Back to Benslow

Everyone Matters is delighted to announce that Benslow Music will once again host a residential course for amateur musicians who will come together to rehearse a concert programme for performance in local Hitchin care homes. We piloted this new idea in December 2013 and, following the success of our first course, we have been invited to return  for a course running from the evening of Sunday 14th to late afternoon on  Wednesday 17th September 2014.

Benslow Music is renowned for the opportunities it provides for amateur musicians to make music together. In this unique course, we aspire not only to share the fun of music-making with one another, but to share it with others who live and work in four local care homes.

In 2013, we arrived on an early December evening to start our course with one of the famous Benslow dinners before spending the evening playing through a large pile of music.  Emails had been flying to and fro, and we had come armed with plenty of musical material. A possible programme began to take shape, using the line-up of clarinets, flutes, bassoon and keyboard to the full, and in addition putting the spotlight on some of the extra instruments that had been offered by our doublers, including chromatic harmonica. We rehearsed hard all next day, and it was good to change down a gear for the evening and relax while others did the work at a concert by the London Klezmer Quartet in Benslow’s Morrison Hall. Then it was breakfast, a short top’n tail, and jump into shared cars to get to our first concert, a Coffee Morning at Elmside:

Coffee Concert
Coffee Concert

A dash back to Benslow for lunch left us just about time to get out again for our afternoon performance at Highbury Rise, where Maria had promised us mince pies. In fact, her exact words when I rang to offer her a concert were “If you come here, you’ll have to have homemade mince pies”. Yes, you do see a theme emerging here, that food and drink are important on these occasions . Apart from the side benefit to the musicians, who do (honestly) use a lot of energy and get pretty thirsty when performing, there is nothing like a cup of tea and a mince pie to create an easy, sociable atmosphere and promote conversation.

Earning our mince pies.
Earning our mince pies

Two concerts down, two to go, and on our second day of concerts I decided I would take the box of percussion out of the boot of my car.  Perhaps our performance of “America” from West Side Story was not entirely authentic, but we all had huge fun playing it; every member of the audience at our morning visit to Symonds House Leonard Cheshire Disability, staff and clients alike, enjoyed choosing the instrument that took their fancy from the big red box of maracas, tambourines, drums and guiros.

All in a whirl - Margaret leads the huapanga
All in a whirl – Margaret leads the huapanga

“Thank you so much for the lovely concert that you and your fellow musicians put on for us yesterday” wrote Ros, the Manager at Symonds House. “It was thoroughly enjoyed by us all of us especially the residents. We particularly liked the way that all the musicians introduced us to all their instruments first then explained to us something about the piece of music that they were going to perform. To realize that some of the pieces of music were 300 years old is amazing.  The residents also liked the interaction with the group and the instruments they were allowed to ‘have a go’ with.”

 Finally it was back to Benslow for lunch, and then an afternoon tea at Benslow Nursing Home that would have kept a full symphony orchestra quiet, never mind our little group of seven musicians. I’m not quite sure how we squeezed even just the seven of us, with keyboard and music stands, into the living room, but we managed it somehow, and the quality of repartee throughout the concert, and the level of hilarity as the percussion came out, made the performance a lovely climax to our few shared days of intensive music-making.

Music is for sharing! As we prepared to say our goodbyes we were all in agreement that “sharing” was the watchword, the key, the essence and the whole point of the course. Music is communication, music transcends words, music opens hearts and demolishes inhibition, and the music we offered was our passport to these four most welcoming care homes.

The final word should be with the homes, and Debbie spoke for them all:

Dear Margaret

Thank you all so much for coming into Elmside to perform for us. The morning was actually very moving for many staff members here to see some Residents leave their rooms to come and listen to you, and comment on how much they enjoyed the morning. I really believe this needs to happen more in our care homes.

We received many comments from the Residents about the morning….

 “what a wonderful calming way to spend the morning”

 “I’ve had a wonderful morning”

 “really enjoyed this morning”

“It was lovely to hear classical music performed so well”

“how very kind of you all to come and play just for us”

These are a few of the comments I received during the day, but the most said comment Margaret was….

 “WHEN ARE YOU ALL COMING BACK” !!!!!!!!!

 So once again on behalf of the Residents  we all Thank You.

Here at Elmside we wish you all a very merry Christmas and a healthy New Year.

Dates for 2014: Sunday 14 – Wednesday 17 September                         …the course meets for dinner on the first evening, and finishes after tea on the last day.

