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Fresh Ideas for Music – Notes from ROH Bridge

Last month MWC’s Artistic Director Maria Thomas shared her thoughts from the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education. This month she takes inspiration from the ROH Bridge’s annual conference, The Thriving Child

Maria Thomas
Maria Thomas

On the 28thJune, the ROH Bridge held their annual conference, The Thriving Child. This year, back at the Royal Opera House following the renovation of the Linbury Theatre, the conference was streamed across the country with people joining from the Lowry in Salford, West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds, the Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham, the Curve Theatre in Leicester and Ocean Studios in Portsmouth. 

Many speakers linked the topic of The Thriving Child to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which was agreed 30 years ago. Key to the discussion was Article 31 which states:

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”

The day began with delegates being welcomed by Alex Beard, CEO of the Royal Opera House before host for the day, Kirsty Wark took charge of proceedings. The day was split into four topics for discussion, the first being, “What affects the ability of children and young people to live, play and learn in 2019 in the UK?”.

Image: jrbelice

The first speaker, Dr Kitty Stewart, Associate Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics and Political Science, gave a very clear view on what impacts young people’s ability to live, play and learn, with family income and investment in support services being key. Dr Stewart shared figures from the National Audit Office demonstrating the cuts to local authority services in England from 2010-11 to 2016-17 showing -50% cut to the Sure Start programme, -66% cut to services for young people, -41% to Arts development and support, -33% to library services and -49% to youth justice. She linked these figures to models that demonstrate the impact of these factors on children and families.

The second talk was entitled Beyond the Secret Garden and was given by Darren Chetty, a teacher, writer and researcher. Chetty raised another central issue for young people accessing the arts – the lack of diversity in children’s literature. He highlighted that 1% of children’s books have a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) main character and only 4% have any BAME characters at all. He told delegates of an experience he had as a teacher where a young BAME person in his primary class wrote about his family in a writing assignment and was told by a classmate, “Stories are about white people.” He raised the point that in education, there is often discussion of “pupil voice,” but he feels it is important to also highlight “teacher ear” to ensure educators are listening to young people. He recommended http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/ as a source for books for young people.

The final speaker in the first session was Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology at London School of Economics and Political Science. Her discussion focussed on young people thriving online and suggested that offline, parents and teachers offer children and young people “scaffolded freedom,” giving them a chance to have freedom within a safe setting. However, she suggested that many parents and teachers feel they do not have the skills to do this online which may lead to them being restrictive in terms of access online for young people, or that young people are continually warned of the dangers online and so self-censor.

The theme for Session 2 was The lived experience of children and young people, and as is traditional at ROH Bridge conferences, we heard from young people. The first was a fabulous performance by the Palace Young Company from Watford Palace Theatre entitled, “We’re Waiting ….” which highlighted areas of concern for young people such as climate change, from advertising, social media, exams and Brexit.

The second part showcased the good practice of Gifted Young Generation based at The Grand Healthy Living Centre in Gravesend. We heard from four young people aged 16 – 18 who run a podcast called Thrive. The teenagers discussed how support from The Grand had given them a voice and helped them to grow in confidence.

The last session before lunch was a general discussion, hosted by Kirsty Wark, about how educators can support young people to thrive.

After lunch, Session 3 focussed on the question, “What role do the arts, creativity and cultural learning play in enabling children and young people to thrive?” The first talk was by Baroness Kidron, Commissioner of the Durham Commission on Creativity and Education, Filmmaker, member of the House of Lords and children’s rights campaigner. She shared some of the findings from the recent Durham Commission on Creativity and Education which will be published in September.

The second section was a discussion between Adam Annand, Associate Director and Speech Bubble lead at London Bubble and Dominic Wyse, Professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education at University College London. Adam discussed the work London Bubble do through their Speech Bubbles work, a national primary school drama intervention supporting children’s communication skills, confidence and wellbeing. For more on this watch the video below:

Adam raised the link between how feel and how we communicate. Professor Wyse suggested that it would be good to take the National Curriculum for Music and replace the word “Music” with “English” to move to a more playful approach to teaching language. The speakers discussed the importance of evaluating work to prove its worth and access funding, with Adam leaving delegates with the question: “How do we evaluate the twinkle in the eye of the child?”

The final speaker in Session 3 was Professor Pat Thomson, Professor of Education at University of Nottingham & Convenor of the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy. Her talk was entitled Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement: Arts education for cultural citizenship, and she shared her research in to how teachers use their experience of working with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Tate in developing classroom pedagogies.

The research worked with 30 schools and 1,442 students and highlighted that their findings found the importance of school support in introducing young people to the Arts. The project also showed that students who had worked with these organisations through schools were more likely to become audiences and more likely to become participants in the Arts than the national average. Professor Thomson also highlighted that all children and young people are active cultural citizens, and she likened this to children and young people coming to schools with individual cultural back-packs which hold all their previous cultural experiences. She suggested that educators need to help young people unpack these bags and share these experiences. She also highlighted the importance of “Arts Broker Teachers” who embody what it means to be culturally involved, who talk to their students about their cultural life outside school. She also stressed that her research showed a clear mutual respect between cultural organisations and teachers which enabled them to work together.

In the audience discussion, Janet Robertson, CEO of Action for Children’s Arts, introduced the Arts Back-pack which is currently in a feasibility stage. This is a project which, if implemented, will ensure that every primary school child in the UK has at least five cultural experiences in the school year. It has been proposed to government ministers, representatives from Arts Council England and key individuals within the sector as a way to combat the diminishing role that arts subjects play in schools across the UK. For more information see https://www.childrensarts.org.uk

Having started the day with depressing figures on the cuts to funding for young people, the formal part of day ended on a high with powerful Keynote speaker Akala, Hip hop artist, historian, writer and social entrepreneur sharing his experiences and lessons learnt through these life experiences. He particularly stressed the cost of expulsion to society. His advice to educators is:

  • Be brutally honest with young people
  • Be conscious of your own bias
  • Realise your brilliance … And impact

As is always key at these events, evaluation was needed at the end of day, but the ROH Bridge team gave delegates the chance to approach this slightly differently with young people hosting a number of areas for delegates to reflect on their experience including the “Washing line of Fresh Ideas.”

