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Tech Music Schools open new keyboard lab

16 December 2009

Keyboardtech, part of Tech Music Schools (TMS), has officially opened its new building, including a state-of-the-art Hammond Keyboard Lab. The west-London-based schools have added a fourth building to their premises after extensive on-site alterations over the summer. The new building will primarily serve Keyboardtech and houses various teaching rooms including the Hammond Lab, which boasts six XK1 drawbar keyboards, one XK3c drawbar keyboard, one XK pro system two-manual organ and a Leslie 2101 speaker system. Hammond player James Taylor officially cut the ribbon as part of a day of events that included live performances of rock, jazz and funk from Taylor and several TMS tutors. There were also talks covering both the history of the Hammond organ and life at TMS, with students on hand to explain the details of the various courses available.

According to TMS Founder and Director Francis Seriau the Hammond Lab is part of Tech Music School’s commitment to fully integrating the keyboard into the band line-up. ‘The Hammond Organ has been making history in different styles of music for decades now,’ he said. ‘Keyboard players had for a while become more interested in tweaking knobs than playing – now there is a real revival, and the Hammond is a big part of that.’ All full-time TMS students take keyboard as a second study instrument, which, said Seriau, is part of the schools’ policy to teach ‘not just good instrumentalists, but musicians who work well with other musicians. For example, drummers often struggle because they don’t understand music from other instrumentalists’ perspectives. We want to change that.’

Music First holds benefit recital

16 December 2009

Violinist Hideko Udagawa and soprano Meta Powell, accompanied by pianist Mary Hill, have given a recital in aid of the charity Music First, an organisation which uses classical music training as a vehicle for individual growth and social renewal for disadvantaged young people in Islington, north London.

Inspired by the El Sistema music and social transformation programme in Venezuela, Music First currently has more than 150 children involved in a music academy at Highbury Grove Secondary School and more than 120 children of primary age who have just started learning in a group string teaching programme at three schools within the same community.

There is also a weekly music programme involving 50 students from five local secondary schools, who perform in a choir, jazz orchestra, percussion and string groups.

Bob Pepper, MBE, who set up the project and last year visited Venezuela to research El Sistema’s work, said everyone was very excited about the progress already being made.

‘We are seeing daily changes in children’s progress and attitude,’ he said. ‘These are teenage students from really difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds for whom music making is becoming a lifeline away from drugs and gun culture.’

One teacher told him ‘Just the other day, the face of a boy who plays the oboe really lit up when he heard his teacher play to him and the child commented on the beauty of the sound.

‘It was the first really meaningful and positive communication we have had with him for a whole year,’ she added. Groups from the Music First @ Islington project will be performing at the Union Chapel, Upper Street, N1 on Thursday February 11. The performance will include string players and choirs from the primary schools, and choirs, orchestras and bands from the participating secondary schools.

Lord Mayor's Appeal to support LSO On Track

16 December 2009

The London Symphony Orchestra Discovery programme On Track will be a beneficiary of the new Lord Mayor of London Nick Anstee’s charity appeal for 2009/2010, Pitch Perfect, together with the Cricket Foundation’s StreetChance initiative. The two organisations have joined forces to bring music and sport activities to disadvantaged young people across communities in London.

During 2010, LSO On Track will feature coaching of young musicians in the ten East London boroughs, who will take part in workshops, performances in bands, chamber groups and in the LSO On Track Orchestra. StreetChance, also working across ten London boroughs, will use ‘Street 20’ tapeball cricket – a fast, accessible version of the game – to engage young people . By providing opportunities to play and perform in teams and groups, Pitch Perfect aims to support thousands of young Londoners to develop new skills and levels of aspiration, acquire confidence and self-esteem, and discover their full potential as well-rounded and productive individuals, leaders and team players.

A number of music and cricket-loving ambassadors are supporting Pitch Perfect. They include Sir Colin Davis, President of the London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, Principal Conductor of the LSO, percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, members of the LSO, England and Surrey cricketer Mark Ramprakash, former England and Middlesex captain Mike Gatting, World Cup-winning England women’s cricket captain Charlotte Edwards and lyricist Sir Tim Rice. Pitch Perfect aims to enable the following by 2015: 75,000 young people to participate in StreetChance and On Track activities across London, 60% of them from ethnic minority background; 950 schools to be actively involved in StreetChance and On Track projects in two-thirds of London boroughs; and 1,250 teachers to be trained, to enable continued activity beyond 2015.

