MDEE 2024: Meet the head of content, Michael Pearce

Michael Pearce
Sunday, October 1, 2023

Following the launch of the 2024 Music & Drama Education Expo programme, we sat down with head of music content Michael Pearce to find out more about his background, what the role involves and what delegates can look forward to.

MT: What is your earliest musical memory?

MP: I started learning the clarinet just before my seventh birthday. I actually wanted to learn the saxophone, but when my parents took me to our local music shop, Musical Instrument Repairs in Birmingham, I was told my fingers were too small. Back then – over 25 years ago now – there weren’t really any specialist wind instruments for younger or smaller starters, so I was told that my best option was to start on a standard B-flat clarinet and switch to saxophone later. I cried all the way home, but to this day the clarinet has remained my main instrument – although I did eventually take the sax up as a teenager. For the first few years, I had lessons in the store cupboard of that same music shop with a local woodwind peri called Joolz (aka Julian Smith), who some people might remember as the Kenny G-esque saxophonist from Britain’s Got Talent.

MT: When did you start to consider a career in music?

MP: It’s one of the ironies of my life that my father is a fifth-generation fishmonger and I’m allergic to seafood, so going into the family business was never an option! A big turning point for me was when I joined the National Youth Wind Orchestra (NYWO) aged 16. I auditioned after seeing a flyer on my school music notice board and just about scraped in – I think on my first course I was clarinet 29 out of 30! It really opened up my eyes and ears to musicians from different backgrounds and the range of musical activities they were involved in. This led me to apply to the junior department of the (now Royal) Birmingham Conservatoire for my last year of sixth form, and from there I went on to study at the Royal Northern College of Music and Royal Academy of Music.

MT: What attracted you to the Expo head of content role?

MP: The Expo actually played a significant role in how my career has panned out. From a young age I’d always had a keen interest in journalism and current affairs, and after graduating, I started to wonder if there was a way that I could pursue this alongside teaching and playing. I sent a cold email to Alex Stevens, Music Teacher editor at the time, to ask if there were any writing opportunities going, which happened to be a few days before the Expo that year. I ended up doing some live tweeting from the Music Teacher account and also writing a report of the conference from the perspective of an instrumental teacher. That was my first published article, and it opened up a whole new branch of my career around writing, editing and comms. The Expo has been an annual fixture in my diary ever since. It’s always such an inspiring atmosphere and a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues – and meet new ones! It’s a real honour to see the event from the other side and help shape the line-up.

MT: Could you give us an insight into what the role involves?

MP: The Expo programme is quite a jigsaw! After the advisory board has been appointed and the call for papers has closed, the puzzle really begins at the start of the summer. The heads of content (music and drama) sift through all the session applications (way more than can fit into one Expo!) before consulting members of the advisory board, who generously volunteer their time and expertise to the process Once the sessions have been decided, there’s a fair bit of clicking and dragging until the timetable falls into place. As far as possible, the aim is to create a balance of content across seven broad streams – Instrumental/Vocal Teachers, Early Years, Primary, Secondary Music, Secondary Drama, SEND/Inclusion, and Leader/Hub/Administration – with sessions touching on both current and evergreen topics.

MT: What’s in store for delegates at Expo 2024?

MP: Going through the session applications, it was clear that the looming impact of AI is a hot topic in music education, and there will be a number of sessions exploring the opportunities and challenges this might present. Amid the ongoing Music Hub Investment Programme, we were delighted that Arts Council England and the Department for Education accepted our invitation to speak on the future of music hubs and the NPME. Plus, there will be sessions covering curriculum and exams, running a department, music mindfulness, SEND, diversity and inclusion, youth leadership, music in the early years, pedagogy, staff training, mental health, music technology, composition, improvisation, and even a deep dive into approaches to ukulele teaching in the US and Hawaii. So there really is something for everyone!

The Music & Drama Education Expo takes place on 22 and 23 February 2024 at the Business Design Centre in London. View the 2024 programme and register for free at