For more discussion from the conference see #ThrivingChild on Twitter


If you would like to know more about the Music Workshop Company or to book one of our bespoke creative experiences, contact Maria today.

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The Inspirational Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died in August 2018 at the age of 76. With her death, among the musical tributes, came a rush of tabloid-style headlines about the notoriously private singer.

Franklin was a phenomenal artist with an unquestionable place in music history. The first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 1987), ranked number 1 on VH1’s Greatest Women of Rock N Roll, she sang at a memorial service for Martin Luther King Jr. (1968), at pre-inauguration concerts for Presidents Jimmy Carter (1977) and Bill Clinton (1993), and the inauguration of America’s first black President, Barak Obama (in 2009). In 1986, her voice was designated a “Natural Resource” by the State of Michigan. In 2008, she was voted the greatest singer of the rock era in a Rolling Stone magazine poll. During the 1988 Grammy Awards show, she stepped in for Luciano Pavarotti who was unable to appear due to ill health, performing the aria Nessun Dorma in his place. She went on to perform this aria several more times, the last of which was in Philadelphia for Pope Francis.

In a career spanning six and a half decades she placed more than 100 singles in the billboard charts, including 17 top 10 pop singles and 20 no. 1 hits on the R&B chart, a number matched only by Stevie Wonder and not yet bettered by any artist. Already a successful R&B/Soul singer in the 1960s, her 1967 recording of Otis Redding’s song RESPECT from the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, which spent 2 weeks at number 1 in the billboard chart, won her international acclaim and mainstream recognition.

She received 18 competitive Grammy awards, has five recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame (Respect, Amazing Grace, Chain Of Fools, A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like), and I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You) and was given a lifetime achievement award in 1994.

One remarkable aspect of Franklin’s career was the turbulent life that prompted the probing headlines. She wasn’t a textbook success story or a kid with all the opportunities. Born in Memphis, Tennessee and brought up in Detroit, Michigan, her childhood was full of challenges. Her parents separated when she was just 6 and her mother (who was a gospel singer and pianist) died at the age of just 34 of a heart attack when Franklin was only 10 years old. Her first marriage was abusive and her life was plagued by rumours of addiction – to alcohol (which Franklin denied) and cannabis – and by health problems associated with her weight.

In many ways, her upbringing and aspirations were reflective of the times. Part of a generation of black baby boomers who were still very church-orientated, she was brought up by her father, a minister of national influence who presided over New Bethel Baptist Church. Although she never learned to read music, as a young teenager, Franklin performed with her father on his gospel programmes in major cities and was recognised as a vocal prodigy.

On June 10, 1979, her father was shot at home at point blank range by a burglar when she was on stage in Las Vegas. For the five years until his death, he required 24-hour care.

Franklin made the move to secular music at the age of 18. With the support of her father, to whom she confided she wanted to follow in the footsteps of Sam Cooke and record pop songs, she moved to New York City, where she was signed by Colombia Records executive John Hammond. Hammond had previously signed Billie Holiday and Count Basie. She released her first single under Colombia at the age of 18, and although it reached number 10 on the Hot Rhythm and Blues Sellers chart and was met with critical acclaim, a lack of focus in her output at meant she initially struggled to find the success for which she was destined.

However, in 1966 when her contract with Colombia expired, she switched to Atlantic Records where, rather than determining her artistic direction, her producer Jerry Wexler gave her the freedom to explore her own musical identity.

Franklin returned to her gospel roots, exemplified by constantly improvisatory, airborne vocals, and I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (Atlantic, 1967) was her first million-seller. Her first single with Atlantic, RESPECT, became an anthem for personal, racial and sexual freedom in line with her own values.

Franklin was immersed throughout her life in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights. She provided money for civil rights groups and performed at benefits and protests. In 1970, when political activist, author and academic, Angel Davis was jailed, Franklin told Jet:

Angela Davis must go free, … Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.

Franklin was a strong advocate for Native American rights. Quietly and without publicity, she supported the struggles of indigenous people worldwide and numerous movements that supported Native American and First Nation cultural rights. She also donated heavily to churches and food banks in the Detroit area.

[Photo by Pete Souza]

Franklin gave her last full concert at the Ravinia Festival on September 3, 2017, and her final performance was at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City during Elton John’s 25th anniversary gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation on November 7, 2017. She died of advanced pancreatic cancer.

She is known for significant contributions to African-American pride and ‘female self-assertion,’ and reached the pinnacle of her profession at a time when black women were fighting to be seen and heard on their own terms.

It is impossible to give a true representation of such an expansive life and career in such a short space – she made hit after hit, possessed a phenomenal voice, presence and ability to persevere and excel against the odds. She remains quite simply a consummate artist: Both iconic – in black American culture, in mainstream culture and in music worldwide – and deeply human.

How Should we Sing these Songs?

While planning a recent singing workshop, MWC’s Artistic Director, Maria, had cause to reflect on the names and lyrics of songs, how the meaning of some words has changed, becoming sensitive, controversial or unacceptable, and how some aspects of music might impact workshop participants.

Looking into the topic more deeply, Maria discovered examples that have created debate in the past. One such incident happened when Garry Martin, a headteacher in Melbourne, Australia, decided it was necessary to alter a word in the song Kookabura. His concern was around the phrase, “Gay your life must be.”

Mr Martin mentioned his decision to change the word ‘gay’ to ‘fun’ on local radio, and found himself under fire. He had been conscious that the word would potentially lose him control of his class: “I knew if we sing ‘Gay your life must be’ the kids will roll around the floor in fits of laughter … I wasn’t trying to insult gay people.”

