Meet the team: Zoe Coakley

As we launch the Music Learning Revolution our Events Manager Zoe Coakley talks about her music education, her thoughts on Musical Futures and where the #MLRev fits in.


What does good music education look like to you?

Accessible to everyone. I wasn’t from a musical family so without having all the opportunities through school and our local music service I probably wouldn’t have ever picked up an instrument. Having said that I don’t think that the route I took is for everyone. I was a music-extremist! My life revolved around it and I was lucky that I was really supported in school and at home to pursue music to the level that I did. But music education for all needs to be more flexible and inclusive. To me this means that every child and young person should be able to actively partake in group music making, whatever their ability, standard, background; and music education should be made relevant to them by connecting with them through music that they listen to as well as expanding their knowledge and interest across the genres.  

What attracted you to Musical Futures? When I worked for Learning Departments of the BBC Proms and BBC Symphony Orchestra we ran a project called Family Orchestra & Chorus where people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds were brought together by an amazing team of musicians to workshop, rehearse and perform music together. When I first heard about the project I remember thinking it was crazy, I couldn’t fathom how a random mixed-ability group could ever produce something really musical – for the record I was proved completely wrong! The amazing group of musicians that led the family orchestra and chorus brought every ounce of musicianship out of the brave and willing (and sometimes not so willing!) participants and I saw some incredible performances inspired by everything from the Rite of Spring to Doctor Who. The musicians who worked on these projects were inspirational, innovative and above all, highly skilled. I remember thinking that as a musician and teacher myself I wouldn’t know where to start if I wanted to work with a mixed-ability group in the same way… this is what Musical Futures does and what really attracted me to work for them. It’s about revolutionising how music is taught by bringing non-formal teaching and informal learning approaches into more formal contexts, in an attempt to provide engaging, sustainable and relevant music making activities for all young people.  

If you had to describe a Musical Futures teacher – what three words would you use? Innovative Talented Ambitious (for themselves and their students)  

What are the biggest issues in music education? Music educators face tough preconceptions that: music is for the elite; that you need to be perfect to perform; and that in order to succeed in music you need to have the X-Factor. And yes, of course there is a place for perfection and success but there is room for everyone else to have a go at it too, enjoy it and reap the benefits. Of course there are huge issues around the on-going struggle for funding, resources etc but maybe I’ll write another blog about that another day!

What are the biggest opportunities in music education? Numerous studies continue to emerge showing the long list of benefits to the developing mind directly associated with music-making. These benefits include improved reading, verbal, linguistic and mathematical skills, enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem, improved working and long-term memory. With such strong evidence for the benefits of music for young people, music educators have a valid argument for what they are doing. In reality I know that doesn’t make things easy, there are still many battles to be had for money and resources but at least we have some pretty fantastic statistics on our side!

What developments in Musical Futures are you most excited about and why? I’m most excited about the Music Learning Revolution, of course! We have some incredible speakers, influencers and teachers lined up to lead various seminars, workshops and sessions at the Music Learning Revolution but one of things I’m most excited about is working with Shlomo and a group of young vocalists (and all of our delegates) to create a sensational massed vocal performance on the day. I hope that it will really make a mark on the music education conference/festival scene in the UK in 2015 and that it will become an annual go-to event for people who want to revolutionise how music is taught in their school and what music means to their students and their wider school communities.

What do you believe the future holds for Musical Futures? It’s an exciting but slightly daunting year ahead for Musical Futures as we become an independent organisation. I think it will always be set apart by the fact that it has always been ‘by teachers, for teachers’ and we’ll be working hard to hold onto that, which is why for example at the event, we are leaving sessions open for teachers to submit their workshop ideas. But it’s the children and young people who benefit from the Musical Futures approach that I’m most excited about. You know when you hear an old song on the radio and it transports you back to a summer, a school disco, a holiday? I hope that in years to come, everyone will remember a song from their younger years that they actually remember performing with their friends.

For more information on the Music Learning Revolution and to book tickets visit

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