I have been an MU member for the best part of 20 years, and a member of the MU Education Section Committee since April 2020. Applications to be on the committee had taken place before we'd even heard of Covid, so it was certainly a strange time to join, with meetings taking place on Zoom.
I had decided to apply to be a committee member after taking part in a mentoring programme (she.grows x MU) in 2019. This had involved travelling to MU HQ for an event, and I'd really enjoyed feeling more like a part of something bigger.
To be honest, until that point, I hadn't really spent a lot of time thinking about the work of the MU and how it functions - as long as I had my insurance and teaching rates guidance, I was all set! After being more involved through the mentoring programme, I was keen to explore other ways of being a more active union member.
l had a lot more to contribute than I had realised
I attended my first meeting online feeling much like the oft cited fish out of water. I only knew one other person on the committee - the only other Scottish member - and really didn't know what to expect. While the faces were friendly, I did doubt how much of a contribution I'd be able to make. It seemed that most of the members at the time had much more experience of being on the committee, and indeed of the music education system in England.
In order for the Education Section Committee to function well, it needs a broad range of members with a wide range of experience
I decided to sit quietly and listen. However, I quickly realised that not only was I not particularly good at keeping quiet during these important discussions, I also had a lot more to contribute than I had realised.
In order for the Education Section Committee to function well, it needs a broad range of members with a wide range of experience. My imposter syndrome of not being a music teacher in a school or higher education institution quickly fell away as I came to appreciate that my experience as a freelance musician in education and community settings was valid and valuable.
I have been self-employed for almost 20 years, working with many musical institutions, organisations and third-sector partners in that time.
Hybrid meetings mean I still feel completely included
My first in-person committee meeting was in October 2021 at the MU Education Conference in Birmingham, and it's been great to have other in-person meetings since.
The committee has embraced the hybrid format of online and in-person meetings, alternating between formats and recently having a combined meeting with some members in-person and others online. This has been particularly helpful for me as travel to London isn't always feasible due to work and family commitments, yet I still feel completely included in the meetings.
Having a forum in which I can voice concerns and receive support has been so important
In my time on the committee, I feel that there have been many changes. For example, the subject of health and wellbeing is now considered in some way at every meeting, and many resources have been developed to support teaching members of the union.
Being on the committee has helped broaden my understanding of the way the union works, and also how valuable a resource it is
In particular, during Covid I was so grateful for the support of the MU in so many different ways - from the grants available, to articles and guidance, and for further opportunities such as undertaking a Mentoring Award through the MU.
Being on the committee has helped broaden my understanding of the way the union works, and also how valuable a resource it is. The past few years have been challenging for musicians in all contexts, and while those in the performing world have had their challenges highlighted by the media (and rightly so), it does seem that the stories of musicians working more in community and education settings haven't been so visible.
The funding landscape is hugely unreliable at present - arts funding in Scotland has been precarious over the past year or so and still seems somewhat insecure.
Having a forum in which I can voice concerns, receive support and also understand what the MU can do to support their members has been so important. Not only do I value the MU's presence in my professional life, but I feel that my contribution as a committee member is valued in return.
We need a committee which is truly reflective of society and where fair and equal representation is standard
Going forward, I would love to see the committee become even more diverse in its membership.
Having members from all corners of the UK would be so valuable in making sure that the committee has a broad perspective from which to make decisions (and don't worry, if, like me, you're not based in England and don't really understand what the Music Hub system is or how it functions - there are plenty of other subjects up for discussion).
I would particularly encourage younger MU members and female-identifying members to consider joining the committee. There does still seem to be a bias towards older, male members sitting on committees of all kinds - and with the greatest respect to those currently on the committee, this doesn't seem representative of the wider MU membership or indeed of the music teaching community.
In lines with the MU Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy, we need a committee which is truly reflective of society and where fair and equal representation is standard. I'm looking forward to the next MU Education Conference which will be in Glasgow in October 2024, and hope to meet many new committee members there - I'll be happy to teach you how to ceilidh dance!