It was from the age of 9, that I first picked up a trumpet and my life has been music ever since. I was brought up in Norfolk, attending a local high school with a strong Brass Band tradition; I soon joined the school band along with my two older siblings. I was very dedicated and tried hard to reach their superior standard and it was this drive that led me to quickly surpass their standards and I gained the accolade of Grade VIII distinction at the age of 15. This was complimented a year later with grade VIII Theory of Music.
Although I have very fond memories of my youth, I really felt the yearning to get away and start my own life for real. I had been taught by an ex military musician and with his support and encouragement, I joined the Royal Engineers Band in 1978 at the age of sixteen.Within a year, I became principal trumpet and was a regular soloist for the organisation, appearing in many iconic performance venues. My life was further enhanced by fast promotion due to my responsibility and I really enjoyed the touring, performing lifestyle of an Army musician.
At the age of 33, I was still in the band and began looking towards my future. I was a peripatetic teacher in a number of high schools and had a busy private teaching practice; however, I felt unfulfilled and wanted a further challenge to aim for. I passed Music A level whilst at the Music Training school, but had no other formally recognised qualifications outside of the Armed Forces. To try to widen my scope of career, I spent the next 5 years working through an Open University Arts degree whilst continuing to work as a senior rank and also Band Sergeant Major in the Royal Engineers Band.
On completion of my degree, I was successful in securing the prestigious post of Senior Band Sergeant Major- British Army. It was at this point that I started to really consider classroom teaching through the interaction with phase two music students at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall and my future pathway became clear to me.
Looking back on my early years, it is clear that the skills and experiences have I gained have given me an excellent set of values and practises on which to base my school methodology on. As well as academic rigour, taking the Army values and traditions into the classroom has helped me achieve excellence in two very contrasting high schools in Norfolk. The crossover of skills from military teaching to high school has been enormous, discipline, teamwork, dedication, camaraderie, determination to never give up and reward for hard work, the importance of self belief, of community and family, a sense of belonging. What I feel I am describing here is the principles and characteristics of good leadership.
I feel the success of my past music departments is due to the ethos and practice of total support and dedication to my students, plus a wide variety of clubs and quality performance opportunities to cater for their wide and diverse musical requirements. Both my past high schools have had extremely high enrolment into instrumental lessons, some one hundred and fifty students learning from fifteen peripatetic staff and I am extremely passionate about the importance of ensemble and solo performances to enhance freedom of expression, intensify cultural enrichment and serve as a flagship for success. I also take inclusion seriously, as it is not only about high standards and the gifted and talented students, but it is about a breadth of musical achievement by students of all calibres. Every child should have the opportunity to show expression through performance and I produce events within schools that bring on performance skills at all levels.
Through my leadership and management, students have had the opportunity to take part in some or all of the on average twenty-five workshops, concerts and performances that my departments have organised annually. I have produced 12 musicals, some performed in school, but others in the wider community, the most recent being the widely acclaimed Les Misérables at the Norwich playhouse in February 2015 and our production of a brand new musical written by students called ‘Horizons’ at OPEN in 2017. This was another challenging project, bringing a brand new musical to the stage was by far the hardest thing I have done in music theatre! We invited Andrew Lloyd Webbers Company ‘The really useful group’ to a performance and they wrote a wonderful letter expressing Andrew’s praise for what we had achieved which really motivated the students. Other examples to showcase their skills in the community include various concerts and other performance opportunities linked to the Hunstanton and District Festival of Arts which I directed from 2006-2011. Also performances for the Major of King’s Lynn and Hunstanton, the Royal Norfolk Show, many charity concerts and performances including opportunities to perform regularly in both of the Norwich Cathedrals.
I am still a very active performer and composer myself and believe very strongly that I should lead by example. I regularly perform on Trumpet and String Bass and have played in many local orchestras and pit bands including the Norfolk Symphony, Norwich pops and Norwich Philharmonic orchestras. I still work regularly at the Corn Exchange in King’s Lynn and the Theatre Royal in Norwich. My published music can be viewed at www.Kevinbellmusic.com
I have really enjoyed the challenges of the last 15 years and I feel that the skills and disciplines I learnt in my twenty-six years in Army music have also greatly helped my achievements in Smithdon and Notre Dame High Schools.
This year brings another new adventure with a combined tour to Italy consisting of students from Norfolk County Ensembles and students from Notre Dame. In total 105 musicians will set off from Norwich and perform and visit Lake Garda, Venice and Verona. We are even attending the opera ‘Turandot’ in the famous arena in Verona on our last evening. Next year rings another brand new musical, written again by students which we perform in school in January 2019.