporate jobs, team-building events, they’ll say, ‘Oh right, so you’re going to do like a percussion workshop for like 3,000 people. God, how long are you going to take to load in?’. And I’m like, well it’s body percussion. Give me a couple of minutes, make sure the mike works, and we’re good to go. And they’re like, ‘Oh right, yeah, cool’. Obviously if they’ve booked a Samba session for 3,000 people that’s a whole other matter. But both from the immediacy of it, and the kind of instant gratification of it, and the fact that literally anybody can do it and at any time. And you can keep on developing our own tastes. Your body percussion particularly is quite a unique art form. And obviously with the Samba side of things, same kind of thing, but you’re hitting something so you’ve got that [makes sound] the whole kind of impact of it can speak a bit greater than just hitting your body.
AH: And there’s also that really important community music aspect of it. About the way that you work with people and the way that people communicate with each other through music isn’t there? It’s slightly different maybe than other kinds of group music making.
OT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, likewise, as I mentioned with these international body music festivals. I went to one in Paris a few years ago now, and although most people spoke in english, lots of people didn’t. And because it was in Paris lots of people were speaking French – there’s quite a big body music scene in Paris – but to be honest, it didn’t really matter because we were all just communicating through rhythm. And my French, I mean I can speak a little bit but not much, but we were actually able to really bond in quite a unique way, purely through experiencing that same musical experience. It was lovely, and obviously quite different to discussing crochets and quavers and Western classical language notation. And you know, body percussion, Samba, you can just do it right for the word go. It’s been quite interesting actually, you know, I have been to Brazil and both taught and learned from Brazilians, and my Portuguese is also not great, but it doesn’t matter because we just play together and we learn together and we bond together and we go out for a drink together. All good fun.
AH: So that brings me on to asking about how you work with music services and hubs. Do any of them use body percussion as part of their overall delivery in their actual strategy? Do they build it into their strategy?
OT: Yeah, and I think they’re realising that body percussion, come September, and also the end of the end of this term, is going to be one of the key resources. And so we’re already booked for several sessions at the end of August and the beginning of September to do precisely that. Not only for instrumental staff, but also for classroom staff. I think lots of people do use it already, it’s just a question of arming people with a little bit more of their kind of toolkit in terms of where else you can go with it. And so I think the one thing that music hubs and schools have had challenges with I think quite recently is the varying guidance that they’ve been presented with by the powers that be and try to work out what they can and can’t do. And the fact that the goalposts keep on shifting. Can we sing? Or can we chant? Or speak in tongues? We’re not quite sure. Whereas with body percussion, and obviously I’m going to need to think a bit about the use of words while I’m saying body percussion because obviously that’s a key thing at the moment. But in terms of body percussion itself, people have realised it’s a really, really key resource. And kind of just wondering, from September, the needs to still you know make practical music making, how are we going to do that? So yeah, I’ve been in touch with various hubs, and they seem to be quite keen to hear what we’ve got to say and we’re glad to be able to sort them in delivering it.
AH: Are you able to sort of advise, and are hubs asking questions about where body percussion can fit in terms of things like the core roles? Does it fit into whole class as part of delivery? Does it fit into groups and ensembles?
OT: Yeah, possibly not so much. I mean I think the impression I get is that music hubs aren’t yet thinking that specifically in terms of, ‘Right, we’ve got this really, really clear idea and we want to do this with it.’ I mean, some have, because they have to, because they have to have a plan of some sorts in action. But I think some are just trying to support the schools they’re working with, with as many possible ideas, just to kind of keep it as broad, so it’s not prescriptive. Because I think some classroom music teachers will be in a music room, and they’re trying to work out which instruments they can and can’t use. Some know they’re going to be in a school, in a classroom with zero instruments and zero musical equipment. So I think everyone’s going to find themselves in different kind of teaching contexts, and music hubs are aware of that. It’s the lack of knowing the specifics which I think people are finding a little bit of a challenge. So yeah, people are just trying to make the best of it, and just trying to arm themselves, and obviously body percussion is just kind of increasing the toolkit.
AH: That takes me on to you moving your lessons online. So that must have been a massive change as it has been to many of the people I’ve been speaking to over the last few weeks. Can you tell me a bit about how you did that, how you even started, and can you share a little bit about what you learned about going online?
