What an extraordinary year for The Music Man Project! Our remarkable musicians made the biggest impact I’ve seen in over 20 years of teaching in this industry. They’ve shown what can be achieved with hard work, high expectations and help from incredible organisations and people. If the Music Man Project’s landmark performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2019 heralded a step-change in accessible massed live performance, this year witnessed an explosion of mainstream media coverage that has propelled our cause to even greater heights. Now we don’t just entertain thousands of people in concerts, we inspire millions of people at home as well. Our musicians are not only role models for their community but quite possibly world leaders in accessible arts and culture for people with learning disabilities.
As a registered charity, The Music Man Project promotes equal access to performance as creatives and raises awareness of the achievements of disadvantaged people in the arts. We support a network of regional teaching hubs for people with learning disabilities across the UK and around the world, including the original Southend Mencap service that I started with one student 22 years ago.
In 2022 we delivered workshops around the country to help launch new regional teaching centres. We headlined a concert for Sir David Amess concluding with a moving rendition of “Any Dream Will Do” with Lee Mead. At the London Palladium our musicians received a standing ovation and 4 yes votes from celebrity judges at the auditions for Britain’s Got Talent – Simon Cowell described them as “like drinking a glass of happiness”. They also appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, featured in a video presentation for the United Nations in New York and reached 12,000 mainstream school children with their workshops for schools. They performed at Naidex, Europe’s largest disability show at the NEC in Birmingham, delivered our first corporate Disability Awareness workshop at Tate Britain and welcomed the Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton to the City of Southend. Southend Airport unveiled a large sign featuring The Music Man Project Student Ambassadors welcoming visitors to the City from around the world – the first in any UK airport.
However, our greatest adventure was a ground-breaking collaboration with His Majesty’s Band of the Royal Marines. Distributed by SONY/AMG and recorded by Zen Broadcast, our charity single “Music is Magic” features The Music Man Project UK Student Ambassadors accompanied by the HMS Collingwood Royal Marine Band. We were joined by students from regional Music Man Projects in the official music video and launched our bid for Christmas number 1 with a special performance at the iconic Painted Hall in Greenwich.
“Music is Magic” with HM Band of The Royal Marines (TEAM LEWIS)
The single release sparked a wave of public interest in our musicians. They were celebrated in the national press, industry magazines, music journals and radio shows. They appeared twice on Sky News, featured on BBC1 Breakfast and performed live from HMS Collingwood on ITV’s Good Morning Britain. They took part in a concert at the Portsmouth Guildhall with the Massed Bands of the Royal Marines and toured three London railway stations with the Royal Marines Charity to promote the Christmas single. All this within 10 days!
Sky News Interview 1
Sky News Interview 2
BBC1 Breakfast Feature
ITV’s Good Morning Britain Performance
Music is Magic Railway Station Tour (TEAM LEWIS)
I was thrilled that “Music is Magic” with the Royal Marines reached number 10 on the iTunes chart! What an achievement for everyone involved!
The secret to all this success was collaboration. This year we received help from extraordinary people who gave their time and expertise to support our charity.
TEAM LEWIS FOUNDATION
By far our most significant partnership is with global marketing company, TEAM LEWIS. The TEAM LEWIS foundation offered to help us after the murder of our President, the late Sir David Amess in October 2021. Their generosity, expertise and commitment to our cause shows that good can replace evil, ensuring Sir David’s legacy of championing our once-forgotten society will live on long after his tragic death. TEAM LEWIS has transformed my 20-year campaign for accessible and inclusive music education. Their advice and guidance, donations, filming-making, social media and website support, concert opportunities, TV, radio and podcast appearances and our ground-breaking partnership with the Royal Marines are life-changing opportunities for our community. Thank you TEAM LEWIS CEO, Chris Lewis and TEAM LEWIS Foundation CEO, Samuel Dean for believing in The Music Man Project and for furthering the work of my charity on a scale I could only dream of.
