One of the rewards in our recent Crowdfunder Campaign was a chamber music coaching session. A group whose generous donation qualified for this reward recently undertook their session with Michelle, which proved a hugely rewarding experience for all concerned.
Those who choose to re-visit their instrumental studies, or to take up an instrument in later life, often feel an understandable lack of confidence. As adults, we are used to being competent, and whenever we challenge ourselves to do something new, we must overcome our initial insecurities. What enables us to do that is our passion and our drive to do something we love. What a pleasure it is to work with those who have chosen for themselves, and who are driven by a deep desire to play - they are true 'amateurs' in the very best sense of the word.
What an amazing opportunity this was! Wiltshire Music Centre invited us to take part in a masterclass with the Berkeley Ensemble, and our quartet benefited from a session of wonderful coaching from Dan Shilladay and Andrew Watson on Mozart's Quartet in G Major K156.
There can be few things more inspiring that having an world-famous virtuoso violinist as your desk partner! This was the case for one of our young players, taking part in a workshop at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on 13th October.
We were delighted to be able to take a group of young musicians on a trip from Bath to Cardiff to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity. The students took part in ensemble rehearsals and sectionals with Nicola Benedetti, Leonard Elschenbroich and a team of coaches from RWCMD, including cellist Alice Neary, violist Laura Sinnerton and violinist Cerys Jones.
During the morning 'Benedetti Basics' session, Nicky spent a whole hour working on how to stand/ sit in a balanced way, and how to hold the instrument and bow with complete relaxation. She emphasised the importance of constantly going back to these basics, even as we become more advanced players. The teachers in the room were delighted to have this message reinforced by a player of such stature! The young musicians then studied two recently composed works: Blue Grit by David Le Page and Perpetuum Mobile by Julian Winn. All of our players showed incredible focus, and despite the long day, came away enthused and 'buzzing' from the event.
The following day, we congregated again in Bath to take part in two sessions of chamber music, with four differentiated groups studying quartets, trios and duets, with multiple players per part. Below is a small sample of what one group produced after only an hour and a half's rehearsal. It was a truly inspiring weekend. Nicola Benedetti is a passionate educator whose wisdom had a great impact on us all. Amongst many wise words, the following stood out:
Our September workshop took us on an extra-terrestrial journey, taking in music from Gustav Holst and John Williams. Players took brilliantly to the challenge of playing in 5 beats in a bar, and had fun experimenting with col legno bowing, for the iconic opening motif of Mars from the Planet Suite.
We also enjoyed listening carefully to extracts of The Planets, along with bits of the soundtrack from The Force Awakens, to work out what tricks composers use to trigger certain emotions. Listen to this BBC Radio 3 programme for more space terror!?
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 .