A charity set up last year in memory of composer and former Minster School headmaster Dr Richard Shephard has been bringing weekly music classes to almost 700 primary school children in isolated or deprived areas of Ryedale and Yorkshire.

The Richard Shephard Music Foundation, which was set up following Dr Shephard's death in February last year, has been working with four primary schools since last September: Pickering Community Junior School, Gillamoor Church of England Primary School, St George’s RC Primary School in Scarborough and Easterside Academy in Middlesbrough.

Now it has begun 2022 by signing up a fifth school - Slingsby Community Primary School.

The charity's aim is to help more children in rural and deprived areas of Yorkshire to experience music in classrooms, and at events, across the region.

York Press:

Dr Richard Shephard

Over the last forty years, music education has declined dramatically in primary schools across the country.

A 2019 survey found that that one in five primary school teachers reported that there was 'no regular music lesson for their class'.

Cathy Grant, the general manager of the Richard Shephard Foundation, said there was a risk that a generation of children could grow up many of whom were excluded from the experience of music -and from the opportunities for development and educational achievement that music brings.

With schools often lacking the resources or time to develop a progressive, challenging music curriculum, the Foundation aims to make things easier.

Starting in disadvantaged or isolated communities, it is subsidising curriculum-based music lessons in primary schools, working with education partner, Sing Education.

Through the programme, all children participate in both a music lesson and singing assembly at least once a week, and also have the opportunity to take part in a choir or music club.

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Children from St George's St George’s RC Primary in Scarborough join in a music lesson

Since the start of September, almost 700 schoolchildren have been taught weekly in music classes across their partner schools.

Alongside school music lessons, the Foundation has also partnered with the prestigious Ryedale Festival to offer young people the chance to perform and attend events featuring professional musicians such as the Foundation’s patron, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason.

Cathy said: “Richard Shephard changed the lives of hundreds of children across York and North Yorkshire, and the goal of the Foundation is to extend that legacy and experience to thousands more children across the North.

“Right now, many children in communities across the region are unable to experience a full and progressive music education, through no fault of their own.

"By subsidising this programme of music teaching, and providing performance opportunities, this can start to change.”

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Cathy Grant

St George’s RC Primary School in Scarborough was one of the first to sign up in September.

Head of School Amanda Stone says she is already starting to see the impact of the lessons.

“The children absolutely love the music sessions," she said.

"They are all engaged and enthusiastic. The teachers are excellent at their job, are friendly and have fitted into our school well.”

Children from St George’s recently demonstrated their musical skills at a showcase event for other school leaders in the area.

“I’ve been absolutely blown away by the impact that having weekly music lessons has already had on the pupils at St George’s,” Cathy Grant said.

“Not only do the pupils sing together with greater confidence, their musical knowledge has also vastly improved.

"Children learn music from around the world, fundamental musicianship skills and play a variety of musical instruments together.

"As well as being great for children’s general knowledge and wellbeing, we hope these building blocks will mean they’ll enter secondary school with an increased level of confidence and understanding that will encourage more of them to study for a music qualification or seek out opportunities to further their musical skills.”

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Josh Cadman and Katie Brier from Sing Education leading a lesson at St George’s

Foundation Trustee Sir Ron Cooke, the former Vice Chancellor of the University of York, said bringing music into the lives of young children was something that had always been close to Dr Shephard's heart.

"So it is very exciting that the Foundation is up and running," he said. "It is a wonderful way of remembering Richard."

Future plans for the Foundation include the development of junior choirs and specialist provision for disabled young people to access adapted instruments.

The Foundation set itself an initial fundraising target of £500,000. Thanks to the support of donors, it has made some progress towards this, enabling it to bring music already into the lives of so many children.

But it still needs to raise more funds to enable its work to continue.

“None of what we have achieved would be possible without the generous support of our donors,” said Cathy. “They make it all possible.

"We’ll be continuing to seek vital funding throughout the year to allow our activities to continue and expand.”

To find out more about the work of the Richard Shephard Music Foundation, or to make a donation, visit www.rsmf.org.uk