OT: Yeah, yeah. It seems like, although it wasn’t that long ago, it seems like, yes, an age ago. I think when it was announced that schools would be shutting, and I was partly thinking, ‘Ah, where’s my entire income stream?’. Very, very scary indeed. Secondly, I also, as a person, need structure. So I was also aware that there are also other people like me who also needed structure. So the first thing I did was I started these free YouTube sessions, kind of did them at 11 o’clock every morning, Monday through to Friday, for three weeks. And because I think Joe Wicks was on I think at 9.30am. So some saw him at 9.30am and me at 11.00am, and somebody called me the Body Percussion Joe Wicks!
AH: That’s what I was thinking, that title was in my head [Laughs].
OT: And I wish I had his followers [Laughs]. And actually, ironically, as a dad of a small baby we’ve actually bought his weaning book which is lovely. And so yeah, fair play to him obviously, he raised loads of money for the NHS.
AH: Try and get a slot in one of his sessions, it would be brilliant.
OT: Yeah, well I did contact him. But strangely enough with his millions of followers he didn’t actually reply. But at one point though I got a text one evening and somebody said, ‘Oh, I’ve just seen you on the One Show on the BBC.’ And I was like, ‘Really?. Because they hadn’t been in touch with me, because it was on YouTube you don’t need to, because it’s all public domain. They did a feature on …
AH: Yes, do you know I think I saw that on social media.
OT: … keeping fit at home, and I was on after Joe Wicks before Lizzo. And it was amazing, because like you know, two actual, genuine celebrities and then me sandwiched in between them. But I bizarrely had quite a big feature. They had kind of a family trying some stuff out, and then a guy, bless him, kind of trying his best but I think found the kind of co-ordination of the particular thing, just as a one-off, quite a challenge. But you know, he gave it his best, and then I contacted them to see if they wanted a follow-up, and I didn’t hear from them strangely. But it was all fun.
AH: Aw, it’s actually going off topic a bit, but you’ve actually been on CBeebies before haven’t you?
OT: I have, yes, CBeebies on The Let’s Go Club. Which was great, although it was kind of a strange one because they said you need to teach two sessions, I did one for the kind of TV show and one for online, and they wanted me to teach a routine in two minutes. To six year olds. Right. And I also found out that one of the children in it, his granny had lied on the form and he was only five. But, you know, it was a good thing to do, and hopefully, you know, the children involved had a good time doing it. And obviously people have been saying, ‘Oh, I know you from CBeebies. My kids did that, and it was good fun.’ So, it’s a nice thing to do. But yeah, going back to the original question, so I kind of started off with those three sessions but then at that time I was doing all the sessions from my living room, which when I had a partner and a young baby, was no easy feat at 11 every morning. But also I kind of realised that if this was going to be longer term, income wise, I need to kind of start thinking a little bit more business like. So since I’ve kind of developed the regular Zoom, CPD sessions, both that I can put out and people can sign up to, or music hubs and schools have been writing and asking, ‘Oh, can you do this for us’. And also Zoom sessions and YouTube sessions, various hubs. And that’s another thing hubs have been dealing with actually, because during the summer term of course they usually have big summer festivals, and things going on, and so do schools. And so they’ve had to do things online which has been a steep learning curve for everybody. So I’ve ended up working with an entire county in a day, which has been quite interesting. For this quarter of an hour session, because Zoom sessions, depending on the age group, have been a lot shorter than normal sessions, partly to maintain concentration levels. But I think in one case, I think I worked with something like 30 schools at a time. And then in the next session there was another 30.
AH: My goodness, so how does that work? Can you see them?
OT: No. That would be serious streaming ability! No, purely, all just on YouTube or I think they may have used – other platforms are available! – but generally via YouTube. The numbers of people has been the one plus-side of doing online because I’ve been working with people all over the world with the star stuff. And although I have travelled a bit, it’s kind of been regularly, ‘Right, I’ve got 45 minutes with a group of teachers in Australia’, kind of thing.
AH: Really, so that’s amazing, so international. And I was sort of thinking it would be the UK, so you’ve been doing international work online?
