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The power of music

ACG Sunderland’s burgeoning music programme is equipping students with invaluable skills – and they’re not just musical ones.

Student playing the drums

Department head Daniel O’Connor says the school works tirelessly to develop its music programmes because the benefits are so far reaching.

“Other than notes and rhythms, music teaches a lot, including focus, perseverance, confidence, creativity, communication and cooperation. I think these are all really important personal characteristics for anyone,” says Daniel.

All students in ACG Sunderland’s Lower College enjoy a double period of music each week, while at Cambridge IGCSE and A-Level, music is optional. Itinerant music staff teach guitar, bass, drums, violin, voice and piano, and the school also has its own jazz band, chamber orchestra – and several rock bands.

“Eight of them at last count!”

Daniel completed his music and teaching degree in his homeland Canada but taught in the UK before moving to New Zealand and joining the ACG Sunderland team. Over his many years at the front of the classroom he has developed a clear and effective teaching philosophy.

“For me, the best way for a student to learn what music is, is by actually doing it. In other words, practical music is the best way to show students what music is really about. I think it’s important that students understand the traditions of western classical music, but it’s just as important to study music from different cultures. Modern music shouldn’t be ignored either as it clearly speaks to young people.”

In his 12 years at ACG Sunderland, Daniel has taken the music programme from strength to strength and has loved having the opportunity to create a truly remarkable department.

“Our principal Nathan Villars has given me great freedom to develop the music programme in whatever direction I’ve wanted to try. I feel fortunate that I have very good facilities to teach in and that our students are so agreeable and willing to learn.”

While performances have been limited this year due to Covid-19, Daniel says there have still been plenty of highlights.

“In the last week of term three we had our Senior Music Concert which featured the jazz band, the chamber orchestra, and my IGCSE music class. I’ve been really fortunate this year to have such a talented group of young musicians to work with.

“There was also this year’s Battle of the Bands which was combined with the annual College Talent Show. Since we weren’t able to have a live show, we filmed each segment, added some MCs and compiled the footage. That meant students and parents could watch the show online.”

While Daniel gets a huge buzz from seeing his students perform on stage, he finds all aspects of his role enriching and rewarding.

“It’s incredibly satisfying in the classroom when a student starts making really good progress on a piece and performs confidently. It’s also wonderful when you hear a really impressive composition that some students have written.

“There’s always something new and interesting to create in music.”