Although Mr Martin’s decision was based on behaviour management, it raised concerns from gay and lesbian advocates who said it sent a signal that the word ‘gay’ was unacceptable.

Mr Martin later acknowledged that instead of avoiding the issue, he should have explained the meaning of gay as another word for happy, and taken the opportunity to educate the children that the term should not be used disparagingly.

Songs that use gay to mean happy or joyful are common. Jamaica Farewell, released in 1957, made famous by Harry Belafonte and covered by various artists including Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke and Carly Simon. is another example.

Down the way

Where the nights are gay

And the sun shines daily on the mountaintop

I took a trip on a sailing ship

And when I reached Jamaica I made a stop

 

But I’m sad to say I’m on my way

Won’t be back for many a day

My heart is down

My head is turning around

I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town.

So how should we teach these songs in schools, youth groups, holiday clubs and other community groups?

The setting can be very important, but should not be prescriptive. While homosexuality can be a challenging issue in some religious settings, the original meaning and context of any lyrics still stand. Approach the subject sensitively. Decide whether it is really necessary to change any words, and think carefully about your reasons for doing so.

Other songs that can raise challenges include songs that may cause children to remember abuse or trauma.

What Shall We do with the Drunken Sailor is a sea shanty dating from as early as 1820 which became popular among non-sailors in the 20th century. As a song for musical activities, it has easy words with lots of repetition, makes use of drone and is a good way to introduce the concept of work songs – songs that helped workers carry out tasks.

Children often find the idea of drunkeness funny. However, for participants who have experienced abuse from a drunken relative, this song could trigger feelings of trauma.

Alcohol is a topic that requires care in religious settings. The tale of Sinbad the Sailor, which makes a great basis for a composition workshop, features drunkenness, even though it is set in Muslim countries. Again, sensitivity and awareness are key. Any elements of a story that might cause offence and risk children losing the opportunity to participate can be removed.

Music that links to war can also bring up bad memories or emotions in participants. The Second World War has inspired many composers, with works including Steve Reich’s Different Trains. MWC’s Maria says: “Having studied the Holocaust at school, I cannot listen to Different Trains. I find it chilling, it literally makes me feel cold.”

As a teacher or workshop leader, be aware that music can trigger strong emotions, and this can be a positive or negative experience. When choosing challenging music, try to predict possible issues, and once in the classroom make sure you are hyper-aware of the body language and reactions of your students.

Race is another subject that requires thought. Some pieces of music might be worth listening to for their cultural context or for their compositional value, but be laden with difficulty. For example, consider how you would introduce Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk. Is it best avoided, or is it better to teach the history behind the name? While it may be more comfortable to disassociate from this area of music history, this is a valuable opportunity to educate students and deepen their understanding. Instead of ignoring the piece, you can explain what it was about, and what ‘golliwog’ and ‘cakewalk’ meant. This excellent essay explains the racism behind the Golliwog Caricature.

Remember too that it is possible to be oversensitive. Teachers who changed the words to the nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep to Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep because they felt the word ‘black’ was racist caused a debate about political correctness ‘gone mad’. In the case of this song, the sheep is black simply for the purposes of alliteration. Removing the word could send the message that ‘black’ is a negative term. It also gives an example of trivial political correctness that racists can use to criticise and undermine the very real issue of racism.

With many cultural items, things move in and out of fashion or are interpreted differently over time. Only recently, removal by Manchester Art Gallery of John William Waterhouse’s painting Hylas and the Nymphs, triggered by the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, sparked discussion about political correctness and the danger of censoring or editing art that does not conform to what is currently acceptable.

It’s important to constantly evaluate traditional attitudes and familiar phrases. It is also always possible, if you feel there will be a problem that might preclude some children’s inclusion, to chose an alternative song or piece of music that achieves the same result.

Every piece of art is a result of the society in which it was created. The challenge for music educators is to ensure the survival of great music while placing it in a context that shows sensitivity to the audience/participants and the works themselves.

Be Part of the Extraordinary: Support the Horniman Museum

The Horniman is an award-winning, family-friendly Museum and Gardens in south London’s Forest Hill. Established in Victorian times when tea trader and philanthropist Frederick Horniman first opened his house and collection of objects to visitors, the Museum is currently undergoing a major three-year development of its gallery spaces.

As part of this project, the Horniman’s world-renowned Anthropology collection will be redisplayed to create the World Gallery: A special space designed to encourage a wide appreciation, curiosity and celebration of the world, its people, places and cultures.

In order to make this happen, the museum is crowdfunding until October 31st.

The Horniman’s Charlotte Stanley talks to the Music Workshop Company about the significance of the new gallery…

But first, check out this video which tells you all about the project: 

About the Horniman

“Since the museum first opened, our collection has grown significantly. It includes internationally important Designated collections of anthropology and musical instruments, as well as an acclaimed aquarium, natural history collection and 16.5 acres of beautiful gardens.

Over 1,300 musical instruments from the Horniman’s collection can be seen in the Music Gallery. Its display spans a wide range of instruments from around the world, making up the largest number on show in the UK.

The Horniman’s high quality collections, buildings and gardens allow us to draw together, in innovative ways, issues and stories relating to peoples, cultures and environments at a local, national and international level.

The Museum actively seeks to attract users of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. It has an exceptional record of educational achievement and encourages participation from as wide a range of people as possible.

We currently attract over 914,000 visits per year to our site. We have a loyal and high repeat audience, and visitor satisfaction is high at 98%.

The World Gallery

The Horniman is creating a new, free, World Gallery, which will celebrate what it means to be human. The World Gallery will reveal the strength and depth of the Horniman’s internationally important Anthropology Collection and be a place of inspiration for visitors of all ages. It will include more than 3,000 extraordinary objects from around the world, works of art and fun things to touch, play with and even smell.

This major project includes creating the World Gallery, Learning and Engagement activities and the conservation of architectural heritage.

