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


Advertisements

Handel’s Water Music – 300 Years in the Charts

July 17th 2017 marks the 300th anniversary of the first performance of Handel’s famous Water Music. The orchestral suites were written for a party on the Thames river in London, held by King George I, in 1717.

 

The music consists of the Suite in F major (HWV 348), Suite in D major (HWV 349) and Suite in G major (HWV 350). However, although many of the pieces became instant hits throughout London, none of them were published at the time. Extensive research by Samuel Arnold led to a 1788 edition of nineteen pieces that is generally accepted as the authoritative Water Music, but the original structure is unclear.

One of the best-known and most frequently performed movements is the Alla Hornpipe from the D major suite:

George Frideric Handel is known today for many compositions, and for his role as a court composer. Born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, he is one of the foremost composers of the Baroque era.

But he should never have been a composer in the first place.

Handel was born at a time when music and the arts flourished only in the highest echelons of society. His grandfather was a coppersmith, his grandmother was the daughter of a coppersmith. Handel’s own father was a barber, and his mother was the daughter of a Lutheran minister. Handel went to the gymnasium school in Halle. A gymnasium in the German education system is a selective school for the gifted. The headmaster at the school Johann Praetorius, was passionate about music, but many of Handel’s biographers record that he was withdrawn from the school because his father was implacably opposed to music education.

In fact, Georg Handel was alarmed by his son’s interest in music that he took every step to oppose it, even banning musical instruments in the house and forbidding Handel from visiting any house where they might be found. There is a story that Handel found a way to sneak a small clavichord into the attic of the house, and he would steal away to play it when the family were asleep. This tale is unsubstantiated, but for the fact that Handel was able to play the keyboard well enough to come to the notice of Duke Johann Adolf, who on hearing Handel play the church organ, persuaded his father to let him have music lessons.

 It’s quite incredible given this unpromising start that Handel is still a household name.

His Water Music was written for King George I of England. It consists of three orchestral suites, and was first performed on barges on the Thames. Its first performance as an integral part of a massive Royal shindig, was reported in Britain’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant.

The party was possibly an attempt by King George to win popularity (for various reasons, including a serious economic crisis in 1720, his refusal or inability to learn English and rumours about the treatment of his wife, the King was not well liked), and he turned to Handel to help him impress.

In 1710, Handel had worked as Kapellmeister to the German Prince George; the same Prince George who in 1714 became King of Great Britain and Ireland. Handel had left Germany to settle in England full time, which had angered Prince George at the time.

However, the Water Music is said to have allowed a reconciliation between King George and Handel. It was rumoured that the success of the music enabled the King to regain some of the London spotlight back from his son, Prince George, who was throwing lavish parties and dinners. The Prince did not get on with his father – a resentment that possibly began when King George dissolved his marriage to the young George’s mother due to ‘abandonment’, which meant that the children never saw their mother again (though the King did his best to ensure that his son had more choice when he was himself to be married).

The Courant records that at about 8pm on Wednesday, July 17th 1717, King George I boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace, along with several aristocrats, for an excursion up the Thames towards Chelsea.

A second barge, provided by the City of London, carried around 50 musicians who performed Handel’s music. Many other Londoners also took to the river to hear the concert.

According to the Courant, “the whole River in a manner was covered” with boats and barges.

The king enjoyed the music so much, he asked the musicians to play the suites at least three times over the course of the trip, both on the way up to Chelsea and on the return journey, with the orchestra playing from around 8pm until well after midnight.

In 2009 the BBC aired a documentary showing an ambitious reconstruction of the performance, with the Water Music played by musicians of the English Consort in full period costume.


Contact the Music Workshop Company

Claudio Monteverdi: 450 Years of Inspiration

May 15th 2017 marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi.

Born in 1567, in Cremona, Italy, Monteverdi was famous during his lifetime as a musician and composer, and his works are still regularly performed today.

Cremona is a city with a vast musical heritage. It was home to lute makers, later becoming renowned as a centre for musical instrument making, and home to the Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari violin making families. The historic feudal system – the myriad noble families ruling Italy at the time – laid the way for music to develop, supported and funded by the court, offering employment and opportunity for musicians.

Monteverdi thrived in this musical hotbed, exploring and developing music far beyond his contemporaries. He is nowadays considered to provide a transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods – and his compositions influenced 20th century composers such as Stravinsky.

