Guest blog: Huw Stephens

1st November 2016

Huw Stephens presented this speech at the Music Learning Revolution conference on the 18th October 2016 at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. 

As a night time dj being up this early in the morning is always a shock to the system, but it’s wonderful to see so many of you here. When I was asked here to talk a little about my thoughts on music in the education system, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I went to a school in Cardiff which at the time did especially well in two fields. One was sport and one was music. This was all down to the teachers who were passionate, nurturing and devoted to their chosen subjects. Their love for music was infectious and it brought out the best in a lot of my fellow pupils.

In case you’re wondering, and I often get asked, do you play anything yourself, my answer is always, I can press play but nothing else really. I failed my grade one piano, and my violin lessons didn’t go that far. I just didn’t have it in me. But I love music and have been fortunate to be around musicians, and work with music as my job. I love hearing something new and exciting, something energising or relaxing that knocks you sideways. A piece of music that comes from the heart and can be as straightforward or as twisted as the composer wanted it to be. As long as it has soul I’m interested

When I say I have no musical merit myself, that’s a little lie. I did do some rapping when I was younger, and possibly the most niche rapping in the world; Rapping in Welsh. My talented friends in the band played cello and oboe, but me I was the Kanye West of Cardiff and it was a lot of fun. But my first love was always radio and I got involved with hospital radio when I was 14, and stuck at it. I was fortunate enough to be around when Radio 1 were looking for presenters in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and have carried on ever since, simply playing new music on the radio.

It means I get to hear hundreds of pieces of unique music every week and play 9 hours of music at night on Radio 1

A big part of what I do has become BBC Introducing. It was set up when the BBC realised it had a lot of new music shows across its 40 or so local stations, as well as national platforms like 1Xtra, 6Music, Radio 2 and Radio 1. But there wasn’t any cross promotion of the music, the shows were essentially islands, each one fighting for the same cause, to promote this great new music.

Thats why Introducing was started, to highlight even further the great wealth of talent there is out there, so a show in say Sheffield or Leeds could send tunes to Radio 1, Liverpool or Bristol could send music to 6Music, Cardiff and Glasgow could champion music and get it heard on Radio 2 and on it goes. Festivals are a big part of what we do as well, with BBC shows putting forward artists to play on the BBC Introducing stages at Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds, and international showcases like SXSW and Montreal Jazz.

This means we can hear something one minute, play it to thousands of people on air the next, and get the band started on their specific musical journey that might well see them grace bigger stages and go on to bigger and better things. Sometimes hover, making it big isn;t what the bands are after. They simply want to play, make music, and their love for playing is paramount. That means we can tap into bedroom bands and producers, the local heroes who are having the best time and making where they live more interesting.

Have you seen the 2017 training programme from Musical Futures?

Music is everywhere we go whether we want to hear it or not, and the music industry is evolving now at a faster rate than ever before. I’ve never seen another like it. It’s hard to be a young musician these days, but the main thing, away from the streaming and the revenues, is the pleasure gained from actually playing. One thing remains a constant, and that’s the music itself. Made and played by human beings, who’s talent has been spotted and celebrated.

And that’s why I think what you do is brilliant, and more important than ever. In the face of cuts and other subjects seen as more important take centre stage, music education as know, is under constant, real threat. The work Musical Futures do I think is very important, and that is focusing on what resources you have and what resources you don’t have to help the musicians of the future. To spot the talent, and to nurture it. To give those maybe underprivileged pupils a shot at learning, at creating, from traditional instruments to making beats on their laptop. Your spark, energy and talent is so important in helping discover the stars of the future, the ones with a love of music and the need to see it blossom.

The artists that come through the Radio 1 studios are varied and come from different backgrounds. Often they’re at the start of a musical journey that will change their life. They don’t do it for the money or the fame, but for the art of playing and of self expression. Their communications through music then change other peoples lives, make them think and make them listen. And when I ask them, every band member can name a music teacher that changed everything for them. One that finds what talents they have, makes them think and teaches them to teach themselves. The one that nurtures their talents. That teacher is you and your colleagues, and on behalf of music fans everywhere I want to take this opportunity to say thanks. Thanks for your hard work, your dedication and your passion.

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Musical Futures training and CPD programme 2017

Excellent workshops ‑ extremely accessible for all abilities and levels."

Claire Armour, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra