For Phill, being holistic means putting people first.

Music sessions start with a conversation, a brew and a biscuit. It doesn’t have to be about music. It’s about listening and giving the participants a space to make their voice heard. That’s the most important element of being a music leader.

In November 2019, people working across music education gathered for the Unheard Voices conference.

Organised by Brighter Sound and More Music as part of the Reaching Out Network, the day asked ‘whose voices aren’t being heard?’

Key speakers responded to Youth Music's HEARD model which summarises how to create musical experiences with inclusivity at the heart. Watch or read Phill’s take on 'Holistic' - the personal, social and emotional benefits of music drive our vision and mission.


I’m Phill Howley and this is a holistic approach to musically inclusive practice. Or as I like to think about it, putting people first. 

As a musician, we can often find ourselves in the role of a music leader. And that makes perfect sense. Who better to enthuse and to inspire a youngster, than somebody that’s spent their whole life dedicated to the art form? And which means we’re brilliant at then passing that passion onto other people. And that passion is what makes us brilliant at being a music leader. But, also that passion is one of the things that can actually be to our detriment as a music leader. 

I see the role of a music leader, or facilitator, being that of creating a space for a participant to come in, and to learn and to expand, and to develop their voice. To think about their music. Not our music. I know what my music is and I do that in my own time. When I’m leading, it’s for them. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times I’ve worked with incredible musicians, who’ve got insane ability, but they can’t translate that passion and ability into the workshop space. Simply because they can’t leave their music at the door. 

Whenever I work with anybody, it starts with a chat. You might not even know the session’s started. It’s having a brew and a biscuit, nattering about Netflix, talking about books. What was your journey like getting in today? How are you feeling? Nothing heavy. Just small talk. Just getting to know people. Because when I get to know them, I can read them. I can see what their confidence is like. Will I need to make things more accessible? 

And if we end up talking about music, we’re talking about their music, what music they’re interested in. I want to know what turns them on, musically. Not what I’m interested in. And if I do give my opinion, it’s related to their opinion. It’s related to what they’ve just said. 

So, the one thing I want to take away from this, and, actually, as any musician should take away, is listen. Let’s listen more. But let’s make sure we’re listening to the right people. Let’s listen to them, and not to us.

"I see the role of a music leader, or facilitator, being that of creating a space for a participant to come in, and to learn and to expand, and to develop their voice. To think about their music. Not our music."

About Reaching Out

Reaching Out is a training, development and future-thinking network hosted by music organisations More Music and Brighter Sound.

The network is aimed at project managers, programme managers and anyone else planning and managing inclusive music activity across the North West for children and young people.

To find out more email Molly.

A close up of Phill Howley's face in a studio. You can just about see in the corners of the image that he's behind a drumset. He is wearing a beige cap, black glasses and a checkered scarf and shirt.

About Phill

Phill Howley is a professional musician and arts facilitator. For the last 20 years he has worked as a Project Manager, Music Facilitator and Music Leader. In that time he has worked on a wide variety of projects with hugely diverse client groups of all ages. Through his extensive involvement with many Youth Music funded projects he has developed a specialism in working with young people in challenging circumstances, specifically focusing on bespoke pedagogies and their applications in a variety of settings.

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