One of the main differences between Renaissance and Baroque music is the move from counterpoint to melody with accompaniment. Much Renaissance music was based on imitation and variations, with ground bass or ostinato, where a tonal structure and multi-movement forms emerged in Baroque music – functional harmony based on a central tonic with a strong harmonic flow and tonal sequences such as the circle of fifths.

Many of these ideas were introduced and popularised in the work of Monteverdi.

Monteverdi began his musical studies at the Cathedral in Cremona, producing his first published works – a collection of sacred songs – at the age of 15. After his studies were complete, he was employed as a court musician for the Duke of Mantua, where he initially worked as a singer and viol player before a promotion to music director.

It can be difficult to see historic figures in a human light, but Monteverdi’s life was full of drama; a nice parallel with the plays of Shakespeare, which were written and premiered during his lifetime over in England.

He tragically lost his wife and his baby daughter, he was robbed at gunpoint by a highwayman, on the death of his employer, the Duke of Mantua, he was fired by the Duke’s successor who could not afford to keep him on, leaving the composer with virtually no money, and he was ambitious, planning to show his music to the Pope. By his mid-40s, he was the most celebrated composer in Italy.

His work L’Orfeo is the earliest surviving opera still regularly performed today.

The beginning of opera as a genre is unclear. The concept was born partly by Florentine intellectuals who were fascinated by the dramas of ancient Greece. But the idea was probably gestating long before 1600. Admiration for antiquity was a strong trend in Renaissance Italy, but the recreation of Greek tragedies was not the sole intent of opera composers.

There was a strong interest in the bucolic, pastoral story – nymphs and gods were featured rather than kings and queens. Instrumental music was increasingly integrated into dramatic performances and madrigals were used as interludes in more serious theatrical court productions. Legends such as that of Orpheus were incredibly popular, and composers found affinity with the divine musical gifts displayed by Orpheus.

Monteverdi took these ideas and created something new: The debut of L’Orfeo defied all previous musical convention. He placed words and emotions right at the forefront, subduing the traditional Renaissance polyphony (two or more lines of simultaneous independent melody) to emphasise one prominent melody line. He exploited dynamics and unprepared dissonance in order to convey human emotion, responding sensitively to the text. He was the first to create opera out of ‘real’ characters – living, breathing, emotional beings.

L’Orfeo was premiered at the Ducal Palace in Mantua – indications are of a small space, a narrow stage and an audience of only men. All of the performers were male, with castrati playing the female roles. The performance was successful enough that a repeat was demanded for all the ladies of the city to attend!

Part of the uniqueness of the score lies in Monteverdi’s fragmentary markings and instructions. As was common for that period, Monteverdi encouraged instrumental ornamentation and embellishment, presenting his score as what today might be considered skeletal. This gives every performance of L’Orfeo its own distinct sound and identity.

Tom Ford – Limelight Magazine

Fragment of score for Poppea

The score also points to a composer in full command of his craft. It may be sparse, but it is not simple. Instrumentation was cleverly designed to characterise, and in some places, Monteverdi instructs what is to be played, not how: “Sung to the sound of five violins, three chitarrone, two harpsichords, a double harp, a double-bass viol and a sopranino recorder,” with only the vocal line and bass notated. This produces exciting challenges for modern performers.

Monteverdi’s second opera, L’Arianna, was completed a year after the tragic death of his wife. Sadly, like large swathes of Monteverdi’s work, this opera has been lost, save for Arianna’s Lament, which was so popular it was published separately several times.

In 1612, Monteverdi took a position as musical direct at the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice. During his latter years, when he was ordained as a Catholic priest, he composed much sacred music and music for civic occasions. Despite being ill much of the time, he also wrote two more operas, including L’incoronazione di Poppea, considered by many to be his finest work. Poppea contains romance, tragedy, and comedy – a new development in opera. The opera foreshadows those of Mozart, its complexity describing the triumph of evil over good through beautiful music.

Monteverdi died at the age of 76 in Venice in 1643. His legacy of works fall into three categories: Madrigals, opera and sacred music. Over 50 of his letters survive, giving a wonderful view of Italy and of the 17th century.