OT: Yes, absolutely. And in some cases I’ve kind of made some Zoom sessions in the AM to suit that side of the world, and then later on in the day for America and Canada and those kinds of places, and Brazil. So yeah, it’s been good fun, and able to kind of find out how lockdown’s been treating everyone else, as well as kind of obviously spreading the glorious word of body percussion.
AH: And have you got any tips, or anything you can share with people who’ve been taking their lessons online? Anything that might help, particularly with body percussion? Because I imagine it must be really weird for you, because it’s about call and response isn’t it a lot of the time, so do you have to leave a gap and imagine people are doing it?
OT: Yeah, the initial thing to get my head around was that you couldn’t set anybody a composition task, because the only sense of ensemble playing is any one participant playing with the host. With the latency, there’s no option to play together when it comes to anything with a strict pulse. So I’ve had to kind of rethink the way I might plan workshops so that it wasn’t a question of, ‘Right, you guys go and compose something that goes over …’, that’s not doable obviously.
AH: Of course.
OT: But then, what I have done is, I’ve had suggestions, particularly in Zoom sessions for, if you’ve got a suggestion for how we might come up with a variation for this bar, then show us it. And then I mute myself, and then we all kind of listen to this one person and then I learn it and then we can all play in time with me.
AH: That’s nice.
OT: It’s lovely, and it’s a way of getting some kind of participant input. But obviously, in terms of the ensemble side of things, I’m gagging to be back in a room with people. In fact, I’ve got one booking for a school in Lewes near Brighton doing some body percussion sessions in the school playground, of which I’m really, really looking forward to just for the sake of being able to play with a group of people, obviously socially distanced. But yeah, I’m looking forward to that, and hopefully in September we’ll get a few more when people, well when they’ve got enough space to physically and mentally to be able to compute somebody coming in and doing a body percussion session. There’s so much going on at the moment, I’m not surprised, we’re trying to work out how we’re going to operate in any way as a school or a class. So it might take a little while to get to that point regularly.
AH: Yeah, definitely. And can you imagine yourself continuing to do online learning now? Did you do it before?
OT: Not so, no. The short answer is no. I mean, I did that one CBeebies thing which was their online thing, but that was filmed the same way as the other one was. And so, yes I will. It will partly depend on how busy we get as a company as we’re going on. Because obviously if I’m kind of doing a day of workshops in a school kind of far away, then committing to doing online stuff might be trickier to do. I’ll be kind of prioritising the ‘in person’ stuff. Certainly if people want to book us for bespoke online sessions, then it saves on travel costs, so why not.
AH: Yeah definitely. It sounds as though it’s definitely worth it for CPD.
OT: Of all the online sessions that I’ve done, people have said, ‘It’s was great, but really looking forward to being in person.’ I think it’s just, you know, being able to share ideas with people, to discuss things. Within our CPD session there’s always skills sharing and best practice sharing. ‘Oh, that idea you had, I tried this with my (whatever) year group’, ‘Oh, OK, yeah yeah yeah’. And partly just the kind of human social – people like communicating in big groups. Although the CPD thing we have some bookings for the online stuff, people are quite keen to get lessons and stuff happening as quickly as possible, just for a kind of human-bonding, communal experience.
AH: So you’ve had, as we’ve mentioned, you’ve had quite a lot of success making people aware of what you do, and obviously internationally as well, both within the music education sector, because most people know your name and also know the organisations name, and also in the media. Can you tell me a little bit about that? How you spread the message about yourself and about body percussion? Is there anything you could share that might be helpful to other people listening that are running music organistions?