Listen to the Who Cares Podcast with TEAM LEWIS here
BAND OF HM ROYAL MARINES
Thanks to TEAM LEWIS and our new patron, the Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP, we now enjoy a ground-breaking relationship with His Majesty’s Band of The Royal Marines. The partnership connects elite military musicians and people with learning disabilities through the universal language of music. Our Christmas single collaboration will be followed by joint concerts and performances next year, including a guest appearance at the Mountbatten Festival of Music at the Royal Albert Hall. The Royal Marines are a brilliant organisation to work with and I pay particular tribute to the kindness, patience and musical expertise of Bandmaster WO2 HRG Hannah Trudgeon and Director of Music Capt Sam Hairsine. Most of all I express my heartfelt thanks to the Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP, TEAM LEWIS CEO, Chris Lewis and Lt Col Jason Burcham, Principal Director of Music of The Royal Marines Band Service. Their vision and determination made it all possible.
THE SALVATION ARMY
This year we continued our partnership with the Salvation Army, helping us bring our service to new communities across the UK. The UK Salvation Army was the first national organisation to see the value in my work and they’ve been supporting The Music Man Project for the last 5 years, through funding our UK workshop tour and providing new instruments to help Salvation Army churches start their own regional Music Man Projects. Last Christmas we performed alongside the International Staff Band in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Thank you to their Learning Disability Inclusion Development Manager, Chris Stringer for his continued commitment and support.
THE CHURCHILL FELLOWSHIP ACTIVATE FUND
The Churchill Fellowship is a community of 3,800 changemakers developing new solutions for the UK’s most pressing problems. In 2019 I visited New York as part of my fellowship and I was inspired by the quality of accessible music services on offer, especially at Daniel’s Music Foundation in East Harlem. This year I received a Fellowship Activate Grant to extend the impact I’m making within the learning disabled community and sectors across the UK. The grant provides time and resources to disseminate the recommendations of my 2019 report, develop new strategies to influence change and raise the profile of my approach across the national media. I owe so much to the Churchill Fellowship. It gave me credibility and my first platform to make a difference.
Read Churchill Fellowship blog here
DISABILITY AND ACCESS AMBASSADOR PROGRAMME
Government Disability and Access Ambassadors are non-political volunteers who encourage improvements in accessibility of services in their sectors. In my role as Ambassador for Arts and Culture, I receive support and advice from the Disability Unit at the Cabinet Office, the Department for Education and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The role gives me direct access to Government Ministers, MPs and Civil Servants. This has been crucial as I build a platform to influence policy, share achievements and make connections across Government agencies. For example, in 2022 I helped write the new National Plan for Music Education and I recorded a video about my approach to accessible arts for the Disability Minister to present at the UN. Disability and Access Ambassadors were the idea of former Disability Minister and current Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt MP. It is so fitting that Penny is now supporting our charity as patron of The Music Man Project. At the end of December Penny presented our Christmas single and new studio album to the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. It capped off an incredible year for our musicians. This is what real accessible arts and culture should mean in today’s society – people with disabilities valued as creative artists and performers!
Read Cabinet Office Blog here
THE MUSIC MAN PROJECT STUDENT AMBASSADORS
My biggest honour of all is to work with the famous Music Man Project Student Ambassadors – our 12 leading performers from The Music Man Project charity headquarters in Essex. They inspire and motivate me every single day and I could not be more proud of them. It’s difficult to overstate the commitment required to be an ambassador for The Music Man Project UK. Most of these musicians have been working with me for nearly 20 years. They spend hours in a minibus travelling thousands of miles around the country with their parents, lugging instruments and equipment everywhere they go. They give up other enjoyable and easier activities to join my campaign and overcome exhaustion and medical conditions on top of the challenges of their own unique learning disabilities. As ever, I seek ways around time and geography limitations to extend these collaborations to our amazing regional projects around the country. These localised projects are on their own similar journeys towards greater inclusion and accessibility through our music. It’s been wonderful to see my fellow directors, Sarah Mann and Natalie Bradford receive awards in 2022 for their own incredible work with their own regional projects.
