Education and Community

Sophie Dunn

Creative Learning Director, Britten Sinfonia 

What it's like to be an Education Manager:

Almost all orchestras have an Education (or Learning, or Creative Learning...) department. In some it is run by one person and in others there are large teams. The purposes of the department are usually to do with opening up the orchestra's repertoire, and music-making in general, to wider audiences. In some cases this is to do with creating new audiences for the orchestra's core concert series; in others it is about trying to embed the orchestra in the communities in which it performs, and make its resources more widely available.

Education programmes work with a wide range of audience groups, from school children of all ages to prisons and young offender institutions, from youth orchestras to residential homes. Although some project participants are experienced musicians, many have had little or no prior involvement with classical music or orchestral instruments; projects often aim not only to develop musical skills, but also to use music as a means to enabling good communication, confidence, leadership skills and teamwork amongst participants.

 The job is really about project management: making sure that the right people turn up at the right place and the right time, with the right equipment and knowledge to deliver the project! It involves liaising with musicians, workshop leaders, schools, community groups, venues, funders, suppliers and many other parties. Education Managers, or at least heads of education departments, are usually involved in strategic planning at a high level, developing ideas in collaboration with colleagues in other departments. They are often also responsible, at least in part, for fundraising to make projects happen, whether through applications to trusts and foundations, relationships with sponsors, ticket sales or fee-based projects.

Much of the role is to do with relationship building - it's very important to get on well with musicians, teachers, children and other partners in order to make projects run smoothly. It's also useful to be highly organized, as you are often juggling several projects, at different stages of development, at the same time. A reaonsably good knowledge of the classical repertoire is helpful, as is an understanding of how an orchestra works. The most important thing is probably the ability to get the best out of people: other people (workshops leaders and musicians) are usually the "public face" of a project, and the manager's role is to take care of all the practical details so that they can do their jobs as well as possible.

The downsides of the job are that it can involve long hours and not-brilliant pay (but the same can be said for most arts jobs!) and that you can sometimes find yourself having to compromise on your ideal project because of a lack of funding or resources. The upsides are the variety, the interesting people you meet and work with, and being able to share something you love doing with other people. The best thing is seeing a project you've worked hard on come to fruition, watching the participants enjoying the experience and learning from it, and seeing the effect on their skills and confidence.

Career path:

I graduated in Music from Oxford University in 1997, and initially hoped to become a Music Therapist. Because training courses in Music Therapy preferred applicants to be over 25, I decided to train as a teacher, to gain experience and also because I saw that as a potential career path.

I gained a PGCE in secondary music teaching from Kingston University in 1998, and then spent three years teaching music at a large London comprehensive school. I realized fairly quickly that teaching wasn't the career for me (or at least not at that point in my life), but was determined to get to the point where I felt confident and competent as a teacher! The aspects of teaching which I particularly enjoyed were the extra-curricular activities - organizing concerts, conducting the school band and taking pupils on tour.

I decided to resign from teaching in 2001, but didn't know what I wanted to do next. I had decided against Music Therapy training, and spent my summer holidays looking through job adverts for something which appealed, as well as temping and getting some work experience. At the same time, I discovered the ABO's volunteer register and, when I rang the office to ask to be added to it, I was offered a day's work the very next day, staffing the ABO reception whilst they conducted interviews for a Project Manager. At the end of the day, Fiona Harvey sat down with me and told me all about the world of orchestral education, and I decided that was the career I wanted to pursue.

Even though I had several years of teaching experience, I felt that I needed more direct experience working with orchestras, so I applied for and got an internship at the Orchestra of St John's (OSJ). I spent six months working on their Adventures in Sound education programme, which I very much enjoyed. I then had a stroke of luck: I got a junior position as Education Officer at City of London Sinfonia (CLS), where they were also recruiting for an Education Manager. I hoped that, if I worked hard and proved myself in the first couple of months, they might consider me for the more senior position - and that's what happened. I spent five years with CLS before coming to my current position with Britten Sinfonia.

Along the way, the main things I have learned are:

  • That it always pays to go and talk to people! I met my future CLS boss at an ABO event, and that definitely made me feel more confident when I went for an interview with him. He also gave me advice and put me in touch with the person who gave me my internship at OSJ.
  • To get lots of work experience, and tailor your CV / application form to the job you're applying for, leaving out anything that's not relevant and fleshing out the bits that are.
  • That it's really important to research the company you want to work for, and be ready to say why you want to work for them. I regularly interview people who tell me that they "just want to get a foot on the ladder" in arts administration - that's not what an interviewer wants to hear; they want to know why you're enthusiastic about their particular company!
  • That it can be worth taking a less-than-ideal position in an interesting company. I was concerned about the CLS education officer job because the salary was so much lower than my teaching salary had been, but it paid off when I got promoted. Being on the inside can definitely make it easier to get the job.