Features of the World Gallery:

  • Visitors will be welcomed into the new gallery with an introduction to the emotional role that objects play in our daily lives. Digital displays will present local people talking about their personal treasures, and visitors will be encouraged to reconsider the significance of objects on display elsewhere, questioning which we place value on and why.
  • At the heart of the gallery are a series of encounters presenting life from the Americas, Africa, Oceania, Europe and Asia. The objects that visitors will encounter will celebrate human creativity, imagination and adaptability from the past to the present-day.
  • Beyond these encounters, different perspectives on our collections will explore the many ways that people understand and describe the world. Highlighting universal categories and ideas, objects will be displayed in different groups to pose questions about how people classify the material world around them.
  • Frederick Horniman’s founding vision for the Horniman Museum and Gardens will be explored with objects from Surrey House, the forerunner of the present Museum. Horniman gave his museum and its collections to the people of London to help them discover the world – a legacy that lives on in the World Gallery.
  • The gallery space is completed with kites and banners hanging from the newly renovated ceiling vault. Collected and commissioned from Guatemala, China, London and beyond, these emblems signify the global instinct to come together in celebration, play or protest.

Learning and Engagement

For the last 50 years we’ve been renowned for our unique handling collection, offering the opportunity to touch objects from our collections such as a shark’s jaw or a piece of an Ancient Egyptian coffin. With a new learning programme we are developing new ways to engage with local people, community groups and school children.

We will encourage a wider appreciation of our collection, examining its history, connections and relevance to people today by creating lessons for schools and resources for teachers and families, alongside resources and information in the gallery.

Conservation of architectural heritage

There have been vital architectural and infrastructure improvements in the gallery space. Some much-needed TLC and structural changes have re-introduced daylight to the space, enhancing the visitor experience and recapturing the spirit of the original building. The refurbishment and repair works will enable us to preserve both our internationally significant collection and our historic buildings.

Our Grade II* listed museum was designed in 1896 in the Arts and Crafts style by Charles Harrison Townsend. Our much-loved Clocktower and original buildings were chosen by the people of Lewisham as their iconic building for the 2012 Olympics celebrations.

Please help us bring the World Gallery to the Horniman

The Horniman is crowdfunding for the World Gallery up to 31 October. This is your opportunity to be part of this amazing project!

From personalised poems by the Horniman walrus to private tours of the new gallery, a range of rewards are available at crowdfunder.co.uk/worldgallery.

 

Website: http://www.horniman.ac.uk

Email: enquiry@horniman.ac.uk

 

 


The Music Workshop Company is passionate about supporting creative and educational projects. If you would like to be featured as a guest blogger, please contact us using the form below. We’d also love to hear from you if you would like to ask about booking one of our music workshops. 

Chineke! Leading by Example

Chineke logo1The Chineke! Foundation was established in 2015: it’s mission, to provide career opportunities to young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) classical musicians in the UK and Europe. At a time when much of the news around classical music focused on laurel ts, elitism and the problems of engaging young people in a ‘difficult genre’, the organisation has stepped forward with inspiring energy.

Chineke!’s message is of real importance to young BME musicians. For these students, the orchestra offers more than the traditional outreach: It offers role models.

Learning and Participation Manager, Ishani O’Connor, has been in her role since June 2017, and has already found herself  ‘very busy!’ The Music Workshop Company catches up with Ishani to hear more about Chineke! and its work both in the community and within its groundbreaking Junior Orchestra. 

“The Chineke! Foundation and its Professional and Junior orchestras were founded by Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE 2 years ago, specifically to promote ethnic diversity in classical music. Chineke! has had a stratospheric ascent, recently culminating in the Chineke! BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, an event with a huge audience reach and the youngest orchestra in its history to be offered a Prom, becoming the BBC’s second most memorable Prom online, with over 10 million views.

This is a massive achievement by a dedicated orchestra management team​ ​but​ fundamental to the success of the Chineke! Orchestra has been the ​firm ​belief that​ mentorship and learning are key to th​e​ development of Chineke! as a cultural organisation. In this way, the Chineke! Orchestra provides the much​ ​needed role models for the Chineke! Juniors​.​

Chineke! Learning and Participation currently has a two-pronged approach to supporting the next generation; through the work with the Chineke! Juniors, encouraging young and gifted BME Classical music students by giving them opportunities to perform in the orchestra, and secondly by taking adult members of the Chineke! Orchestra into schools across the UK, to cities where the orchestra is touring, particularly in areas where there are higher statistical rates of BME communities.

Members of the adult orchestra working with young musicians in a Birmingham School

The Chineke! Juniors have the opportunity to perform in venues such as the Southbank Centre; in the Clore Ballroom and on stage at the Royal Festival Hall, but also in smaller venues such as at Hatfield House for the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival – a sold out concert coming up in October 2017.

The Chineke! Juniors’ ages range from 11 to 18, and many are on a pathway to a Classical music career. The standard is from grades 6-8 and beyond. A professional orchestra starting its journey with an associate junior orchestra is unique in the UK and demonstrates a commitment to nurturing talent which is essential, if the Chineke! ‘effect’ is to perpetuate far into the future. The Chineke! Juniors act as a bridge between current youth music schemes and higher education, giving its players experience, encouragement and confidence during their formative years, whilst increasing the numbers of BME students currently studying music at third level.

A new star has shone this year, a member of the Chineke! Juniors who played in the orchestra’s first cohort in 2015. Sheku Kanneh-Mason; a dynamic and gifted cellist was winner of BBC Young Musician 2016 and has launched his solo career even before commencing his music degree. Although Sheku’s recent notoriety is all to do with his unmistakable talent, hard work and support from family and teachers, he is a brilliant role model to many of the young, BME musicians in the Chineke! Juniors but also throughout the world of music. Sheku’s association with Chineke! is evidence of a positive start to a great career and demonstrates the confidence-boost that playing with a group of BME musicians can give. The televised broadcast of Chineke!’s BBC Proms augmented Chineke!’s reach and I dearly hope that there will be BME students of classical music in the UK and across the world who watched this stunning concert who will be inspired by Sheku and the brilliance of the Chineke! Orchestra’s performance.

