LONDON MUSIC MASTERS
Breaking down Barriers Carenza Hugh-Jones discovers how London Music Masters, in partnership with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, is making music accessible to all.
ondon Music Masters (LMM) is an organisation with admirable ambitions: the charity aims to break down barriers in classical music and make it accessible to everyone. To achieve this, LMM has developed a twopronged approach: it enables children from all sorts of backgrounds to participate in a sustained, long-term music education programme; and it helps and supports exceptionally talented young musicians at the start of their careers, who then act as positive role models for the younger generation. The two parts of the scheme are hugely interconnected, with the idea being that early inspiration hopefully leads to a life-long aspiration. LMM's founder, Victoria Sharp, explains that the idea behind the organisation is simply to increase diversity within the classical music world. ‘We wanted to enable all students to engage with classical music, both as performers and audience members’, she says. Sharp became increasingly aware of the benefits of a musical education when her own children started learning various string instruments. ‘It was so clear to see the tremendous benefits’, she says. ‘Of course there's the music itself, but there are also all the associated skills, such as co-ordination, confidence, self-discipline and co-operation. I wanted to make that opportunity available to lots of other children.’ This ambition coincided with a meeting Sharp attended in her capacity as a Council member of the Royal College of Music. ‘Someone was reflecting that criticism had been levelled at the conservatoires for not having a broader intake and a greater crosssection of students, culturally and socio-economically. However, I
Children from the Bridge Project are invited to sit among the Orchestra during rehearsals and can’t resist joining in with the violins.
Photos: © Matt Stuart
LMM Award winner Agata Szymczewska is working closely with the London Philharmonic Orchestra for three years and inspiring young participants in the Bridge Project.
realised that we had to try and engage somewhere lower down the ladder, and encourage children from diverse backgrounds to connect with classical music in a meaningful way, so that one day they would also have the opportunity and the skills to get involved with an institution of the calibre of the Royal College of Music.’ For Sharp, this isn't just a question of perceived elitism, but more an issue of accessibility. ‘Classical music is not elitist’, she says, ‘it's about whether or not it's known to you and then if you like it or not. We want to give people the opportunity to make that decision.’
Children from the Bridge Project sitting among the Orchestra on stage while they rehearse in the Royal Festival Hall.
The LMM Awards scheme is an integral part of the organisation's activities. They are awarded every three years to three outstanding violinists aged 18-28, who are chosen not only for their exceptional musical ability, but also for their interest in, and commitment to, outreach work. ‘We are looking to help three
really outstanding communicators, who can be ambassadors and reach out to new audiences’, says Sharp. ‘It's vital they believe in giving back to the community and acting as role models to the young children in our programme.’ An LMM Award is definitely worth winning, too, as it comes with £10,000 prize money (‘they have to demonstrate this will go towards their career, rather than just their phone bill’, laughs Sharp) and a host of performance opportunities at prestigious venues such as Wigmore Hall and Royal Festival Hall. Each musician also receives mentoring and career guidance from leading figures in the arts, as a key principle behind the Awards is to help develop the violinists' long-term careers, explains Itzhak Rashkovsky, LMM's Artistic Director. ‘The LMM Awards are not simply trophies at the final of a competition. They represent the beginning of an exciting musical journey. Our 360 degree approach provides sustained support for these young musicians at a crucial stage of their professional careers.’ The LMM Award holders – Agata Szymczewska, Jennifer Pike and Elena Urioste – are mentored, in the same order, by Timothy Walker, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, John Gilhooly, Director of Wigmore Hall, and Marshall Marcus, Head of Music at Southbank Centre. The Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre and Royal College of Music have all joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra in becoming LMM creative partners.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra is working closely with Agata Szymczewska throughout her three-year tenure, explains Hannah Kendall, the LMM Awards Project Manager. ‘Agata's very involved with the Orchestra in all aspects; she's really learning the nuts and bolts of how an orchestra functions, as well as working closely with the Orchestra's education team on creating performance opportunities’, says Kendall. In addition, Szymczewska will perform Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with the Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday 13 October 2010. ‘The London Philharmonic Orchestra has been absolutely phenomenal – there are no words to describe what a pleasure it's been working with them!’ says Kendall.
All the children involved in the Bridge Project receive violin tuition for at least two years.
The children have musicianship-based lessons for a year. Photo: © Benjamin Ealovega
THE BRIDGE PROJECT The three violinists are all very involved with the LMM Bridge Project, the educational programme the charity runs in schools. This impressive long-term scheme provides entire classes of children with musical education for three years, from the age of five. ‘The children have musicianship-based lessons for a year – a Kodaly-based mix of song, movement, stories and play, which helps develop their ear and sense of rhythm. Then after a year, they are given a violin, which they study for two years’, explains Robert Adediran, Bridge Project Manager. After that, children who show promise on the instrument continue with violin tuition, whilst others are supported in the pursuit of new musical opportunities. The children are taught in a mix of group lessons and in pairs, and the emphasis is very much on involving parents and the wider community as much as possible. The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Education and Community Department shares the aims of LMM and was involved as a creative partner right from the start. The Orchestra had already established relationships with many Lambeth primary schools and so was able to support LMM by facilitating the early stages of the Bridge Project. It provided a workshop leader – Michele Wolfson (who is still involved in the programme today) – and musicians to deliver the first year of musicianship lessons at Jessop and Ashmole Primary Schools, helping the new organisation to quickly get on its feet. Although LMM’s own tutors now run the project, ensembles from the Orchestra still regularly visit the primary schools, holding workshops and giving performances. Children from the Bridge Project are also given opportunities to see the Orchestra close-up, at a level that most school children cannot
achieve. Children have sat within the musicians at rehearsals and will perform with the Orchestra at its BrightSparks schools concerts in June. It is hoped that this unprecedented access will raise the children’s interest in music and the orchestra, and will help to make orchestral music more relevant to them in the future. ‘The Orchestra is amazing’, says Adediran. ‘They really add a lot of magic and sparkle for the kids, as when they see the musicians play, they really start to realise what it's all about.’ The pupils are also taken on trips to see the Orchestra's concerts. ‘The children recently went and sat amongst the Orchestra's musicians on stage while they rehearsed in the Royal Festival Hall’, says Adediran. ‘The children were totally mesmerised; I'm sure it's an experience they won't forget for a long time.’ They're also regulars at the Orchestra's Family Concerts, which, says Adediran, is hugely important as it's a family-based activity. ‘One of the key things for any sort of learning is for family, and parents, to be involved – so these concerts are invaluable to the programme.’ And as for the future, Sharp's ambitions are clear: ‘We've tried to build a strong model that can be taken into other schools, so hopefully someone might like what we're doing and try and replicate it in their own area. That would be just fantastic.’
Carenza Hugh-Jones is a freelance writer and editor, writing for several music publications including Classic FM Magazine, The Strad and Classical Music.