OT: Yeah, sure. Well I guess, I mean partly it’s just I’ve got myself out there quite a lot. I’ve done sessions at the music and drama education expo quite frequently, I’ve done events for Music Mark, obviously events internationally for various different international schools and elsewhere. I think it’s just kind of, it’s partly that, and also I’m a little bit too [much] on social media, much to the detriment – I get told off about it quite a lot. But, it does mean that kind of people know about us. Two people who were key to Beat Goes On’s development were John and Lucy Kelleher from Educational Social Media or ESM Inbound as they’re now known. And they supported me hugely, created free downloadable resources for teachers and other people in education to download such as Junk Percussion Guide, and Rhythm Grids and other kinds of content based on conference appearances I’ve done. And this enabled us to kind of build up a substantial mailing list and kind of develop ongoing communication with people who were interested in what we were doing. They also helped us develop our use of social media in kind of new ways, and all of this helped Beat Goes On develop massively as a company. I can’t really understate just how much the impact they had on getting Beat Goes On up and running and into the company that it now is. And obviously the Stomp connection really helps. So when they go, ‘Oh, OK’. Because I think sometimes with body percussion, people don’t necessarily, even when you show them, of course that’s what it is, but they don’t kind of perhaps realise how diverse a thing it can be, and the depth to which you can go. It’s not just a warming-up thing, it’s a thing you can do in its own right. And obviously, if I say it’s a bit like Stomp, then they go ‘Oh, OK, cool’. So, that’s helped, and obviously the association with Pie Corbett from Talk for Writing, that’s very helpful, because Talk for Writing is incredibly popular in primary schools. So if they know that I kind of have a musical association with that, then that’s all good. But I think it’s mostly, just kind of, I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country, doing various bits and obviously lots of workshops in schools, and word spreads. And I think, I mean there’s quite a few people delivering Samba, but there don’t seem to be that many people delivering body percussion. So it seems to be something that’s kind of quite associated with us. I often get tagged in when people are looking for help with body percussion, and people tag us in or tag me in. That said, it hasn’t always been, you know there’s been some big, big learning curves along the way. So yeah, but it’s a lovely job to have.
AH: Yeah, I think with your organisation it’s creating that really lovely atmosphere around what you do and your enthusiasm comes through in every way you communicate doesn’t it? Yeah, and I’ve noticed you getting involved in conversations on social media and that’s another thing that I think is a really good thing to do that I think we overlook sometimes. Actually getting involved in other people’s conversations gets people to understand what you’re all about rather than simply pushing posts out on your own social media.
OT: Yeah. I’m aware that I’m, I have to find a balance, and I’m not always particularly successful at it, at being a bit too hard sell. I’m kind of aware that I go, “Oh, we’ve got this, and we do this’. But it’s a kind of tricky one, because at the end of the day, in certain contexts, for example with the education expo, you know I’m often there, partly to kind of you know share best practice, but also to get work. It is a networking option, and sometimes I kind of, ‘Allright, I’ll get back to you, I’ll let you know’, kind of thing, and then ‘Sorry’, so it’s about striking a balance.
AH: I think that’s a really interesting thing, from one self-employed person to another in the music education sector, we’re in a similar position. And freelancers in the sector are a really important part of the sector. And sometimes we can be criticised for being promotional, but we wouldn’t exist if we don’t do that. And if you’ve only ever worked in local authorities or in charities, it can seem that we’re not in it for the right reasons. Or that we’re only trying to make money. But absolutely, why would you be in this sector if you didn’t absolutely love it with a passion?
OT: [Laughs] You’re not in education if you’re in it for the money, no.
OT: So a little way into the lockdown. I think the initial response in lockdown was loads of free stuff from all the big arts organisations. Which was great, you know, no two ways about it, but it actually then meant offering anything that cost anything was almost like, ‘Oh, so I’ve’, nobody said literally, ‘I’ve got to pay for it?, but there was that little moment.
OT: And I think until people realised how long-term this was, people like got around to, ‘Oh, OK, I’ve got a family to support, and I’m trying to make it work from that point of view as well’. Which hopefully we’ve kind of swanned through the murky waters and have got there now.
AH: Yeah, I think it’s shaken up everyone’s business models hasn’t it, in a scary way in some ways, but in a good way in other ways. Definitely seen some opportunities come out of it as well some I guess some really, really tough times as well. It’s been really great talking to you Ollie, but actually before I move on to my final question, I haven’t asked you about Stomp yet and I have to admit I’m a massive, massive fan of Stomp. Yeah, so any kind of little nuggets of information that you can tell us about Stomp and how long you worked with them, and what was it like working with them? Because it’s amazing.
