Category Archives: Music education

Young Musician Winners Announced!

We are so pleased to announce our four winners for this year’s Two Moors Festival Young Musicians’ Platform:

Matilda Wale, aged 16, Voice, from New College, Swindon

Ellen O’Brien, aged 17, French Horn, from The Castle School, Thornbury

Poppy Freya McGhee, aged 12, Violin, Hugh Sexey Middle School, Wedmore

Joseph Pritchard, aged 17, Cello, from Yehudi Menuhin School, Surrey

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The standard this year was exceptionally high so huge congratulations to everyone who took part. We look forward to seeing these wonderful performers at this year’s festival and for all the upcoming young artists, keep an eye out for the opening of the 2018 competition later this year!

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Cellist Rebecca McNaught On Becoming A Performing Musician

My aim is to be a professional cellist of some description. Playing is what I love most and want to do for as much of my life as possible. I’m currently studying music at Merton College, Oxford. People often ask one of two things when I tell them where I study:

  • Oh so that’s a performance based degree, right?

  • Why there?

The first question is completely wrong: it’s an academic music degree. The second question is one I certainly ask myself when staring at a blank word document hoping I can form a 1,500 word essay about a 14th century French composer I have never even heard of, or bashing notes out of a keyboard in the hope my score reading sounds vaguely like Lassus. So why did I choose university over conservatoire in the first place?

The first answer is either overly simple or simply stupid. I don’t know. When I was in year 12 going into year 13, I made the (big) decision that I didn’t want to spend the next three years of my life practising. And practising. I wanted to see a bit more of the world and to meet people who weren’t just musicians.

Here in Oxford some of the best musicians don’t even study the subject: they are medics, historians, chemists, you name it. Secondly I wanted to have the chance to view music from an academic perspective, to get a feel of how and why music is constructed in the way it is, and to contest those accepted traditions of musical analysis and the musical canon. Although this has been a big challenge for me personally, I feel that what I have already learnt in two terms has altered my attitude towards the way I view musical practice. And however difficult, I am really loving it.

Performing at university

It might be easy to think that the performance opportunities at a university would be limited but it’s certainly not the case. In one term alone I did three solo recitals alongside a mountain of chamber and orchestral playing. Emails regularly fall into my inbox asking for a cellist to help out and it’s very easy to get overloaded with opportunities. Quite often I can spend as much of my day playing as I do working! So has it been the right decision? It’s a case of waiting and seeing…

Clearly this is all very one sided. I’ve only done two terms at a prestigious university and so I have no knowledge of the transition to conservatoire after university, or the leap straight into conservatoire after school. So I decided to ask a few friends who have taken different performance paths to give me their views.

The first is a friend who, like me, headed to Oxford after his A levels to study music. However, he has since graduated and now studies the oboe at the Royal Academy of Music so can now see the utility of his degree as well as the transition between the two.

His choice to go to university first was very similar to me as a degree: “It left my options open in a way that I didn’t think a performance course might.” His first year was filled with orchestral playing and he points out that that meant he “did very little practice and had to make a real effort to head over to the practice block amid the tidal wave of other things I could have been doing”.

For him it was chamber music that made all the difference. “Setting up my trio was one of the most rewarding things I did at university and I grew so much as a musician. Oxford also has loads of opportunities to perform in lots of different settings. Every lunch time, there will be a clash of college music society recitals to choose from and it’s a great chance to try out new pieces.”

So I asked him the big question: whether he thought his degree had been useful to his performance plans. “My academic work stretched me and equipped me with the tools to examine and make sense of life in all its richness. I think a good degree will nurture these skills and, in that sense, I don’t think that it’s necessary to study music.”

Thus his concluding advice was as follows: “If you know that you definitely want to be a performer then maybe music college is for you. But if you have a sense of curiosity about the world outside of being a classical musician, then I would strongly suggest an application to university. You meet people interested in all manner of subjects and have the opportunity to expand your view of the world.” And this is ultimately the decision I made when I was in sixth form.

What about conservatoire?

Going straight to conservatoire has its advantages too: you don’t lose out on hours of practice while writing essays and you are surrounded by musicians following the same dream as you. Another friend, a singer who went straight to the RNCM at the end of sixth form said: “It is hard work but I appreciate the fact that 60 per cent of my degree will be based on a 30 minute recital as I feel I can portray my hard work and skill through this far better than I ever could in a written dissertation.”

If you know that playing, not writing essays, is what you want to do then conservatoire is the way forward without question.