Experience the Music of Monteverdi:

Monteverdi at the V&A

Monteverdi’s Vespers at the BBC Proms

Monteverdi’s Vespers at St. James’ Piccadilly

Monteverdi 450, Colton Hall, Bristol

Come and Sing

Find events in your area…

Celebrate Monteverdi in Cremona!


Contact the Music Workshop Company today!

Take Your Music Further

Here at the Music Workshop Company, we are passionate about creating opportunities for young people to explore music. We make sure that each of our workshops involves a performance element so participants can enjoy the experience of playing to an audience.

Leading educational travel company, NST, specialises in running concert tours, primarily for school children but also catering for adults. NST knows that the buzz musicians get from performing is unlike any other feeling, and the chance to perform in exciting international venues is even more of a thrill.

In this month’s guest blog, we catch up with Sheena Orchin, Music Product Executive at NST, as she tells us about world travel, fantastic venues and what makes a great concert tour…

Sheena“NST takes talented musicians, bands, orchestras and choirs away to new places, enabling them to share their talents around the globe. After all, music is a universal language that translates and is appreciated worldwide.

We’ve arranged thousands of concert tours for musicians of all ages. Through our services they’ve shared their love of music in Paris, on the Rhine, in Belgium, New York, Tuscany, the Black Forest, Barcelona, Prague, Lake Garda, indoors, outdoors, in quaint churches and grand cathedrals, on bustling market squares and picturesque bandstands, in community schools, retirement homes, and even at Disneyland® Paris. The list of experiences is endless!

Blog - Disney image

One thing common to every experience is that groups who have booked one of our concert tours find they have a shared focus to work towards, further igniting their passion for music. But I find that many groups shy away from organising a tour just because it seems like an overwhelming task.

My first piece of advice is:

Share your talent with the world – there’s so much to gain!

Andrew Millinchip, music teacher at the Grange School, took his students on an NST concert tour to Belgium. He wrote to say:

The trip provided a focus for rehearsal during the previous term. Spending time together as a group greatly enhanced the bonding of choir members, and time away from school allowed my group to concentrate 100% on making music.

There is a wealth of evidence supporting the idea of learning outside the classroom. A 2004 paper by researchers at Kings College London concluded that there was:

Substantial evidence that outdoor learning can impact positively on children and young people’s attitudes, beliefs and self-perceptions – independence, confidence, self-esteem, personal effectiveness, coping strategies.

It also found that there was:

Significant evidence of the effect of outdoor learning on social development and greater community involvement*

Our groups have enjoyed unforgettable, magical musical experiences around the globe, and have shared these comments with us:

Since returning from our trip, my choristers have been so inspired. Not only have they gained confidence in their musical abilities, they gelled together as a group and are brimming with enthusiasm for music. We just can’t wait for our next tour, so expertly arranged by NST – Susan Francis, Princethorpe College

This trip has been incredible and one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life so far. It has been so interesting to learn about the German culture. It was wonderful– Shani, aged 14

So I’d like to bust some myths about the difficulties of touring and share our essential tips for creating a concert tour that is memorable for all the right reasons…

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

Three main concert tour myths:

  1. It’s too much like hard work:

Organising a tour is as easy or hard as you want to make it. By choosing to partner with a tour operator like NST, you will immediately smooth out some of the planning bumps. We’ve done it all before and can hold your hand every step of the way. We tailor-make every tour from scratch, and deal with all the planning, timings and booking every aspect of every trip, from transport and accommodation, to concerts, concert promotion, meals and excursions.

  1. I’ll get tangled up in all the red tape:

It is possible to organise a trip independently, but you then take on responsibility for all the health and safety aspects of the trip. By using a tour operator such as NST you’re covered from the moment you book right up until your safe return, both for health, safety and insurance matters and for your financial protection. And because we’ve done it all before, the work you have to do will be kept to a minimum.

  1. Once I’ve booked with a tour operator, I’ll be on my own:

Every music group that travels with NST is partnered with their own Concert Consultant and Music Tour Travel Advisor in the planning stages. They can also choose to be paired with a Tour Manager who will accompany them on their tour from beginning to end. Tour Assistants and Concert Assistants are available in many destinations too, and the promotion of your concerts in resort will be done for you. And if you come across any issues whilst you’re away (that your Tour Manager can’t solve there and then), we operate 24 hour emergency support too.