OT: Yeah. Well for one thing it was, as you can imagine, a dream come true. I saw the show you know as a child, well, kind of a young teenager, and then I actually almost got through a backdoor really. My first job with them was doing workshops in schools, going around in a van. One of us had already done the show, and he was kind of leading things, so we were learning from him. And then when he wasn’t available we’d do the workshops as well. Particularly when we did primary schools, often primary schools obviously had very long lunch breaks to get everyone through the lunch hall, so we’d often have lunch breaks. So, ‘OK, can we learn some of the show?’, and because we had a van full of brooms and basketballs and chairs and all sorts. So I actually learned most of the show in school car parks. And then kind of learned that, but at that point still I was there as a workshop facilitator. I knew enough to be able to teach workshops. I’d already done Samba drumming workshops up to that point, so I already know the ensemble workshop sensation. And then that carried on for a little while. They have a sister show called the Lost and Found Orchestra, which was originally commissioned for the Brighton Festival in 2005 that I was lucky enough then to be asked to be in. And since then that went to the Sydney Opera House which was incredible, and did it in Holland and America. And they did since Paris, the Royal Festival Hall over a Christmas so that was amazing. And then I just remember being out with a friend in town and I got a call saying Luke and Steve, who are the two founders of the show, they want you to be in the show. And I was like, ‘Argh?’, yeah, I didn’t really know what to do. It’s a very vivid memory for me. Usually, as I’ve mentioned that I auditioned as part of the regular audition process a few years prior to that and they have 30 people or so for like 5 to 10 minutes, and they learn a bit of the show, and one or two people might get selected from that into the next round, and the next round, and the next round. As I said, I kind of got in through kind of a backdoor because I auditioned for the workshop job and then kind of learned bits of the show in school car parks, and then got asked to do the show. So it was amazing, and so I was in the London show. Moved between the London show and the European tour over a two year period. It was an amazing thing, it was a dream come true. It’s awesome fun, but I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have done at the time. But I had a kind of ‘the grass is always greener’ type vibe, and I missed playing in bands. Obviously, when you’re a performer in a show, your evenings are spent working. And your daytimes are spent, unless you’ve got a matinee, your daytimes are spent just kind of milling around a bit unless you’re particularly on it. And so I missed my friends really, and missed the stuff I wasn’t able to do at the time. I did it for a couple of years, and then obviously the association with it, and everything I’ve done since has hugely influenced and helped me both as an educator and a performer ever since really. So it was an incredible experience and thing to be part of, and obviously hugely influential for my life from then on.
AH: That’s amazing. So finally, could you give us three practical pieces of advice for others in music education who are listening and perhaps running similar organisations to you.
OT: OK. One, not so much a bit of advice, but more just a kind of opinion on it, the whole core subject thing. Music is a core subject. That’s all there is to it. Everything else, as well as music itself, is benefitted by music. The second one, from a business point of view, I’ve said I got out and about here, there and everywhere. I think that’s really been one way that business has grown. And certain things have led to dead-ends. Most things have indirectly or directly led to other things. And in terms of workshop content and ideas, I tend to find that the more I can involve the students’ own ideas into each session, the more I get out of it because it keeps me on my toes and keeps the content new. But also the more participants get out of it because it means that they’re empowered in their own learning. It’s not just some dude they’ve never met before saying, ‘Right, I’m going to teach you this that I know.’ It’s, ‘Right, what styles of music are you into, what are you listening to at the moment, what instruments do you play?, and how can you adapt that into body percussion or to Samba or whatever it is, and it really empowers them as learners, both students and teachers. Often a question I ask at the beginning of CPD sessions is, the first album you ever bought on whatever format, and the first live gig you ever went to? And that can also be quite funny because people haven’t thought about, ‘I went and saw Buck’s Fizz’ or whatever, you know, but also as a serious point you’re already talking about their own musical experiences which can bring the kind of real musical world into, well sometimes music in school can sometimes be well that is classroom music. No, music is music, so it’s nice to bring the outside musical world into the classroom.
AH: That’s a really brilliant tip to end on. Thank you very much for coming on Ollie. It’s been lovely having you, lovely to talk to you. And if you want to read more about Ollie and the Beat Goes On I’ll share links and information in the notes that accompany this podcast on my website.