The longer I spend at Oxford the clearer my choice is becoming to go onto conservatoire once I have finished my degree. It seems strange that it has been an academic degree that has made my mind up, and that’s not because I’m not enjoying it. But, at the moment, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I feel privileged to be spending three years expanding my mind about music away from the cello and then being able to put that information into practice.

I am astounded by the number of performance opportunities I have been given. But more importantly I feel lucky that I am being given these opportunities by both tutors and students who have such varied interests and such passion for their subjects and hobbies alike.

At the end of school you are told to follow your heart. My heart was undecided and university has been the place where I’ve been given the time to see what I really want to do. And who knows, in a year this may all have changed!

Music And How You Were Brought Up With It

I have been thinking long and hard for a while on the sorry subject of UK music education – a phrase I happen to loathe! Was music in schools more prominent 30 years ago than it is now or are we paranoid about its so-called lack in the 21st century?

When I was at St Hilda’s school in the 1960/70s, we began the day with assembly during which two traditional hymns were sung. And did those Feet was done to death, as was Onward Christian Soldiers. It didn’t matter what faith one belonged to (we lived in North London at the time), we sang them lustily. Before then however, I remember fondly the very early days at Mrs Royal’s nursery school, where incidentally, there lived a tame squirrel called Jiminy whom we loved dearly. We played cymbals, banged drums, shook bells and generally made the most ghastly racket – but it taught us what fun you could have making it!

But back to St Hilda’s and the hymns. We had a Miss Fulger who took us for weekly music lessons. These involved lots of choir singing of traditional folk songs accompanied by her appalling piano playing on a not-very-good brown grand piano. I used to be teased because I had a strong voice and sang out as loudly as I could while the others made couldn’t or didn’t.

The other thing we did was Eurythmics which was enormous fun. We charged around the big hall with the ‘big girls’, one of whom happened to be Charlotte Rampling! These were our regular ration of music lessons, although one could learn a specified instrument in school. Now I think about it, our nativity play incorporated lots of carols which were embarrassingly badly performed since we were more interested in showing off our halos and carrying shoe boxes containing frankincense and myrrh.

Aged ten, we moved and Oakdene in Beaconsfield was where I was sent to school. There was a new music department with supposedly sound-proofed practice rooms. They didn’t work very well as it was quite impossible to play the piano without hearing a screechy violin next door. At this very nice school, again we had daily assembly (more Onwards and Feet), weekly singing lessons as well the opportunity to learn individual instruments with in-house teachers.

My piano teacher was Miss Ruddock who suffered from dreadful asthma and had a puffer that made me giggle while trying to play Bach. There were visiting professional artists who gave termly recitals during which 90 per cent of those listening were bored stiff.

On to Beaconsfield High School where there was much more going on. Firstly, it was a brand new school where even the pianos were squeaky-clean with no sticky grey edges to the ivories. O level music was well taught; we did a cracking production of Noye’s Fludde (my father was ‘God’); oh yes, as well as yet a bigger dose of Christian Soldiers and an army of Feet. For the first time, there was lots going on in the music block and more to the point, the standard was high and it was cool to be part of the musical crowd.

As to musical experiences outside school, I used to go to many Earnest Read children’s concerts, to David Wilcock’s carols at the Albert Hall and I sang in the church choir, did ballet, and if I had wanted it, the county provided opportunities for orchestral playing.

So what was different then to now? Not much, I think. So why is everyone so paranoid about the supposedly current lack of music education in schools?

If you really want something you go and find it. If football is your thing, you badger your parents or your sports teacher to take you to the local football club; the same with Brownies, Girl Guides and Scouts. The opportunities are there and offered in plenty. There are always going to be good schools and those less proactive. There will be good teachers, as well as indifferent. Instruments will still be available on loan. There will be choirs to join, jazz groups, ensembles to enjoy playing with; orchestras offering different standards.

The choice these days is enormous and I reckon that even in the most deprived areas there is something out there that one can grab with open arms – if you want it! The trouble is that everyone these days expects to be spoon-fed. I do realise however, that there are deprived places in inner-city areas in which opportunities are harder to come by

This could – or should – provoke hostile reactions! Readers, do come forward!

Penny Adie, artistic director, Two Moors Festival

Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Platform Results

Being able to publish the results of our excellent Young Musicians Platform Competition (part of the prize including playing with Devon music festival the Two Moors in October this year) has prompted me to write about awards in general and their benefits – or not, as the case may be.

Firstly however, to our own wonderful crop of winners for 2015…  We have chosen four aspiring young instrumentalists who gave the panel and small invited audience much joy with their playing. While there is much for them to learn over the next ten years these fledging classical musicians not only showed their expertise in technical terms but more importantly, it was their innate musicianship that came through.