Top tips for organising a successful concert tour:

  1. Plan in advance:

Make sure you give yourself, pupils and parents as much time as possible. Most groups will book their trip 18 months ahead of travel. Planning well in advance gives parents more time to budget, save their money and pay in smaller instalments. Take a look at our quick reference timeline (below) for guidance.

Blog - Timeline image

  1. Tap into tour operator knowledge:

Tour operators provide access to a wealth of knowledge and experience. Not only will they be able to answer your questions, they might even suggest options you hadn’t already thought of. They’ll be able to tell you what other group leaders have chosen to do on tour and give you an insight into the feedback they’ve given too. At NST, we have a range of tried and tested itineraries to use as a starting point, which can be adapted personally for you.

  1. Get more from your budget in three easy steps:

Be flexible with your travel dates, transport options, departure points and your accommodation location. Remember, the longer the trip is, the more expensive it will be. Fill your tour with free visits to help keep the cost down. Consider joining up with another group; another subject group, year group or even another school. The more travellers there are, the lower the price per person will be.

  1. Promote and launch your trip with free resources:

We can help you to do this with our range of A3 posters, destination specific Power Point presentation templates and pre-printed parents’ leaflets. We recommend that you use all of NST’s promotional resources to organise a launch evening as this will help increase interest and confirm numbers. We also recommend that you organise a parents’ evening to go through the full itinerary of your trip closer to your departure date, using our dedicated free PowerPoint template.

  1. Take a contingency fund and pocket money:

Don’t get caught short. Believe us, it happens! Group leaders should carry a small float and credit card to cover any unforeseen events, and group members should take pocket money in local currency for soft drinks, snacks and souvenirs. Using a banking system will also allow students to budget their money and prevent them from spending it all during the first day or two.”

Germany Rhine River Moselle (Mosel) near Cochem / Sehl

Germany Rhine River Moselle (Mosel) near Cochem / Sehl


 

You can find out more about NST on the website www.nstgroup.co.uk, where you can also try the exclusive online itinerary planning tool, or call them on 0845 293 7951 (calls will cost you 3p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge).

*(Rickinson M, Dillon J, Teaney K, Morris M, Cho M Y, Sanders D, and Benefield P, ‘A Review of Research on Outdoor Learning’, FSC, Shrewsbury, NFER/Kings College London, 2004).

Teaching with Technology: A Community Vision

The Music Workshop Company is focused around the community aspects of music making, shared experiences and direct musical engagement, but technology is opening up new opportunities within music learning. As the Internet becomes ingrained into every aspect of life, Simon Hewitt Jones, Director of ViolinSchool, is exploring the potential of online learning. We catch up with Simon to ask how he sees the future of violin teaching…

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 10.48.08We recently held the final concert for ViolinSchool’s Summer Orchestra Project, which was streamed live on the Internet. We had students joining us from the USA, Australia, Germany, South Korea, and probably other places I’m not aware of. One of our American students, who I’ve been coaching via video exchange, even made it there in person. She came straight from the airport to be at the concert.

Image Courtesy of Sandra Rouch

Image Courtesy of Sandra Rouch

I think it’s no coincidence that we had such a wide and international audience, because I believe something is changing in the world of learning. In fact, in the past few months, I’ve noticed a profound change in how people approach learning the violin. This came home to me when, earlier the same week, a majority of our London students chose to take their lessons via video in our new virtual classroom, rather than brave the tube strike that brought much of central London to a halt. Once the technology is set up, the student and the tutor are carried away by the work they are doing. The technology gets forgotten, and it’s all about the learning.

What most people care about is improving their violin playing and music skills, and having strong relationships with their tutors and fellow learners. But those relationships are not confined just to one medium or one type of tuition. I’m not suggesting lessons via the virtual classroom as a replacement for lessons in person, but, without a shadow of a doubt, I can say that we are seeing better and better results when learners take advantage of a broad mix of tuition options. Personal coaching, group lessons, online classes, the orchestra, and online courses all have their part to play in providing a rounded experience and giving each learner greater perspective about their learning.

Image Courtesy of Tristan Jakob-Hoff

Image Courtesy of Tristan Jakob-Hoff

As our use and understanding of digital technology grows, we’re increasingly providing guidance to students around the world, so far in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. And our students there are asking exactly the same questions as we do here in London:

  • How can I become a better violinist?
  • How can I become a better performer?
  • How can I become a better musician?

