History of SaMM

A Brief History of SaMM (formerly SaMS)

In the Summer of 2000, I was approached by Jill Bird, the Head of Music at KEVICC, asking if I was interested in applying for funding , and then, if successful, in running a Saturday Music School at KEVICC. She felt the need for this firstly, in complementing music in the school and an already existing Friday evening Music Centre in Torquay (which still runs and caters for young mainly orchestral players) and secondly to encourage more primary school children in music. Although some of the larger primary schools in the area had a music specialist on the staff, the smaller ones were unable to offer opportunities for music making in preparation for their move to secondary school.

I applied to Music For Youth (now Youth Music) and was successful in receiving over £58,000 from them as well as £5,000 from the KEVICC school foundation governors. By November, we had in place a team of 10 locally based tutors and a group of parents and other volunteers to form a committee to support the venture. This included a chair, treasurer, secretary and representatives of the tutors and students. The first session of SaMS (Saturday Music School) took place on the Saturday after the Autumn half term, having been publicised in all local schools and about 60 students came along and enjoyed workshops in such things as singing, African drumming, gamelan, samba and jazz. This was really a taster session and the following week a full programme of 3 sessions of 50 minutes with 4 or 5 classes happening simultaneously offering a wide choice of activities for those new to music as well as more experienced players.  Individual lessons on a range of instruments were also available – flute, violin, piano, keyboard, guitar (classical and pop/rock), saxophone, clarinet, brass, tuned percussion and drums – which fed into the wide of ensembles being offered. 

By the following year there were about 150 young people attending regularly and enjoying African drumming and singing, jazz, choir, theory classes, percussion groups, folk and brass bands and a string group. When we started there was a music therapy session led by a highly qualified and experienced music therapist, but he did not continue because of other full time commitments and the sessions did not continue in this worthwhile, but specialised area.  

At this time KEVICC were applying for government funding as a specialist Performing Arts College, and their success may well have been helped by SaMS already up and running, and after this success, KEVICC were able to give financial support to SaMS as well as allowing us to use the college premises. Three years later we applied for more funding from Music for Youth, to add more groups, such as guitar ensemble, Sing and Play (for younger children), Junk band and a second folk group. However, at this point there was also a need to ask parents to contribute an annual fee, still heavily subsidised, to meet the costs, which have always been mainly tutor’s fees.    

The new funding was also able to support a series of “roadshows” – going out to 3 local primary schools in a day with one or two SaMS ensembles to publicise the Saturday school which continued to generate interest, although it has to be said that our main source of publicity always seems to have been “word of mouth”.

In March 2005 the Totnes Town Mayor gave extra support to SaMS, firstly by naming us as one of his charities for the year, and secondly by letting us have the use of the Civic Hall for a day to have an open day with continuous music making that local people were able to come to, have a cup of tea or coffee and cake and get to know more about what SaMS was about. The whole experience was well worth the effort, but has never been repeated.

2008 saw a visit from our patron Joanna MacGregor, the renowned concert pianist, who showed a great interest in all our activities and was photographed with members of the tuned percussion group. The following day some of our students and parents enjoyed a terrific, inspiring solo recital that she gave at Dartington Hall . 

There have been other occasional trips organised to hear professional performances, notably to the Royal Opera House in London to see “Gentle Giant” as well as several visits to the University Great Hall in Exeter to hear the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.  

In 2010, the government decided to not continue providing funding to secondary schools with specialist status, so KEVICC was no longer able to pass a proportion of their Performing Arts budget on to SaMS which they had been doing for 10 years. They were still able to provide a much smaller contribution for another year as well as continuing to provide the premises for SaMS (for which we have always been extremely grateful), but this was the beginning of a very difficult period for SaMS. Various funding possibilities were explored. We organised some fund raising activities including an auction of promises which was very successful, and we were fortunate in receiving some generous donations by parents and friends, but overall the income was still nowhere near what it had been. There was a change of trustees and a reduction of the number of ensembles that could be offered, inevitably losing some valued tutors.   

We now have only about half the numbers of students that we used to have, all funded by mainly the termly subscriptions. It seems that there is now a move away from music in schools on a national scale in favour of literacy and numeracy, ticking boxes and devaluing anything that appears, in a superficial way, to not directly relate to passing examinations. The value of music in all its forms is being regarded as a distraction rather than enhancing the education of our young people, but SaMM is doing all it can to redress the balance.   

We have continued to give concerts at the end of most terms including, wherever possible, all SaMS groups. There have also been extra concerts, including a soloist and small group concert for those having individual lessons and  fund raising jazz concerts (for charities such as Clic the children’s cancer charity and Shelterbox) at the Ariel Centre where we collaborated with the KEVICC jazz band, The Totnes Jazz Collective Big Band and Devon Youth Jazz Orchestra at various times.

We have always been fortunate in recruiting an excellent set of well qualified and experienced tutors. Just 3 of the original 10 have remained until the present, and there have been changes due to the inevitable personal circumstances and the laws of supply and demand. Similarly our supporting committees, later trustees (all working on a voluntary basis), have been an essential part of our success, providing professional and practical help particularly chair person, treasurers and secretaries, getting us full Charity Status in 2007, and helping with logos, distinctive printed matter such as posters, newsletters and concert programmes.    

Lewis Riley January 2016