Musical Connections – Glasgow ISME 2016

Back in 2008 I had no difficulty in persuading my husband to accompany me to Bologna, Italy, for my very first ISME conference. When I told him that the 32nd ISME conference was taking place in Glasgow and suggested that it would lovely if he were to come with me again I must admit I had to work slightly harder to get him to agree! But we have both been in Glasgow for the last few days and what a stimulating and thought provoking week it has been.



ISME stands for the International Society for Music Education and was founded in 1953 after a UNESCO convention. In its mission statement it states that it ‘believes that lived experiences of music, in all their many aspects, are a vital part of the life of all people.’ It aims to build a community throughout the world that encourages everyone to work together with ‘mutual respect and support’ and that promotes ‘music education for people of all ages in all relevant situations throughout the world’.

Every two years music educators from all continents come together to exchange ideas and celebrate the diversity and richness of country. The ISME Glasgow 2016 conference was enormous with 1400 delegates from all over the world. All the ‘big’ names in the research community were there: Professor Gary McPherson, Professor Susan Hallam, Professor Graham Welch and Professor Lucy Green to name just a few.

This is very much my view of the week. Talk to one of the other attendees and you would get a very different story as each day there has been a wealth of papers, symposia, workshops, demonstrations and concerts to attend. I came to get inspiration, find out what is going on around the world, hopefully make some new friends and to present two papers of my own.


The one time most delegates did gather in the same place was to hear the keynote speeches. Dame Evelyn Glennie kept us all engaged and involved with lots of opportunities for audience participation! She began with a stunning snare drum piece that opened up a whole new sound world – just on the one instrument! There were absolutely no limits to how and where she created sounds on the snare drum, including the side and the stand.

As music educators she encouraged all of us to keep pushing the boundaries of how we teach. Her first lessons certainly pushed her as, with no sign of a method book, her teacher gave her a snare drum and in lesson 2 asked her to create the ‘feel’ of a tractor. Being a farmer’s daughter this opened up a whole orchestra of tractors. Is it a tractor going uphill, downhill, over bumpy ground, pulling a trailer? The only limit was her own imagination rather than a teacher-imposed limitation of ‘how to’ play the snare drum.

‘I am a sound creator, then a musician and then a percussionist’

Jazz musician Randy Weston kept us all entranced for 90 minutes with his piano playing and stories. He shared his profound insights about music, spirituality, the role of Africa and the importance of the family. For him music is at the very heart and centre of life and has immense power in its ability to ‘cut across all boundaries’.

‘You can’t see or touch music but it touches you’.


One of the most powerful things about the ISME conference is the ability to make connections across the world. Monday morning saw a meeting of the Forum for Instrumental and Vocal Pedagogy. The Forum represents the private instrumental teacher and although it has only been in existence since 2010 it has grown quickly. The forum chair is Gary L Ingle, who is also Executive Director and CEO of the MTNA. He was delighted to report that the 2016 conference had attracted a record number of paper proposals and that there were to be 80 sessions with representation from 17 countries and 5 continents. He observed that there was a real sense of the one-to-one instrumental teacher being finally recognised as part of the world music education community rather than outside of it. As piano teachers the world over this is something that we all need to continue recognising, acknowledging and promoting.


I knew from my previous experience in Bologna that I would have to make some difficult choices about what to go to and what to miss. For example on Monday between 2pm and 6.15pm there were over 130 papers being given!  On Tuesday morning I could have gone to see: my old colleague Dr Nicholas Bannan present his paper on Darwin, Fuchs and Schenker meeting in the Primary; Theory Club given by Judith Bell from New Zealand; Alan Fraser presenting Understanding Body Structure and Function to name just a few!

In the end I went to a fabulous workshop given by Jennie Henley, Wendy Brooks and Susanne Burgess about primary generalist teachers’ perceptions of teaching music. This was a workshop in the true sense of the word with all of us involved and a real sense of everyone’s knowledge having been shared at the end.

We have mentioned the Power of Music, a research synthesis by Professor Susan Hallam before on the blog. It was good to hear the topic brought up to date with some of the latest findings regarding the effect music has on literacy, numeracy and emotional regulation.

I was fascinated to hear Naomi Norton present her recent research into the qualifications of instrumental teachers. Similar to my own (unpublished) findings her survey uncovered a lack of teaching qualifications amongst instrumental teachers. After her presentation we sat down together and had an enthusiastic discussion about the topic! It is always so good to meet up with someone who shares your passion and I sense a future collaboration emerging.


So have I been inspired? Without a doubt! My passion and belief for music as a force for good in the world has been strengthened and being amongst other researchers has refreshed my commitment to getting some papers of my own published – ASAP.

I still believe that the role the piano teacher plays in the music education world is often over-looked and undervalued and I call upon all of you to rise to the challenge of changing this perception.

How? Well I believe that it has to start with the individual and how much you value yourself and present yourself to the world. For those of us in the Northern Hemsphere who are currently on your summer break we should take this opportunity to feed and nurture both our teaching and musical souls.

I’ve shared a bit of my ‘nuturing’ with you all – now we’d love you all to share below how you are taking care of your own musical soul this summer.

Next week: if you are looking for some fresh inspiration for beginner lessons in the term ahead make sure you read our blog next week when we are launching our very first on-line course called ‘Let’s Play’!

5 thoughts on “Musical Connections – Glasgow ISME 2016

  1. Monica Wilkinson

    Hello Sally, thanks for your reflections on ISME. It was lovely to spend some time out with you there, sharing experiences and discussing ways of developing and encouraging excellent teaching.

    Did you read the article in ‘Pianist” about Dalcroze?

    Very best wishes for a splendidly productive and enjoyable session. Hope we meet again soon! Monica

  2. Dr. Rebecca Grooms Johnson, President, MTNA

    I was privileged to attend both of your sessions at ISME and enjoyed them immensely. Thanks so much for all that you share with the profession!

    1. Sally

      Thank you so much for your support at my sessions – much appreciated! I look forward to seeing you again in Baltimore in 2017.

  3. Maureen Mather

    Thanks Sally for sharing your experiences and giving a flavour of what sounds like it was a jam packed conference. I couldn’t make it sadly but you’ve encouraged me to think about planning to go to the next one in Azerbaijan!! Sometimes conferences have links post-conference to presentations which are good to follow up on whether you were there or not. Do you know if ISME are offering this?

    Also I thought you might like to know I spotted a job advert for an instrumental vacancy in Surrey as part of a music school. They offered training via the Curious Piano Teachers programme as a perk of the job!

    As for my holiday music plans I am hoping to revise my school music curriculum to integrate some of the extended techniques from the Voices Part 2 course; finding out more about the new Primary Musical Futures programme; look for new choral repertoire for my choirs; find simple but fun music for my new school orchestra; and play the piano just for me for once! Hope you have a happy musical holiday!

    1. Sally

      Hi Maureen,

      It sounds like you have a busy few weeks ahead! Thanks for sharing. I’m afraid I don’t know whether links are available or not – sorry.

      Azerbaijan does sound like quite an adventure so it would be great to see you there!


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