The ​young ​Sri Lankan born conductor, Manoj ​K​amps guided these gifted young people whose confidence​ ​blossomed​ under his leadership​. The Chineke! Juniors, many of whom were coming together for the first time, performed brilliantly​ ​both technically and musically​.​ At the event, they also led a ‘Passenger Seats’ session on the Clore Ballroom where audience members of all ages sat next to and in between them listening. They also offered a ‘Have a Go!’ session where players from the Chineke! Juniors worked peer-to-peer, very successfully, with children of their ages who wanted to try their hand at an instrument.

In a parallel exchange of skills, the adult musicians from the Chineke! Orchestra over the same weekend mentored and supported the Chineke! Juniors during rehearsals, developing their performance techniques and encouraging them to lead the sections of the orchestra, to listen and make eye contact with each other and play-out with more confidence. I watched as the young people’s backs straightened during every rehearsal session and their concentration and involvement became more intense and focused. It was a very quick progression; the talent and skills were already there, they just needed the support and platform to shine.

Members of the adult orchestra working with students in Birmingham

In our work with schools across the UK, Chineke! L&P aims to reach as many young people as we can in regions that do not normally have the benefits of London’s large arts ecology. We work closely with venues where the Chineke! Orchestra is performing, who often have their own education programmes and music hubs or other charities who are well-connected to schools. These workshops also promote the huge benefits that learning music has to the students at a time when music education and the arts in general are being de-funded in favour of the EBacc subjects.

Recently, we took a string quartet of Chineke! Orchestra musicians into the assemblies of three primary schools in inner city Birmingham in conjunction with the Chineke! Birmingham Symphony Hall concert. The quartet played a special transcription of three of Elgar’s Enigma Variations (we commissioned from a composer), including Nimrod, deliberately relating the repertoire to the Chineke! Orchestra concert. ‘The Enigma’ also helped us to create an interesting narrative for the children as each of the variations are named after someone Elgar knew, number XI, entitled GRS, about his favourite dog falling down a river bank.

Smile! Members of the adult orchestra with students in Birmingham

We also introduced the young audience to the work of a very interesting 18th century black composer, Joseph Boulogne (aka Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges) by playing one of his string quartets and with a presentation on his life. Born of a French plantation owner and an African slave, Saint-Georges was a multi-talented fencer, athlete, military commander and politician but also a violin virtuoso, orchestral conductor and composer who pioneered the string quartet as a musical form. The Chineke! Foundation also aims to educate the audience by celebrating the work of often forgotten or neglected, brilliant black composers. Other composers which the Chineke! Orchestra has played and continues to champion include, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence B. Price, George Walker and contemporary composers Errollyn Wallen and Hannah Kendall.

Chineke!, works through positive action, to enact change and increase the diversity of professional musicians in Classical music. The long-term goal is to see this change across manifold orchestras in the UK and in Europe. But music critics and regular concert-goers are already observing Chineke!’s effect on audiences, who are the most diverse I have ever seen at classical music concerts. Chineke! follows a very powerful, positive and effective journey of mentorship, which can be observed in the transformation of musicians who play in the Chineke! Orchestra and the unique privilege I have, of watching the Chineke! Juniors blossom during rehearsals and when they play on the UK’s most prestigious stages.

The Chineke! Foundation models how the combination of many different levels of mentorship can progress the development of individuals but also the whole organisation. Mentorship is demonstrated through peer-to-peer learning, professional to junior musician mentoring, the conductor’s leadership of the orchestra and it is transmitted from the expert performers on stage to curious audiences. This also encourages mentorship and support from venues and funders who see the great potential in an organisation that can lead the way in addressing the issue of the lack of diversity in the cultural and creative industries, through brilliant creativity and positive action. The most striking element of mentorship, however, is the unwavering leadership of Chineke! founder, Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE and her tireless effort to get the message out there; to encourage and recruit both young and established BME musicians and to change the face of the Classical music world, through direct action.”



www.chineke.org

Championing Change and Celebrating Diversity in Classical Music

 

Twitter @Chineke4Change

Facebook @chinekefoundation


The Influence of African Musicians on Classical Music

Western classical music, by its very definition, is rooted in the sacred and secular traditions of the western world, centred around Europe. Although the genre has been influenced throughout history by folk song, jazz and music from other continents such as America and China, it rarely diverges far from its Western identity.

Much like Western music outside the ‘classical’ box, African music is incredibly diverse, varying greatly by region. There is lots of opportunity for creative inspiration.

In his 2006 book, Listening to Artifacts: Music Culture in Ancient Israel/Palestine, Theodore Burgh suggests that classical music ultimately has its roots in North Africa, in the art music of Ancient Egypt, as well as other ancient cultures such as Greece. However, there seems, at first glance, little evidence of African influence in classical music. When it is found, for example in Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, it is generally Afro-American in origin, interpreted in a western-dominated form of music.

When explored, the contribution of black composers and musicians, and the influence of African music, forms a fascinating part of classical music history.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Probably the first and perhaps best-known classical composer of African descent, Saint-Georges was the illegitimate son of a Guadeloupe plantation owner, Bologne de Saint-Georges, and his mistress, an African slave girl of probable Senegalese birth called Nanon.

A contemporary of Mozart, Saint-Georges was barred from sharing his father’s French noble status because he was black, but his father ensured he was educated as an aristocrat. He studied fencing with a famous swordsman, becoming a champion fencer. He learned harpsichord, and he studied violin with one of the famous French virtuosi, Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder. His success both as a musician and athlete made him famous, but while religious leaders were agitating for an end to slavery, interracial marriages were still forbidden, and his skin colour built him an ambivalent status in society.

Although close to Queen Marie Antoinette, Saint-Georges was refused the prestigious post of director of the Paris Opéra, for which he was considered in 1775, because two of the company’s leading sopranos objected and successfully petitioned the Queen against his appointment on the ground of his race. Even so, he was a major star in Paris in the 1770s, nicknamed “Le Mozart Noir” on concert posters, often sharing equal billing with Mozart.