For everyone there will be a different, personal answer to these questions, but we all share the same challenge: To improve how we learn, and to improve how we think, in order to improve how we make music.

There are two guiding forces that have driven ViolinSchool over the past few years: Community and creativity. Every day, I am inspired by the enthusiasm and imagination of the ViolinSchool community. It’s truly a group of creative thinkers who love to learn. The stronger that community is, and the stronger the individual connections within it, the more we will benefit from each other’s experiences, and the more we will learn. We don’t want geography to be an obstacle to that. We want to help violinists everywhere by building relationships with people all over the world. We believe that anyone, regardless of age, experience or geography, should be able to enjoy the wonder of making music with the violin.

I’ve identified three key things to help us get there.

1) The learner is empowered

Learning the violin should be a joyful, creative journey, which is why we reject dogmatic, ‘guru-style’ violin teaching. Our ideal is to teach every student to teach themselves.

2) Geography should be no obstacle

Yes, there are times when you just have to be there, but there are also times when you can achieve the same results online. It can be easier, cheaper and faster for someone in the Australian Outback, the Rural MidWest, or even Essex, to learn technical skills via an eLearning module, before coming to a lesson.

It’s also a really effective approach. You can get so much out of a lesson when the foundations of technique and theory are already there.

3) Technology makes our community better connected

What excites me about digital technology in education is not the technology itself: That novelty wears off after a few days or weeks. What excites me about technology in education is how it can bring a community together. When the community is broader and better connected then it’s easier to share our knowledge and understanding, and we all become enriched by the diversity of peoples’ experiences.

simon-twinkle-iphone-piano-1024x1024

Since last January, ViolinSchool has been rolling out a program of learning resources. We’re committed to building on the great traditions of violin pedagogy that have developed over the last 300 years. We’ve grown up with the treatises of Galamian and Carl Flesch and the studies of Kreutzer, Sevcik, Dounis and others, and we’re now on a mission to update those traditions for today’s new generation of students. We’re working to revitalise violin pedagogy in a way that caters for every experience level in a fun, enjoyable way, from complete beginners to music college students and professionals.

We are steadily producing a wide array of studies, technical exercises and videos, as well as downloadable sheet music, in-depth guides and articles. We’re currently stepping up our production, so that by the end of next year ViolinSchool will provide one of the most comprehensive learning resources about violin playing that’s available anywhere.

But what excites me most about these new tools is the eLearning Modules that we’ve been developing, and which we’ll start releasing this summer as part of our new eLearning trial. These interactive study modules, which are informed by my research at the Royal Academy of Music, break down technical, musical and performance-related topics into a series of clear, easy-to-understand principles. We present the principles in the form of what we call ‘Learning Objectives’ – things our learners need to do in order to acquire specific skills.

ELearning has been used successfully for many years across a wide range of specialist areas, but it’s never been done properly before for the violin. The beauty of the eLearning Modules is that they provide students with a clear understanding of how the whole jigsaw of violin playing fits together. As students become more aware of how they do what they do, their playing becomes more consistent and their confidence increases. Because they have a clearer understanding of how they’re progressing, they get more out of lessons and coaching sessions.

Wherever our students are, whether in London or somewhere thousands of miles away, we look forward to welcoming them in our new digitally-connected community, and helping them to develop their playing to the fullness of their potential!

fblogopx

ViolinSchool’s eLearning trial runs through to September and beyond. If you are interested in asking about any aspect of the work at ViolinSchool, or would like to take part in the eLearning trial, you can contact the team by emailing support@violinschool.org

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

As Christmas approaches, there’s always a race for the number-one spot in the charts. This year the Music Workshop Company team have been discussing their favourite seasonal music and have come up with their own top songs. Here’s a little bit about each of the team and their Christmas choices.

Maria Thomas is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Music Workshop Company. She specialises in Early Years, Creativity workshops and World Percussion workshops.

“My favourite is the 1961 song Christmas Time in London Town (words by Frederik Van Pallandt, music by David Flatau).

It was a favourite at my Mum’s school and I love the imagery in the words. It reminds me of trips to London as a child to choose a present in Hamley’s!

I also love the Calypso Carol/O Now Carry Me to Bethlehem, which is another favourite from childhood. I love the Calypso rhythm.”

Matthew Forbes is a cellist who also plays piano, mouth organ, kazoo, djembe, guitar, and mandolin…. And is a composer! Matthew leads workshops on Composition, Song Writing, Indian Music, African Drumming and Ceilidh.