First of all, there were two clarinettists who couldn’t have been more different in their approach, style and presentation. One, Josh Pyman, was outgoing with bags of energy in his jolly and outstanding playing while Edward Holmes was more refined, drawing in his audience with an elegant, beautiful sound.

In a contrasting way, Alicia Steanton displayed a bright sunny disposition which came across in her superbly neat playing with a surprisingly huge tone from such a small frame. Last but not least was the cellist, Marina Martins from Brazil whose mastery of her instrument was mature beyond her years. Her approach was one of a budding artist penetrating deeply into her music with a story to tell.

We’re often asked how we choose between players whose instruments require different techniques, some too demanding for their age. For instance, it’s possible to play a violin from the age of three whereas to find the puff necessary to master a French horn – or the strength to hold it – is quite impossible.

The answer is that the type of instrument is not relevant as far as the festival’s competition is concerned and if children are capable of getting their fingers round the keys with ease, then that’s fine. The Young Musicians Platform awards four instrumentalists an opportunity to share a concert in the Festival’s October programme as well as each receiving prize money of £250.

As to awards in general, what do they signify? Firstly, from the competitor’s point of view, they provide an opportunity to assemble a programme up to concert standard. It is vital to choose repertoire that fulfils the requirements on the application form (very often they aren’t!).

They allow musicians a public platform on which to perform – this is a scary situation that young players find difficult to cope with for the first time. They draw attention to how one copes in a competitive atmosphere (my answer is don’t do them if you’re so terrified deep down that it removes the joy of making music). They provide an opportunity for assessment that can be inspiring but also, can be damaging if the criticism is too harsh. Prize money is useful and last but not least, to my mind, is the competitive environment upon which many musicians thrive.

However, competitions are so numerous now that apart from a handful, they have become meaningless. As someone who reads biographies of artists on a daily basis, an endless list of impressive sounding awards becomes exceedingly boring. There are a few that stand out: BBC Young Musician of the Year winners (quite often not the winner him/herself), Leeds Piano and Kathleen Ferrier competitions. Other useful ‘pegs’ are being on the Countess of Munster Scheme; likewise Martin Musical Scholarship and recipient of the Suggia Gift spring to mind. Separate to these will be appearances at the Wigmore Hall, concerts with major international orchestras and with known conductors that attract my eye.

It’s useful to know that winning a competition doesn’t signify a glittering career ahead. There is an expectation that it will automatically put an artist on the map, but sadly the opposite is often true and I have known many musicians who have felt deflated when nothing happens.

If I were to advise anyone on the merits of entering competitions, the one overriding thing is to enjoy doing them. Whether a winner or not doesn’t matter a jot. There is absolutely no point in standing on a platform in a state of total misery. This is guaranteed to kill the love and joy gained from being involved in music.

Penny Adie

Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen Boosting Comprehensive School Results

If you follow the Two Moors Festival closely, you’ll know that music education in the UK is a cause particularly close to our hearts. We do a lot of work with young people in schools introducing them to the world of classical music and giving them all sorts of wonderful opportunities that may never have come their way otherwise.

And we love to hear about other similar stories going on around the world, in particular this BBC news report about the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, which eight years ago moved their rehearsal space to a secondary school in Tenever, a high rise housing estate in Germany that is renowned for its high poverty and crime levels.

We were unsurprised to hear that since the orchestra came to stay, drop-out rates have fallen to below one per cent and the number of pupils leaving school with the lowest qualifications has also dropped.

The school has been working closely with the orchestra ever since they moved in to bring both professional musicians and students together, be it visiting classes to give workshops and talks or helping both pupils and those living in the housing estate write and perform their own operas.

“Normally you only see an orchestra dressed up for a concert, but the kids mostly see them running around in jeans and find them very approachable. It has broken down the barriers,” co-head teacher Annette Rueggeberg was quoted by the news source as saying.

Hearing this really spoke to us here at the Two Moors Festival – we’re always keen to take classical music out of the traditional concert halls and make it more accessible for young people, challenging perceptions that classical music is somehow elite and not something that everyone can enjoy.

And feedback that we always get from the children that we work with in schools in the south-west (where we’re based) is just how much they enjoy learning about classical music and meeting professional musicians, so many of them coming away inspired to continue and take up an instrument themselves.

We’d love to hear if you’ve got anything like this going on in your local area – share your stories in the comments below.