The later part of Saint-Georges’ life was disrupted by the French Revolution. Although he had been active in campaigning against slavery and sympathised with the democratic aims of the revolution, his aristocratic background meant he was not trusted.

He continued performing and directing up to his death, and he was remained famous enough to attract large crowds. However, living alone, he contracted a bladder infection and died on June 10, 1799.

Commemorative editions of his music were published, but within a short time, new restrictions on blacks came into force across France and its empire. Slavery had been abolished in 1794, but was re-imposed by Napoleon Bonaparte. Under Bonaparte’s regime, Saint-George and his music were removed from orchestra repertoires, wiping him from the history books for nearly 200 years.

His profile has risen in recent years thanks to concerts by ensembles including the Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, but he has not yet regained the equal footing he held with Mozart among classical music fans.

Embracing Ideas in the Romantic Period and Beyond

Towards the end of the 19th century, composers were looking towards different cultures for inspiration. Antonín Dvořák’s interest in themes from the ‘new world’ is well documented. His move to New York brought him directly into contact with Afro-American music.

In fact, Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, From the New World, written in 1893, contains some of the most famous examples of Afro-American themes in classical music. But Dvořák’s themes are not actually of Afro-American origin. The composer wrote accurate imitations of the pentatonic melodies, a technique which he also used in his American string quartet.

Interestingly, these compositions were pretty much contemporaneous with an emerging style of music in North America called ragtime.

Ragtime descended from the jigs and marching music played by African American bands, referred to as “jig piano” or “piano thumping”. Rags by Scott Joplin such as The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag are still instantly recognisable, and Ragtime had a lasting influence on classical composers. Igor Stravinsky wrote a solo piano work called Piano-Rag-Music, while ragtime is evident in the works of Erik Satie, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud and the other members of The Group of Six in Paris.

In 1930, William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony marked the first symphony by an African-American man. The work marries conventional classical forms with popular African styles, also referencing the blues. The bass line of the final movement moves from an F to a D-flat, resembling Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

The following epigraph, from African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1896 work, Ode to Ethiopia, appears with the fourth movement:

Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul,

Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll

In characters of fire.

High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky,

Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,

And truth shall lift them higher.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

The composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is considered to be the only black composer to have broken through from the Romantic era. Born to a Sierra Leonean father, Coleridge-Taylor was from Holborn, London. He incorporated black traditional music with classical music, with such compositions as African Suite, African Romances and Twenty Four Negro Melodies. The first performance of his work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, was described by the principal of the Royal College of Music as, “One of the most remarkable events in modern English musical history.” Despite this success, Coleridge-Taylor’s music is out of fashion and all-but out of print.

Accepted to the Royal College of Music aged 15, despite concerns about his skin colour, he swapped violin studies for composition. His tutor was Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford challenged his student to write a clarinet quintet without showing the influence of his favourite composer, Brahms. Coleridge-Taylor wrote the piece, and when this work was revived in 1973, the New York Times critic called it, “Something of an eye opener…an assured piece of writing in the post-Romantic tradition…sweetly melodic.”

Despite little modern recognition, his influence lives on: From 1903 to his death in 1912, he was professor of composition at the Trinity College of Music in London. However, violinist Philippe Graffin performed the violin concerto at the Proms in 2005, and the Nash Ensemble have recorded the composer’s piano quintet.

Modern Times

Modern classical music has been more influenced by African culture. John Cage’s 1940 work, Bacchanale was the first significant modern synthesis of African and Western music. It was also instrumental in the development of the prepared piano, as the composer sought out African sounds with only room on stage for a grand piano.

Other composers such as George Crumb, Ligeti and Steve Reich have explored African influences, while composers born in Africa include Nigerian composer Joshua Uzoigwe. A member of the Igbo ethnic group, many of Uzoigwe’s works draw on the traditional music of his people.

Classical music is far from reaching the limits of inspiration from African music, and it is far from incorporating the work of black composers on a level playing field. However, for centuries, composers and the curiosity of the creative mind have shown us that the more the classical music world stretches its knowledge beyond the boundaries of its own traditional culture, the more unique voices will be found.


If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about booking a workshop inspired by African music, contact us today:

Nursery Rhymes – Literacy, Imagination and Identity

Nursery rhymes are traditional poems sung to small children. They often contain historical references and fantastical characters, and many have been rumoured to have hidden meanings.

The earliest nursery rhymes documented include a 13th century French poem numbering the days of the month. From the mid 16th century children’s songs can be found recorded in English plays. Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man is one of the oldest surviving English nursery rhymes, first appearing in The Campaigners, a play written in 1698 by Thomas d’Urfey (1653 -1723). Interestingly, D’Urfey, active as a writer in the days when the term ‘wit’ was held almost as a career epithet, also composed songs and poetry and was instrumental to the evolution of the Ballad opera.

The first English collections of nursery rhymes were published before 1744.  Tommy Thumb’s Song Book and Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book included rhymes including London Bridge is Falling Down, Hickory Dickory Dock, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary and Baa Baa Black Sheep; the very same songs popular today, nearly 300 years after they were first published. In fact they were probably sung for many years before publication, passed down in the oral tradition.

There is a lot of speculation about the words of these rhymes with suggestions that they refer covertly to insalubrious or violent topics. It is commonly believed that Ring a Ring o Roses is about the black plague that hit London in 1655, with the ‘rosie’ thought to refer to the rash that developed and ‘we all fall down’ (dead) being the result, but although this theory fits with the illustrative lyrics, there is actually no evidence to support this.

John Newbery’s collection of English Rhymes, Mother Goose’s Melody (or Sonnets for the Cradle) was published in 1765. This is the first record of many of today’s classic nursery rhymes. Newberry’s compilation seems to come from a variety of sources including drinking songs, historical events, traditional riddles, proverbs, ballads, lines of Mummers’ plays and even ancient pagan rituals.