“Easy. It’s Fairytale of New York by Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues. It has everything; sad, funny, ironic, moving, energetic, sentimental and festive. Perfect”

Colin McCann is a percussionist who specialises in Samba workshops but also loves leading Junk Percussion workshops.

“My favourite is In The Bleak Midwinter (words based on a poem by Christina Rossetti and music by Gustav Holst). I love the words; they are so emotive.”

Chris Woodham is a professional percussionist who specialises in World Percussion workshops but also loves leading Composition workshops.

“My favourite Christmas Song is When a Child is Born, by Boney M, (written by Zacar with lyrics by Fred Jay) which was released in 1981, the year of my birth.

It’s from the Christmas Album by Boney M that used to be a firm favourite in the Woodham household.  I’ve always been drawn to reggae, and the album includes lots of lovely ‘reggaefied’ classic songs.  I really like When a Child is born because it uses humming then a full choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, also has some spoken word and a key change. What’s not to like! It was recorded at Abbey Road and Air studios both of which I have been lucky enough to work at in the past.”

Sarah Ford is an actor, director and singer, and leads many of our theatrical workshops such as Play in a Day.

“My favourites are Angels from The Realms of Glory (words by James Montgomery to the tune of “Regent Square” UK) and Hark the Herald Angels Sing (music by Felix Mendelssohn, words by Charles Wesley, amended by George Whitefield and Martin Madan).

The first one is because it’s a grand, full-out sing and the second because I love singing the descant.”

Johanna McWeeney is a violinist and journalist who writes and edits the Music Workshop Company blog and newsletters.

“My favourite Christmas piece is Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, an orchestral piece that dates back to 1948. The lyrics weren’t written until 1950. I just love the melodies, the witty use of percussion and the fun textures from the brass, particularly the horse at the end. It really conjures up Christmas for me and it’s great fun to play.”

Alison Murray is the Project Manager for the Music Workshop Company and liaises with clients to help them find their perfect project.

“Once In Royal David’s City, music composed by Henry John Gauntlet (1805-1876), words written by Cecil Francis Alexander (1818-1895), originally written as a poem.

Why?  The words of the song are so beautifully written, simple yet so meaningful, and of course when you hear the solo at the beginning, the sound is so pure and spine tingling. I have sung this song myself so often, since primary school days (a very long time ago now!) and we always sing it our church crib service, with everyone around the crib holding candles, it’s just magical.”

2013 Recap

We started the Music Workshop Company blog in April this year, and as 2013 draws to a close with end-of-term concerts, Christmas parties and New Year’s resolutions, we decided to take a look back over the last few months at MWC; and of course, a look forward to 2014.

Expo standMaria and Sarah had a great time at the 2013 Rhinegold Music Expo at London’s Barbican Centre, meeting clients and exchanging experiences and ideas. MWC will be there again for the 2014 Expo, which is on February 7th and 8th. It’s a great opportunity to attend seminars and workshops, and it’s a chance for us to catch up with participants past and present, to get feedback, and to help us develop our workshops. It’s free to register so come and visit the Music Workshop Company Stand and meet the team.

We’ve been developing our workshops throughout the year, and added some new workshops, including a vocal workshop for Black History Month. You can read about Black History Month, its background, relevance and musical significance, in our August blog. Other popular workshops we’ve looked at in the blog include African Drumming and Samba Music. We’ve run schools’ composition workshops, drumming workshops, world music workshops, and even collaborated with Stevenage Symphony Orchestra in an exciting project with composer Alison Wrenn.Goddesses

Here is some of the feedback we’ve received from schools, colleges and private clients this year.