Volunteers play a pivotal role in the daily teaching across our regions under the direction of our licenced regional partner organisations, local Mencap societies and the Salvation Army. However, I want to pay particular tribute to the volunteers who run The Music Man Project UK charity. Everything you read in this blog has been achieved through a year of their voluntary work. These remarkable people have gone above and beyond to further the high aims of the national Music Man Project charity as well supporting their own local regional centres on a regular basis. Typically these individuals are charity directors and trustees, and parents and carers of the students ambassadors. However, one volunteer worthy of special mention is Jon Webber. A regular at Music Man Project Essex, Jon continued to contribute to our work in countless ways during 2022, including playing bass guitar, recording students and community choirs, sound engineering our concerts and editing our podcasts. His amazing photos were fundamental to our Christmas single promotion and they appeared centre-stage in national newspapers and on TV.
Many potential supporters ask me what The Music Man Project can do for them, but Jon uses his skill set to ask what he can do for the Music Man Project!
AL STEELE AND SHABBEY ROAD STUDIOS
Finally, on January 1st, we released our second studio album “Follow The Music”, featuring Jenny Hitchcock, Samantha Link, Daniel James, Johnny Buxton, Stuart Woolner, Hayley Byfield, students from The Music Man Project and Southend Vox Choir. Available on all streaming and download platforms, the album continues our long-standing collaboration with music producer and arranger, Al Steele. The latest Stanley/Steele creation was two years in the making as we had to overcome the challenges of COVID. It features my new songs “Now We’re on Broadway”, “The Music Man Time Machine”, “Sax Appeal”, “Follow The Music”, “United We Stand” and “Have You Ever Stopped to Think?”. It also includes our award-winning rendition of “Love Shine A Light”. Particularly noteworthy is the premiere of a brand new version of the stand-out song from our 2019 Royal Albert Hall show called “Think of the World You Leave Behind”. This is because the track features “The Phantom of the Opera” himself, Peter Karrie in yet another fantastic collaboration!
,If you like Music is Magic, you’ll love Follow the Music!
Streaming platforms: search “Follow the Music” by The Music Man Project UK
Download on Itunes here
Download on Apple Music here
KINGS COLLEGE, LONDON
As a previous winner of the King’s Distinguished Alumni Award, I was delighted to meet the new President and Principal of King’s College London at an awards ceremony last year. I owe this outstanding university so much and want to give back by contributing to King’s development in the future. I was delighted to be a guest speaker at the King’s Entrepreneurship Institute at the end of 2022 where I spoke about my career and journey from music teacher to entrepreneur.
Read King’s College London Blog here
Thank you to everyone who helped me and The Music Man Project make 2022 a year to remember: from students, volunteers, carers, parents, tutors, trustees and patrons to the Southend Vox choir, Shabbey Road Studios, the Salvation Army, the Churchill Fellowship, the Cabinet Office, SONY/AMG, Zen Broadcast, E Spot Design Services, Tatcho Design, the Band of HM Royal Marines and TEAM LEWIS Foundation. This was the year when everyone came together to do something extraordinary.
I make special mention of our new MP for Southend West, Anna Firth MP. Anna worked tirelessly throughout the year to champion the interests of Southend, especially the national Music Man Project charity which is based in the City. I was delighted she agreed to join our group of esteemed patrons. She continues the great work of Sir David Amess but also brings fresh ideas and opportunities for our musicians in Southend and around the UK.
I also thank my side-kick and co-lyricist, Jenny Hitchcock, along with the entire team at the Southend Mencap Music Man Project for their support in allowing me the time and opportunity to pursue my big ambitions with the national charity for the benefit of the wider Music Man community.
In December we lost our dear friend, Daniel. Dan was an inspiration to us all, a brilliant and joyful young man who spent almost 20 years singing, playing and performing with The Music Man Project. He was with us from the early days of the original Southend Mencap Music School and went on to perform at the London Palladium and Royal Albert Hall as a mainstay of our adult service. We send our deepest condolences to his dear family and his lovely carers. We will remember Dan for his great singing, his wonderful dancing (which almost made him leap out of his wheelchair) and his pure love of music. Music was definitely Magic for our Dan.
WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING?
2023 Mountbatten Festival appearence with the Royal Marines at the Royal Albert Hall
Joint concert with the HMS Collingwood Royal Marines Band
Partnership with the Children’s Parliament
Release of Music Man Project’s third studio album “Together We Are Strong”
2024 Massed Music Man Projects at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Marines
I wish our great big international Music Man family a happy and prosperous New Year!