The name Mother Goose is associated with Maurice Ravel’s piano suite (Ma Mère l’Oye) which was originally written for two children of Ravel’s acquaintance and subsequently orchestrated for ballet. The movements of Ravel’s suite relate more to fairytale characters such as Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb than to the nursery rhymes of Newberry’s publication.

There are rumours that Mozart wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He didn’t. But he did write variations on a French children’s song, Ah! vous dirai-je, maman, originally an anonymous pastoral song dating from 1740. The words to the popular English lullaby are from an early 19th-century English poem by Jane Taylor, The Star. The tune has been used for other songs too, including Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Despite, or maybe because of, the lack of real historical clarity, nursery rhymes and their weird and wonderful characters continue to entertain. History and the role of music in society are undoubtedly interwoven in a fascinating way into the sometimes seemingly nonsensical words of the songs. Pop Goes the Weasel is a nursery rhyme and singing game, first found in a manuscript of 1853, which not only references a pub that still exists, The Eagle on City Road, London, the words were added to an already existing dance tune.

Considering elements such as the incorporation of a pub into this song, it does seem likely that many nursery rhymes were not actually written for children. According to Kay Vandergrift, Professor Emerita of Children’s Literature at Rutgers University, most of them were part of an oral-based society that relayed news, spread coded rumours about authority figures, and worked out its moral dilemmas in rhyme and song. Existing nonsense rhymes would be adapted to make references to current events. It was not until the 19th century and the Victorian romanticising of childhood the past that nursery rhymes were written down and presented in collections for small children.

The poems are inhabited by kings and queens, peasants and drunkards, historical and mythical characters from a wild, often rural past. They predate many of our modern preferences, yet they are still relevant to today’s children and parents.

The world that spawned the rhymes seems far away from our modern lives, but the reasons people sang nursery rhymes are still the same.

Why Nursery Rhymes are Important

The dish ran away with the spoon…

Adults instinctively converse with babies using a sing- song voice with short, repetitive phrases and long pauses for the baby to respond.

This ‘dialect’ can be described as musical in its characteristics of rhythm, timing and rising and falling pitch. The qualities for relating well to babies and toddlers are also the basis of music, a nice synchronicity, since music is a means for bringing people together.

The way in which parents interact with their baby is vital to the baby’s development. It has been found that mothers who are having difficulty relating or who are suffering from depression can be helped if they are encouraged to sing and play musical games with their children. The singing provides a framework to support the mother to baby interaction.

Nursery rhymes fall into two categories:

  • Lullabies – designed to lull a baby to sleep or soothe a fretful toddler, lullabies are an age-old part of childcare in all cultures.
  • One-to-one songs/play songs – more appropriate for older babies and toddlers, these songs. They are sung and played on laps, often featuring actions such as knee joggling, tickling and surprise dips and spills. They are mini dramatic stories full of language, excitement, anticipation and rhythmic movement.

They help infant development and family relationships:

They are good for the brain. The repetition of rhymes and stories teaches language and builds memory. Nursery rhymes also often represent a child’s first experience of literacy. Before a child learns to read, they can see how a book works.

Nursery rhymes preserve generations’ worth of history and culture. Familiar rhymes provide common ground between parents, grandparents and children, and between people who don’t know each other.

Singing is a great group activity. Singing nursery rhymes allows children to feel confident about singing and dancing, engaging them with music and building self esteem.

The moralistic lessons in some rhymes might seem important, but the main message of nursery rhymes is that they are fun to learn and sing. The supposed meanings of the songs and their obscure origins do not detract from their value – the words just sound good and help children discover a shared language, shared experience and a sense of a shared past.

Resource:

http://www.mamalisa.com has lots of great songs and nursery rhymes from around the world. Here’s one we use in our workshops – a Turkish version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm


Contact the Music Workshop Company today!

ROH Bridge: Planning for A Bright Future

The Royal Opera House Bridge project works to connect young people with great art and culture, breaking down the stereotypes of inaccessibility and nurturing networks and innovation. The issue of culture, music and learning is vital to the future of education. In previous blogs we’ve looked at the value of exposing children to classical music and explored the ways in which opera companies can avoid alienating young audiences. We’ve also covered organisations such as Future Talent which provide opportunities for young musicians to develop their careers.

This month, instead of publishing our usual guest blog, we decided to showcase the Royal Opera House Bridge Conference which took place on 17th June 2016.

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The conference, entitled A Place For Culture, which took place in the beautiful setting of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, explored how we can secure the place of cultural learning in schools and communities.

Key discussion points included:

  • How does where children live affect their cultural opportunities?
  • How can schools make space for cultural learning in a crowded curriculum?
  • How does local culture contribute to placemaking?
  • How can schools and cultural organizations work together to stimulate learning around Heritage and British values?
  • Have you taken your place in the cultural life of your community?

oldpalacesunny-300x199Attendees included cultural organisations, schools, Arts Council England, Grant giving bodies, local authorities and cultural trusts, freelance arts practitioners and Music Hubs.

The day was divided into keynote speakers, workshops and performances. Speakers included Althea Efunshile CBE, Deputy Chief Executive of Arts Council England with provocations from Deborah Annetts, CEO of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, Jonathan Simons, Head of Education at Think Tank Policy Exchange and Andrea Stark, Director of Foundation for FutureLondon. The 3 provocations asked delegates to think about the current cultural, political and economic landscapes and where cultural education fits.

Key messages were to understand the environment you are working in, and a reminder that there is never a perfect time to launch projects.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 13.35.43

Gary Clarke, Independent Choreographer and Artistic Director and Tom Andrews, Founder of People United talked with Althea Efunshile about their experiences of arts and culture with many inspired by Gary’s story. Gary came from a working class background in a Yorkshire village and is now one of Britain’s leading dance experts. Read more about his work in this interview.