For full details, including course fees, and to enrol, contact:       Benslow Music, Benslow Lane, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, SG4 9RB       Tel: 01462 459446;  email: info@benslowmusic.org

 

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National Care Homes Day

Friday 20 June was National Care Homes Day 2014. Coloma Court Care Home was celebrating in style, kicking off in the morning with a junior school art group sharing its enthusiasm for painting with like-minded residents. Meanwhile, a few miles away at Bishop Justus C of E School, Katie Clemmow , Christopher Newport and I were starting an intensive morning of rehearsals with a group of wind players and singers from year 9. With some ten or a dozen items to rehearse we used the morning to the full. Our programme had been chosen to show off the group’s strengths, and featured a number of songs from the shows…

Singers serenadingSingers Lucy, Jess and Sophie serenade residents at Coloma Court

… interspersed with a medley of short instrumental items. These  included  Handel’s “Ouverture” from the Fitzwilliam Museum and adapted for oboe, clarinet and horn by Katie, Margaret and Chris from the original for two high clarinets and hunting horn,  and special items featuring the brass section and the woodwind section that included some old English jigs and reels.

Joy Corbett,  Activities Organiser  at Coloma Court, had been in touch with Everyone Matters months in advance, to request a return visit by young musicians from Bishop Justus School following our previous visit there during our project “Conversation Pieces – words and music uniting young and old” that had been supported by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund. It is always good to make new friends, but even better to revisit old ones, and we were greeted in the upstairs room by a most welcoming audience on this return visit.

“The national care home open day concert which was on friday 20th June was an enormous success!” wrote Joy afterwards. “The combination of the professional musicians from ‘Everyone Matters’ and the students from Bishop Justus school worked beautifully. The variety of the pieces played and the high calibre of all the musicians created a highly enjoyable concert.”

Katie conducts English jigs and reelsKatie conducts English jigs and reels

 “Our residents were amazed by the talents of all concerned and had a thoroughly marvellous time listening to them all,” Joy continued. “The room was packed to capacity and many positive comments were made afterwards by our residents. Comments such as; ‘how good it was to see the two generations playing so well together’, ‘how lovely that they came here and gave their time for us’, ‘I wish I had learnt to play like that’ and ‘will they come again, I really loved it’. These were just a few of the comments said, there were many others! I would just like to finish by sincerely thanking both the students from Bishop Justus for taking the time to practice and play for us and special thanks to Margaret for all the time and effort she puts into these events as without her professionalism and dedication to giving back to others this concert would not have happened!”

A song before teatimeA song before teatime

This one-day project was the third collaboration between Everyone Matters and Bishop Justus, bringing professional musicians into school to work alongside different groups of young musicians in order to perform at local care homes and day centres. The group of year 9 students who took part on this occasion were the youngest yet, and they worked hard to rise to the challenge of putting  a programme together so quickly. They entered with good humour into the spirit of working efficiently with a group of unknown professionals pushing hard to get the results that they wanted, and as the morning turned into afternoon one or two players seemed to think that lunch would never come!  Nonetheless it was impressive to see the way the more secure players gave support to their friends whose instrumental skills were less advanced, and the programme gradually pulled together. Before we knew it the rehearsal time was up, we were packing music, piling music stands ready for the minibus, and double checking that none of the percussion was left behind.  Afterwards Gemma Sheppard, the Subject Leader for Music, wrote “Friday’s workshop was another fantastic experience for a different group of our students from Bishop Justus.  They got so much out of rehearsing with the pro players and it was brilliant the level of detail Margaret went into.  It really pushed some of our top end students.  The performance itself was very gratefully received by the residents of Coloma and it is so worthwhile for students to perform in the community. It is so brilliant that we have been able to work with Everyone Matters for a third time and create such a top quality, well thought out performance together.”

The woodwind and the voices keep in timeThe woodwind and the voices keep in time

The climax of the concert, and an item that had been given great attention during the rehearsal, was the three movement “Toy” Symphony, long considered to have been the work of Haydn but now believed to have been written by Mozart’s father Leopold, himself a professional violinist and composer as well as an incredibly proud dad. We were performing an arrangement created especially for the assembled forces, and our young lady vocalists agreed to join the percussion section on warbling canary (rescued from a Christmas cracker), rattle (taken from an old pram set) and triangle (from the Bishop Justus percussion trolley). Christopher excelled on toy drum, forming an excellent trumpet and drum team with Alex, and Emma gave the whole ensemble a firmly rhythmic and characterful bass line from her trombone.

Year 9 Brass players take the lead in Leopold Mozart's "Toy" Symphony while Christopher, our professional horn players, forsakes his instrument for the toy drum.

Year 9 Brass players take the lead in Leopold Mozart’s “Toy” Symphony while Christopher, our professional horn player, forsakes his usual splendid instrument for a brightly coloured plastic drum.