Events planned for the Pitch Perfect year include: ‘Passion and Performance’ – an exclusive dinner at the Mansion House which will be an inspiring opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of women in all walks of life, with musical performances from the LSO and Evelyn Glennie; The London Marathon, when the Lord Mayor himself will be running for Pitch Perfect – the first time a Lord Mayor has run the Marathon; and an LSO St Luke’s Concert and Dinner in the Jerwood Hall, with players from the LSO and the Dutch violinist Janine Jansen.

The Grand Finale to the appeal will be a Gala Concert and Dinner in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle.

Welsh chamber music finds a new, young audience

16 December 2009

Chamber group Ensemble Cymru has established a new academy in North Wales with the aim of championing the much neglected chamber music of Welsh composers.

The venture is based at the Ucheldre Centre, an arts complex in Holyhead, Anglesey, and aims to recruit ten young musicians up to the age of 19. They will work with the members of Ensemble Cymru, from whom they will receive coaching in performance technique. The ensemble’s executive officer will also run a series of business workshops to help the young musicians develop skills necessary to manage and promote their own professional ensembles in the future.

The project will run for six months, culminating in a performance in April by the ten musicians, who have been recruited on the strength of their experience, commitment and standard of playing. They will perform alongside the ensemble’s principal players and will also receive coaching in their own ensembles formed from within the group of ten new recruits.

‘The Ensemble Cymru Chamber Music Academy will be seeking to excite young musicians and to nurture their enthusiasm for what is one of the most demanding and inspirational types of music there is to perform,’ said Peryn Clement-Evans, artistic director of Ensemble Cymru. ‘Wales’s leading composers past and present, including William Mathias, Alun Hoddinott, Daniel Jones, Grace Williams, Huw Watkins, Gareth Glyn and Guto Puw have all written music in this tradition which, though one of Wales’s greatest treasures, is comparatively neglected and unrecognised.’

The academy is supported with funds from Anglesey Music Trust and the Friends of Gwynedd Youth Music with support from the William Mathias Centre, the William Mathias Schools Service and local teacher representatives. Ensemble Cymru has an annual programme of more than 150 concerts and workshops, performing to 15,000 people. It is resident ensemble at Bangor University.

Curtain up on the Fluid Piano

16 December 2009

A new acoustic instrument, the Fluid Piano, was unveiled in November at the University of Surrey. Its construction allows a musician to alter each note manually, microtonally within the range of a semitone (up or down); tuning can be pre-prepared or altered live during performance.

More than ten years in the making, the Fluid Piano was invented and developed by Geoff Smith and constructed by instrument maker Christopher Barlow, with funding from Arts Council England and the support of University of Surrey. As a composer-performer and leading exponent of the hammered dulcimer, Smith says his first instrument has been central to the development process: ‘I explored the use of a fluid tuning mechanism on the hammered dulcimer as a precursor to integrating it into a design for piano.’

The Fluid Piano is proportional to a fortepiano, with a range of more than five octaves (64 keys), and has three pedals to sustain and dampen sound. The player has reachable access to a full-width ‘mixer-desk’ area to control the pitch of each note. Integrated into the body of the piano is a horizontal harp, also with fluid-tuning mechanisms; these additional strings can either resonate sympathetically to the main piano strings or be dampened.

It was unveiled with world premiere performance-demonstrations by three artists: Pam Chowhan, head of planning at the South Bank; jazz pianist Nikki Yeoh; pianist Matthew Bourne, lecturer at Leeds College of Music. Each artist gave a contrasting interpretation, exploring some of the performance techniques the Fluid Piano has to offer. ‘If there’s nothing to emulate then you have to invent,’ explained Yeoh afterwards.

After her performance, Chowhan said: ‘This instrument challenges your spatial concepts. As pianists we are so used to playing a major chord and knowing what to expect back.’ Bourne agreed: ‘There’s a vast number of new techniques to explore, which makes this instrument revolutionary.’ A Fluid Piano performer has the option to play, tune or pluck – simultaneously if desired.

Smith said that his invention has sparked much interest and debate from many areas of the music industry. He hopes to challenge equal temperament and sees the Fluid Piano as ‘a multicultural instrument. Its existence asks many questions about the traditional classical orchestra. For the first time, the piano is liberated from the restrictions of fixed western turning; musicians will be able to explore a diversity of bespoke tuning layouts, and scales and modes from other cultures.’

Though only one prototype is currently in existence, Smith hopes to make the Fluid Piano ‘available to as many musicians as possible’, through artist collaboration and securing a manufacture/distribution deal. He also has a particular interest in the near future in channelling the Fluid Piano into the niches of music education, music therapy, early music and more.

Further information: Fluid Piano @ Purcell Room, 7.45pm, 27th March 2010

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