Tag Archives: amateur musicians

Clarinets coming home – Everyone Matters at Benslow Music Trust

Year after year each return to Benslow feels to me like another coming home. The house wraps round me as I walk into the hall, I promise the reception team yet again that this year I really won’t lose my room key, and it’s hugs all round as clarinet players convene for another intensive weekend of non-stop playing: clarinet choir, clarinet ensemble, clarinet masterclass, clarinet recital and, this year for the second time as part of the David Campbell Clarinet Weekend, the Everyone Matters group working towards performances in local Hitchin care homes. My clarinet colleagues David Campbell and Ian Scott are on board this year to share coaching the Everyone Matters group as they prepare to perform in the homes, and pianist John Flinders is also on hand to work through the clarinet solos that several of our group plan to perform at our Monday community concerts with me accompanying at an electric keyboard that is already stowed in my car for the care homes that don’t have pianos.

It is so easy now for me to set up the care centre concerts, as all the venues welcome us as old friends and are eager for us to return. This year it was Leonard Cheshire Disability that chose to host our Monday morning concert at Symonds House, where our welcoming audience included a number of staff and residents who had seen some of us in previous years. The intimacy of the room encouraged a very informal atmosphere throughout the concert, with lots of questions from our audience including a fascinating discussion initiated by one of the wheelchair users who asked the thought-provoking question “Why do the clarinets all sound different?” initiating a rewarding discussion in which each player was able to explain some of the details of their own reed, mouthpiece and instrument set-up as well as touching on the differences between individual approaches to tone production.

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Linda, Rosemary and Cathy have all played in Hitchin care centres previously, and at Highbury Rise following the afternoon concert Linda found a gentleman who had been born near her own Croydon home, enabling the two of them to share reminiscences of Thornton Heath ponds, leading to him telling the story of how he ran away to sea at age 15.

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Chris plays folk fiddle as well as clarinet, flute and recorder, and he offered us a welcome interlude from wall-to-wall clarinets with two Irish jigs for which he wrote out a shadowing harmony part for me as a duo accompaniment.

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It’s a big ask for a group of amateur players to come together with only short rehearsal time, as part of a densely timetabled weekend, to put together an informal concert programme from scratch, and this group managed it magnificently. The Activities Co-ordinator at Highbury Rise, where many of the residents are living with dementia, wrote afterwards, “Music has a wonderful effect on the brain and evokes memories that may have been forgotten”, and the Volunteer Co-ordinator at Symonds House summed it up: “A lovely concert for a Monday morning”.

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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