Review: Music & Drama Education Expo 2019

I have just returned from this year’s Music & Drama Education Expo, held at Olympia London on 6th and 7th March. 2019 is the fifth consecutive event I’ve attended in London, in addition to the Expo held in Manchester the last two years.

As suggested by others, I wanted to take the opportunity to record some of my thoughts and experiences of the Expo, and think a little about in which direction it might head in the future.

Dates

This year, the Expo was held during the first week in March, and it is scheduled for the same dates (4th and 5th March) in 2020. In previous years it has mainly taken place in February, though not always coinciding with schools’ half-term week. This year, the event was held on a Wednesday and Thursday, in contrast to previous years where it had predominantly taken place on Thursday and Friday.

The fact that the event takes place midweek means that there are a certain number of people not able to attend due to work and family commitments. It is a free event, and I suspect were it held at the weekend, that wouldn’t be the case due to the venue costs. Equally, I imagine if it were held at the weekend, that would preclude a different set of people attending. Nevertheless, the midweek dates remain problematic for many.

Venue

For the past four years, the event has been held at Olympia London, and for anyone who recalls the early years at the Barbican, the change of venue continues to prove beneficial. There is considerably more space, and the separate facilities for talks and workshops are much-improved.

As with all such events and venues, there is an inevitable lack of places to sit. The catering facilities on-site are limited and expensive, and by consequence, most visitors bring their own refreshments. Lunch sitting on the floor remains the only option for many.

The venue is relatively easily accessible by public transport; however, District Line trains from High Street Kensington to Kensington Olympia do not run during the week. Some ongoing and justifiable concerns about the accessibility of the venue, particularly in terms of disabled parking facilities and charges continue to be raised. These are, of course, the fault of the venue, rather than the organisers, but are, nevertheless, another consideration.

Exhibitors

Whist there are some comings and goings, the core selection of exhibitors has predominantly remained the same. A whole range of organisations, companies and charities are represented, including exam boards, publishers, instrument retailers and professional organisations.

Whist I’ve not counted up, there was a general feeling that there were fewer exhibitors this year than previously. A number of exhibitors I spoke to were also unsure about signing up for next year, as, like me, they are uncertain about the future of the Expo. That said, there is a good range of exhibitors to suit a whole range of music professionals and educators.

Talks, Seminars and Workshops

As ever, there’s an eclectic mix of seminars and workshops covering a whole range of areas of music education. Overall, there did seem to be a better mix of talks, in contrast to last year when they seemed very heavily weighted towards classroom teaching. One visitor commented that they felt this year’s talks were more specialised in their topics.

We particularly enjoyed the workshop on the Alexander Technique with Judith Kleinman (RCM). That said, the quality of the talks is variable, some becoming little more than adverts for that particular organisation’s services. It feels like there’s quite an imbalance when it comes to the talks – some fairly poorly attended, and some significantly oversubscribed, but I guess, this will always be the case. 

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve got to be honest and say that after five years, this year’s Expo felt pretty ‘flat’. As a whole, for returning attendees, the event has become a bit ‘samey’. I know that a number of people who attended last year chose not to return, and unless there was some radical change, I and a number of others, did not expect to return next year. As previously mentioned, talking to some exhibitors, they share similar reservations. 

That said, if you’ve not attended before, then I would wholeheartedly encourage you to go. For those who haven’t been previously, it’s an exciting and vibrant event, which, despite reservations, has much to offer. The problem is, that the pool of people who haven’t been before is diminishing. Whist there is always a challenge in attracting new visitors, there is perhaps a greater challenge in retaining previous ones. Similarly, attracting new or different exhibitors appears to be a challenge, and we may already be seeing an increasing problem in retaining existing ones.

Overall, Rhinegold should be commended for instigating and running the Expo. It’s still free, and despite the reservations outlined about, it still has much to offer. But, like most things in life, there comes a time when all good things come to an end. I believe that unless the Expo continues to evolve and develop, rather that simply becoming an annual ‘variation on a theme’, it’s future will be a precarious one. 

I for one will miss seeing many friends and colleagues at the Expo, but as one pointed out, it’s an expensive means by which to catch up with people once a year. Sadly this year, as good as many things were, I didn’t come away particularly enthused or inspired. I think that’s perhaps a sign that it’s time to stop going, either temporarily or on a more permanent basis.


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