Penny Adie On Writing Two Moors Festival Brochures

It’s true, running chamber music festivals can be fun, but this week I am sighing with relief having completed umpteen pages of text to accompany the concerts that will appear in this year’s brochure

Doing half a dozen would be fine but when there are 30 events to cope with, it’s a different story. The aim of the brochure is two-fold: one to sell tickets; the other to explain about each event without sounding well, to put it bluntly, crass!

Description of artists can be very funny and one often reads words such as:

ever-popular

stellar (the ‘in’ word)

legendary

leading

great young

exceptional

ever brilliant

charismatic

internationally acclaimed

globally renowned

ever talented

most sought-after

inspirational

gloriously romantic

extraordinary

visionary

The list goes on and on.

But what does one do? I try desperately hard to come up with words that are more original and yet sell the artist in a way that attracts ardent music lovers in addition to bringing in newcomers. It’s quite a challenge, time consuming but can be great fun, believe or not! The other pitfall is repetition of a word in the same sentence or paragraph. I generally have a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus by the computer to see what the options might be!

Then there comes the business of text appropriate to the programme of music about to be played. This can be really hard since one has to describe, say, a song recital containing myriad songs as well as the composers who wrote them. Maybe the answer is not to try!

Would you go to a concert if I were to write:

Celebrity recital

Joe Bloggs, piano

Beethoven Sonata in C sharp minor, No. 2 Op 27

The stellar young and brilliant pianist, Joe Bloggs, was awarded the ABC Scholarship to study under the acclaimed teacher, Mary Snooks. Having won many international awards including the xxx, yyy, zzz, rrr, and mmm, he continued his studies under the tutelage of Alexander Romanov in Moscow. He was fortunate enough to take part in several masterclasses while there. On returning to the UK, Joe began a glittering career that has taken him to all the major concert halls at home and abroad. His discography is impressive including CDs for the Alphabet Label as well as for Imperial Records. Future engagements focus on concerto appearances in the Arctic.

Beethoven’s magnificent sonata, commonly known at the ‘Moonlight’, was written in 1801. Its first movement in slow triplets is recognised world over and frequently played on all the international major radio stations. The second movement consists of a scherzo having various key changes that are of interest. The presto agitato is one requiring technical prowess with fortissimo passages occurring at regular intervals.

Would you go to a concert on reading this? Maybe or maybe not.

The trouble is, I am as guilty as the next…

Penny Adie, Two Moors Festival artistic director

Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Competition Rnd 1

The first round of the Two Moors Festival’s Young Musicians Platform competition took place this weekend. A total of 47 candidates aged 18 and under entered at a standard of ABRSM Grade 7 and above. This could be any instrument plus voice and they were asked to prepare two contrasting pieces of their choice.

The competition is unique in several ways. The first is that we look for four outstanding players and not just one. The emphasis is on performance and ability to share an innate love of music with an audience. The audition atmosphere is unlike any other in that we chat in a fun way to each candidate from the moment they walk through the door and we also give a mini masterclass if there’s time. Each of the winners receives £250 plus an opportunity to share a recital in the main festival.

Judging from the feedback, all participants feel encouraged, inspired and above all retain their joy at being involved in playing classical music. In one instance, a young singer said he had been singing music theatre until recently. He then heard songs by Richard Strauss (nothing could be more different) as a result of which he was hooked on Lieder!

The way in which our competition operates begs the question – should all competitions be run along similar lines? Or does this imply that Bach’s B Minor Mass is something to be taken lightly? Does this prepare aspiring young musicians to enter the profession with rose-tinted spectacles when they should be aware of the arduous work and fierce competition that lie ahead? Does this give them a false impression that all competitions are going to be staged in a similar manner?

In an age when competitions abound and spring up like mushrooms, I believe the more encouragement one can give school-age youngsters the better. They need to be inspired, their sheer joy of being involved in classical music requires fostering as much as possible and nowadays, where there are so many competitions, to have one that does these in spade loads says a lot.

It’s instantly noticeable if the music comes from within a musician who plays from the soul. Likewise the opposite where the playing is automatic and the delivery forced. Dare I say it, but some of the performers from specialist music schools display this. There is always the expectation that these youngsters are bound to be brilliant but we’re often disappointed.

With all this in mind, this is where the Festival’s own competition comes into its own. The environment that is provided gives each entrant such stimulus that nerves are frequently dispensed with so that they can play with such expression that technical limitations don’t matter. Their overall love of music-making in a performance is all that matters regardless of whether they enter the profession or not and that the inspiration we give them will help them in later life.

Penny Adie