Angie Coates has hit all the right notes with Monkey Music

From playing the oboe to teaching kids their chords, Angie Coates has lived her life in music. And, since 1993, children and parents have been singing the praises of Monkey Music, her pre-school music franchise

Angie Coates has hit all the right notes with Monkey Music

Monkey Music’s founder Angie Coates always seemed destined for a musical career. “I always had music at home,” she says. “My mum is a very keen musician and her grandmother was an amazing pianist.” However, Coates didn’t pick up the bug straight away, as evidenced by her first taste of playing the recorder. “I wanted to leave because it was all boys,” she smiles. “But I’d been thrown out of Brownies the week before, so my mum said I couldn’t.”

Coates’ attitude soon changed and her passion for music has flourished ever since. Attending classes at London’s Guildhall from the age of 12, she went on to be accepted as one of only two oboists at the prestigious school. “I went through this hideous audition process to get into the top school,” she explains. “[But] I felt like I’d arrived in the right place; music school was definitely where I was supposed to be.”

Yet it wasn’t long after leaving Guildhall that Coates had a change of heart about her career. “When you go to music school you are primed to perform,” she says. “Quite quickly, I realised that I didn’t want to spend my life charging around the country.” She took a teaching role at Thomas’s London Day School in Battersea, which didn’t have a music department at the time. Within 18 months, she became the school’s first ever head of music, recruiting a number of her friends as teachers. It was an impressive achievement for the 23-year-old Coates. “Looking back now, I realise how big a responsibility that was,” she admits.

While the school catered to kids aged three to 13, it was evident which classes Coates found most rewarding. “It was the kindergarten and creche that I got really involved in,” she says. “I realised that pre-school music-making was my favourite part of the job.” The birth of her first daughter also gave Coates some personal insights into children’s relationship with music. “For me, music was like a drug,” she says. “And they seemed to feel like I felt about music at that age.”

Equipped with these observations, Coates started constructing the music curriculum on which Monkey Music is now built. But it wasn’t just children that Coates had in mind when developing the programme. “I used to tell parents that their children enjoyed music but they weren’t witnessing it themselves,” she says. “So I thought there was an opportunity to create something for parents and kids – to use music for something amazing.”

The first Monkey Music class was held at a community centre in Dulwich, where Coates was living at the time. “I remember putting an advert on a noticeboard asking parents to come along and try these classes,” she says. “When I got home I had loads of messages on my answerphone and I thought: ‘Oh god, what have I started?'” Nonetheless, Coates is nothing but grateful for the families who turned up in their droves. “I don’t think we’d be where we are now were it not for those amazing parents,” she says.

<p>With the classes proving so popular, Coates decided it was time to step away from her role at St Thomas’s. “Being a teacher is very demanding and I knew that I couldn’t keep up that commitment,” she says. “I wanted to be a little more free.” The classes had also grown to encompass children aged three months up to four years, which was keeping Coates well occupied. “I wanted to make sure I was providing the right thing to different age groups,” she adds.</p>
<p>The Monkey Music curriculum currently comprises over 500 songs and compositions, all tailored to a certain stage of a toddler’s development. As Coates explains, teaching a three-month-old baby and their parent is very different to working with a four-year-old on a xylophone. “For a three-month-old, it’s about getting them familiar with sounds,” she says. “It’s also a real bonding exercise for parent and child.” Certainly the focus isn’t on priming children for musical greatness. “Monkey Music uses music as a foundation to support all aspects of development,” adds Coates. “It is using music to develop and nurture life, social, language and physical skills.” </p>
<p>Given the value of the programme she’d created, it wasn’t long before Coates set her sights on expansion. “I was thinking there’s no point just doing this for myself,” she explains. “It could be a curriculum that thousands of children and families could benefit from.” </p>
<p>Coates’ relative lack of business acumen meant she was unfamiliar with franchising. But, fortunately, she had a younger brother who was a lawyer. “I remember going for dinner with him one night and saying: ‘I can’t do all of this myself. I have got 500 children at my classes and I’ve got this business to grow,'” she says. “He just looked at me and said: ‘Why don’t you franchise it?'”</p>
<p>Recognising that franchising was the right way forward for Monkey Music, Coates’ brother Tim Underhill left his job as a lawyer to become a partner in the company. Today, he is a non-executive director. “He was brilliant at building the foundations of the business, which would have been very wobbly if they had been left to me,” Coates laughs. “We invested a huge amount of time and energy into making sure that the business model was totally bombproof.”</p>
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Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod