We aim to provide as many performance opportunities as possible for our students. The process of preparing for performance, both musically and mentally, teaches a huge amount, and we all grow as musicians through the experience. Our young string quartet was privileged to be chosen to perform in the National Finals of Music for Youth, in Birmingham. MFY is a fantastic organisation that promotes Youth Music, providing opportunities for young people to perform in prestigious venues, meet other young musicians from all over the country, and to receive feedback from MFY Music Mentors.
Prior to this, were also invited to perform at Glastonbury Abbey, during their summer open evening. This first experience of outdoor playing will set them up for many a wedding performance in later life! What a wonderful opportunity this was for our young string quartet.
to Bath Strings Academy came into being from the seeds of an idea to try and create a vibrant string-playing scene in Bath. We wanted to give as many children (and adults) as possible the opportunity to get together and experience the joys of making music together. For those with a real passion and commitment, we wanted to offer the chance to experience chamber music, and provide opportunities to perform.
From those first ideas, we really have developed 'A Million Dreams', with many projects in the pipeline, and an amazing constituency of support. The success of our Crowdfunder has been humbling; so many people have donated, and spread the word about our work. Your support means a huge amount to us.
Our Greatest Showman workshop on 10th June was a wonderful celebration of the joy that music can bring. We loved working with such fun and dedicated musicians, and had a blast singing and playing some seriously uplifting music, with some 'cup song' rhythm work and a bit of meditation and guided listening thrown in for good measure. Well done everyone!
We couldn't be prouder of the musicians who came together at Bath Spa University on Sunday 13th May. Over fifty musicians of all ages joined to form a full-size pop-up orchestra for the day. Players of all instruments aged 6 to 60, from beginner to professional, worked together to prepare a concert for friends and family at the end of the day as a full symphony orchestra.
Keep reading to see the video of the day...
The BBC Ten Pieces project was the perfect vehicle for our orchestral extravaganza because it is repertoire that is familiar to many of our musicians. Several Bath schools have already used the BBC resources to introduce their pupils to the selected pieces, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to experience playing them in a large-scale orchestra. The idea of inviting not only other instrumentalists beyond the string section, but also players of all ages, was to bring the generations together in a shared musical endeavour. Indeed a number of whole families signed up, with one family having five members all playing together, as well as adults and children for whom this was their first experience of playing in an orchestra.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever played in an orchestra at the age of 51,” said oboe player Emma Gurr. “I’ve always played an instrument, but the oboe for just eighteen months. It was found in a skip, in its box and fully working. Playing with everyone on Sunday made me feel part of a group even though I was the only oboe player. It was a very special day. I learnt so much and it has given me loads more confidence.”
Ellie Hoyle, aged 11 who plays the flute said: “Today was really, really good. It was my first time playing with a full orchestra and it was absolutely amazing! We all worked really hard on the piece and at the start I struggled a bit but they helped me get better until I was confident with it and the final performance was brilliant!”
The workshop was led by dynamic conductor Eugene Monteith, who brought his energy and wealth of experience with orchestras such as BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Ulster Orchestra to share with the local musicians as they performed music including Aaron Copland’s Hoe-Down from Rodeo in front of a full audience at the Michael Tippett Centre, at Bath Spa University.
“It’s been a delight for me to be here today. I’ve had such a wonderful time,” Monteith told the audience during the final performance. “I am very, very proud of what this marvellous group of musicians has achieved. Incredible”.
Professional violinist Lucy Hewson, who joined as a mentor, enthused: "How amazing that Bath String Academy created a high quality, fun and engaging musical experience for players from beginners to advanced students, young children through to adults, in a one day workshop."
We are keen to do more of this kind of work. Bath Strings Academy is currently running a Crowdfunder campaign to raise money to fund bursaries and future workshops.
With music education experiencing budget cuts across the board, we need the whole community to work together so that we can make sure everyone can access high quality musical experiences in Bath and surrounding areas.
To help us achieve this, you can donate and share our campaign at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bath-strings-academy-music-for-all .
A group of musicians from Bath Strings Academy was privileged to meet the wonderful Nicola Benedetti, one of the most influential classical artists of her generation, before hearing her rousing first performance of the Elgar Violin Concerto with Bath Philharmonia on 28th September. Nicola is a passionate advocate for music education and generously gave her time to speak to our students, answering their questions and offering tips for practice and performance. Read more...
I made a promise to one of my 7 year old beginner students that I could 100% guarantee that she would enjoy herself at her first Bath Strings Academy workshop. I was totally confident. She was not convinced.
Her mother, with boundless and dogged enthusiasm, found a way to get her there, albeit under duress. For the first half hour, F barely let go of her mum, but in spite of herself, quietly joined in all the activities with her usual musical flare. Within an hour, she was marching, singing, dancing and playing with confidence, and went home having made new friends and had a thoroughly good time. The following day her mum wrote to say that F "declared that the best bit was the bean bags, was humming the pony ride tune at tea and even ventured to say (totally unprompted) that next time could she stay for the whole day." Bingo.
The afternoon session too saw a shy young cellist arrive feeling unsure about joining us. Taking part in any new group or activity is nerve-wracking for most people, but it can be acutely stressful for some. This is why we plan our workshops carefully to build social bonds as well as the musical ones from the outset. Tasks are built sequentially to ensure that even whilst there is challenge, each participant feels comfortable. Our cellist found that after watching a video of the brilliant National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain Inspire Orchestra playing Uptown Funk (see it here), we were setting to on a fun group activity, learning the complex rhythms for Coldplay's Viva la Vida. Seeing that he was not going to be thrown in at the deep end and expected to sight-read something difficult, he soon lost his nerves and threw himself into the game. He searched out the "haaaaaaaiiiiiir swiiiiiiiiiiish" and other similarly silly rhythm patterns with his new team-mates, together shouting "bingo!" when they'd found them all. The rest of the afternoon was a breeze.
Seeing musicians blossom in this way is one of the things that makes our work so rewarding. We know from experience that exposing musicians to stimulating, fun and sociable group playing from the very start makes them feel good, sometimes despite themselves! When we feel good, we are motivated, and if we are motivated, our desire to put in the hard work required to progress is vastly increased.
Our work at Bath Strings Academy puts this enjoyment of music at the centre. This does not mean that we play 'just for fun'. We strive for excellence in all that we do, and aim to find the best teaching methods to support those with whom we work to achieve as highly as possible, at whatever level they are working. Each little success, be it mastering a complicated section of a string quartet, perfecting a beautiful bow circle, or daring to introduce yourself to someone new, is something that we celebrate, each a cause to shout "bingo!"
We never cease to be inspired by the musicians with whom we work, be they fellow professionals, or youngsters just beginning their musical journey. Never was this truer than at our Tasty Bite workshops on Sunday 12th November.
The first session was aimed at players who may have had only a few lessons, and was designed to give them a taste of what playing in a group feels like, right from the start. They took to it like the proverbial ducks to water, and after three hours were able to perform two pieces, singing and playing their instruments whilst also marching and remembering to end with a flourish! The focus, teamwork and joy in music of these young musicians were truly inspiring.
Later in the afternoon, a new group of players joined us for a taste of folk music. Here, we were able to take apart two Irish tunes, to explore chord sequences, bowing articulations and ornamentation, using speech patterns and physical gestures to help. What impressed us was how each section of the group enthusiastically helped the others to learn their parts, supporting one another to make a great collective performance, full of life and energy.
This sense of shared endeavour, supportiveness and nurturing of our fellow musicians is exactly what we aim to promote at Bath Strings Academy. Learning an instrument can too often become just another activity for the CV, where youngsters strive to pass the next exam as an end in itself. At best, however, a musical education should encourage a love of playing and performing for its own sake, where we connect with others in a different way, to share our skills, ideas and emotions.
Our more experienced players who took on the role of Leaders and Mentors showed exactly how valuable this connection with others can be. They performed their roles with skill, generosity and great good humour. They were a great asset to the group and set a fantastic example to those less experienced than themselves.
The final session of the day, where our more advanced players studied a Haydn String Quartet, showed us again how music can bring people of different ages together (from ten to forty something) to share their passion and have fun. By the end of the evening, we performed two movements of the quartet to each other, seated as three quartets. At the beginning of the session we played as individuals; by the end, we were listening to one another, breathing together and becoming one unit. This is the joy of chamber music.
Throughout the day, my mind was drawn back to something that one of our eight year old beginner players had said in the morning session.
When asked which parts of our bodies we use when playing, we had all the expected answers: hands, fingers, eyes, ears, feet to be grounded and so on. We were delighted to get a mention for the brain, and suggestions that our whole bodies should be involved – YES! Then, an unprompted answer from one of our newest and least experienced musicians took our breath away:
“Your HEART, because that’s what makes it mean something and if you don’t care, then what’s the point?”
In all our musical endeavours, if we remember nothing else, THIS is what music is for.