Workshops covered topics such as Our Place: Building pride, aspiration and attainment through heritage, Rules for Rural – developing a shared manifesto, Place-marking: A strategic approach to working with communities and their schools, British values? Exploring a creative approach to the mandate for schools, The Cultural Governor – championing arts and culture through effective leadership in schools and Leading Cultural Learning – nurturing teachers as cultural champions.

A team from Hull showcased the work they are doing as City of Culture…

There were performances throughout the day from students from the University of Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire Music Service and the Pénte Ensemble from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Countess Anne choirThe afternoon kicked off with a performance by the choir from local school, Countess Anne Primary School to remind delegates of why access to arts and culture is so important. Many of the children had taken part in the Hertfordshire Music Service Gala concert at the Royal Albert Hall earlier in the year.

You can read more about what people said about the day here… https://storify.com/ROHBridge/royal-opera-house-bridge.

To find out more about the cultural learning across the Royal Opera House Bridge region visit http://www.roh.org.uk/learning/royal-opera-house-bridge/spotlight where leaders share what they have learned, explore the varied challenges in cultural learning and showcase innovation.

 

Inspiring With Opera

Last month we looked at the relevance of classical music in education, following violinist, Nicola Benedetti’s comments about the value of introducing young people to subjects that they may at first find difficult. This month we look at the world of opera – a sticking point even for some music lovers.

Maria_Thomas-300x247Maria Thomas, Founder and Artistic director of the Music Workshop Company, is passionate about opera but is also aware that it has a particular reputation within the classical genre for being inaccessible. She tells us about her recent experiences as an opera lover, discusses the role of opera within the Arts and asks whether opera companies are heading in the right direction to encourage new, young fans…

My first experience of professional opera was at the age of four – Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. By the age of 10 I was a regular opera goer. I suppose it was inevitable that I would love or hate opera following that early exposure.

Opera is something that some people find challenging. I’ve heard people say that they don’t like it when they’ve never experienced a live performance. The most common barrier in this respect is the perception of high prices, but many opera tickets are cheaper than those for football matches or musical theatre shows.

GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG_Kairish

There’s also the worry about ‘opera etiquette.’ What should you wear, when should you clap; things that can cause stress to what should be an enjoyable experience. Opera companies have addressed these concerns in various ways.

The Royal Opera House website has helpful advice on what to expect when attending a performance, Seattle Opera has a great first timers’ guide covering questions about dress code and what happens on stage, and the Welsh National Opera encourage new audience members with their New to Opera page.

Театр_оперы_и_балета._ЗалThere’s also this guide from the Telegraph, so there’s plenty of encouraging information out there.

I really feel many people would be more open minded about opera if they had enjoyed an opera performance when they were young.

Most opera companies have school matinees which give young people a chance to experience live opera, often supplying support materials for teachers and offering in school projects such as Opera Holland Park’s Inspire Project, Opera North’s Education and Engagement projects, and Scottish Opera’s schools touring programme.

Is opera relevant today or is it an outdated form of entertainment?

One of the challenges for performers and producers is how to set the opera. Should the production be staged in a traditional setting as stated by the composer and librettist, or should it be updated? Some operas have worked extremely well in modern settings, for example Jonathan Miller’s production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti at the Royal Opera House incorporated strong use of modern staging and props, including mobile phones, but not all updates are so successful.

In working to appeal to a modern audience, and to challenge ideas outside of music, some productions are perhaps moving even further away from increased inclusivity.

The Royal Opera House’s current production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (William Tell) by Damiano Michieletto, is one of the biggest stories in opera at the moment, and brings this question of relevance strongly to the forefront. The production sets the story in war-torn Bosnia. The aim is to bring home the horrors of war, moving away from the traditional storybook image of William Tell, whilst still representing this aspect of the character. However, there’s a feeling that the production goes too far.

I was in the audience on the first night of the show. The singers and orchestra were outstanding, but I found myself not enjoying the production. The sense of dismay became real during a rewrite of the traditional ballet scene in the third act. The scene was interpreted with a graphic, violent scene, which was very distressing to watch. No warning was given of the graphic scene (an issue which has now been rectified by the ROH). Many in the audience reacted with loud booing, which was repeated when the production team took their curtain calls at the end.

It has been reported that this is the first time anyone can remember such a strong response from the audience at the Royal Opera House, certainly during a performance.

The response in the press and on social media about this production has raised questions in the opera world.

Should opera be used to raise social issues or challenge audience perceptions?

Opera, unlike live theatre, film and video games, is not subject to age classification. In encouraging young audiences, should all productions be suitable for all ages?

Some operas are clearly not appropriate for young people. For example, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Weil’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny both tackle graphic topics which are not suitable for children. But William Tell is often told as a children’s story, much like Robin Hood. Although the story is about the challenges of war, the heroic personal story of William Tell is usually a bigger feature both in storybooks and at the opera.

Tell_Deutsch_Münster_1554

It is clearly an important role of the Arts to challenge social issues, but it should not be gratuitous or self-indulgent. Often a powerful message can be felt by more subtle means. I feel that by performing explicit productions, opera companies (the current English National Opera performance of Carmen includes nudity) are creating a further barrier for future audiences. Most people have their first and most formative classical music, theatre or opera experiences at a young age – being taken to see a production by friends, family or school. If productions are not suitable for young people, families feel discouraged from attending? As opera is becoming more available through the big screen and cinema showings, producers must consider their audience. Not every production should be a children’s show, but difficult topics can be dealt with sensitively.

During my time working at the Royal Opera House, one of my most vivid memories was being back stage as the cast of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman took a curtain call at the end of the schools matinee. The clapping and cheering of the audience was phenomenal, showing that young people can really enjoy opera. I feel very strongly that they should be given the chance to make up their own minds as to whether this is an Art form for them.

800px-Wagner,_R._Der_Fliegende_Holländer_(München,_1950)

If you would like to know more about introducing young people to opera or are interested in an opera workshop for your school or business, send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

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