“Very educational, hands on and kept children’s attention throughout.” Tony Tremelling, St Ursula’s, Composition Workshop, February 2013

“Very enjoyable and rewarding.” Gillie Pipe, Carers First, World Percussion Workshop, February 2013

“I was happiest with the creativity and fun aspect of the workshop.”Mohammed Wasiq, Cranford College, Junk Percussion Workshop, April 2013

“Many thanks for Saturday night. Both Chris and Maria were great and managed to get most people participating! It certainly broke the ice and everyone enjoyed it.  Thanks again, it was exactly what I had imagined.” V Williams, World Percussion Workshop (As part of wedding celebrations), May 2013

“I liked all the pieces that Matthew bought for the steel pans. I enjoyed working with him and the pupils all liked the sessions.  I learnt lots of new ideas that I will be able to use with the children.” Valerie Freeborn, Bensham Manor, Steel Pan Workshop, June 2013

“Engaging and enjoyable.” Rachel Brazendale, Gordon’s School, Junk Percussion, Samba & West African Drumming, July 2013Welwyn Festival photo

We rounded off the year’s blogging with some top tips on how to organise a Christmas or end-of-term concert. These tips are relevant to the preparation of any performance or concert, and we’ll be putting together an information pack with even more ideas. The suggestions in this pack are based on the MWC team’s extensive experience in workshop and concert organising. You can also read our advice on what to look for in a music workshop leader in October’s blog.

We hope our posts have been informative and interesting so far. If there’s anything you’d like to see in the blog, contact us with your ideas. Meanwhile, we’d like to wish all our clients, participants and musicians a happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year, and we hope to see you all in 2014 for more workshops, more music and more fun. Music Company

Drawing by Stickman Cards by Johanna McWeeney for the Music Workshop Company

Top Tips for Concert Organisers

As the end of term, and probably the end of term concert, approaches, here at MWC we have been thinking about exactly what it takes to make a great show.

You’ll be able to read all of our ideas soon in our new resource pack on concert organising, but for now, here are some of our top tips for a successful evening…

Welwyn Festival photoPreparation and Rehearsal

The performers need to know all of their pieces or lines, but make sure you don’t over-rehearse. Your show will be flat and uninteresting if performers (and staff) are fed up with the material before they go on stage.

Check that anyone speaking is facing the audience so their voice carries. Find a focal point at the back of the hall for performers to speak to.

Have a dress rehearsal. A run-through in performance order helps build confidence for the night.

If performers are walking on stage in a particular order, check they know which person to stand next to. Line them up outside the performance space and practice walking on.

Keep costumes, props and scenery simple. Don’t ask parents to supply costumes: it’s a nightmare for people who don’t consider themselves “arty”. It’s worth contacting your local amateur dramatics society, operatic group or theatre to see if they would mind lending you what you need.

Consider copyright and PRS issues. The music publisher can advise you on this.

Practicalities

What happens if your piano accompanist is ill on the night? Do you have someone who could cover or is it worth recording the music as back up?

Will you record the performance (audio, video or photograph)? Do you have the appropriate permissions from all the parents? Will you allow parents to record the performance or will you sell copies of your recording?

If you have an active PTA or other parent group, get them involved. They could make costumes, props and scenery, help backstage, sell refreshments or help with front-of-house duties.

ReedsThe Performance

A good front-of-house team is essential. They will be responsible for greeting the audience, directing them to their seats (the toilets, the refreshments) and stewarding in the event of an evacuation.

Whoever introduces the concert should announce fire and evacuation procedures. It’s also helpful to let people know where the toilets are, whether there will be an interval, if refreshments are available in the interval or after the performance and how to collect performers after the show.

If you have instrumental performers, make sure they have help tuning their instruments. Allow plenty of time to tune stringed instruments. Check that performers have everything they need; spare strings, reeds, mutes…

When performers aren’t using their instruments, they need somewhere to put them, particularly the percussion instruments which can make a sound with the slightest movement. Collect instruments straight after a performance (this can be worked into the staging) or organise for them to be put on the floor.

Performers should be encouraged to smile and bow after their performance. Practice this in the dress rehearsal. Bowing acknowledges the audience’s applause and allows the performers their moment of glory.

People who help with preparation, costumes, props, scenery, lighting, should be thanked. A thank-you card signed by the performers is a nice touch, and key supporters should be acknowledged before the end of the concert.

After the Performance

Make sure you’ve collected any equipment you need and that younger performers have all been picked up by their parents.

How will you celebrate the successful performance? An after-show party for the organisers, arranged by someone other than you, is a great way to share the post-concert buzz.

Good luck with your show!

If you have questions about any aspect of your Christmas performance, email us at info@music-workshop.co.uk and we’ll send you a reply. We’ll also share the questions and responses with others. Or why not join in our Twitter Q&A on Thursday 28th November between 4 – 5pm. Tweet us your questions @musicworkshopco and we’ll respond.

 

%d bloggers like this: