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Emily Brontë’s piano is back in action

10 June 2010

Maya Irgalina playing the Brontes' piano
Maya Irgalina playing the Brontes' pianoClare Stevens

The rare cabinet upright piano owned by the Brontë family has been played in Haworth Parsonage for the first time in 160 years, having been completely reconstructed thanks to the generosity of an American donor. Made by John Green of Soho Square, London, probably in 1810-1815, the instrument is thought to have been acquired by the Brontës in the early 1830s. After the children’s deaths it was given away and eventually sold. It returned to the Parsonage Museum in 1916 but was regarded merely as a piece of furniture; there was no interest in it as a musical instrument and it had not been played in living memory until Brontë Society member Virginia Esson offered to pay for its restoration.

At this point one of the UK trustees of the Brontë Society, singer, teacher and community music leader Virginia Rushton, stepped in and enlisted the help of piano restorer Ken Forrest, who has spent almost three years dismantling and cleaning the instrument and putting it back together again. It was clogged with soot and dust and effectively derelict, with much of the internal mechanism missing or completely unusable. Cabinet upright pianos were never highly valued and very few have survived, so it was difficult to find similar models to copy or even to cannibalise for spare parts. Extensive research trips took Mr Forrest as far afield as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before he was satisfied that he knew how to tackle the reconstruction.

The piano finally returned to the Haworth Parsonage on 1 June and was demonstrated to Ms Esson and Brontë Society members on 4 June in a short recital by Maya Irgalina, a keyboard student from the Royal Northern College of Music, and soprano Catherine McDonald, a Brontë enthusiast. The programme was drawn entirely from the Brontës’ music books which are now in the library at the parsonage. It included works by Beethoven, Clementi, Handel (known to have been a particular favourite of the family), Haydn and Burns (‘Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon’, which features in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley).

Some of the music in the collection is dated and marked with the Brontës’ names, and the Beethoven waltzes are marked in pencil with fingerings, possibly by the siblings’ piano teacher Mr A S Sunderland, organist of Keighley Parish Church. There are several references to music in their childhood diaries, while Emily was described as playing the piano ‘with precision and brilliancy’ and sought out the best available professor of music during her time as a student in Brussels. The youngest sister, Anne, preferred singing but often accompanied herself on the piano; Charlotte is known to have given up the piano in her teens because her poor eyesight meant she had difficulty reading the music.

Brontë fans and museum staff who attended the recital were thrilled with the results of the restoration. ‘Although the piano does not sound exactly as it would have done 180 years ago, this is the closest we can get, and you really feel when you listen to it that you are entering the soundworld of the family,’ said Virginia Rushton.


Sounding Edge Conference, 23 June

10 June 2010

Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, Lancashire, is to host the Sounding Edge conference on 23 June in what is hoped to be the first in a regular series of conferences aimed at primary music specialists and enthusiastic classroom teachers. The focus this year will be on singing, with particular concern given to investigate certain questions about developing singing in school:

  • Singing with boys
  • Singing across the curriculum
  • Seveloping children’s creativity through singing
  • Singing and vocal health
The main event will offer a series of workshops and a masterclass in which a group of young singers are taken through their paces by an experienced singing leader. The aim is to allow teachers to reflect on rehearsal practices. Delegates to the conference will be invited to sing alongside these young singers, as part of a fitting musical finale to the day. Our intention is that this will be a thoroughly enjoyable musical and reflective experience.

Representatives of the university will also be outlining its new PG Cert in Music Education, whose programme is designed to support teachers in gaining masters level credits 'through practical work and reflection related to school based music activities', and which is run in conjunction with The Voices Foundation and Sing Up.

The conference is free of charge (including lunch); participants are encouraged to register as soon as possible. Applications can be sent to Ian Shirley at ian.shirley@edgehill.ac.uk.

Sounding Edge is a web based project run by Edge Hill University’s Faculty of Education to support music education. It aims to prepare the university's undergraduate primary trainees and secondary music PGCE students for their future careers, while also offering university accreditation to serving teachers through partnership with other music education providers, including the Voices Foundation and singUp.


Cambridge Summer Music Festival, 9 July-7 August

10 June 2010

Cambridge Summer Music Festival this year includes a number of children's events, with a range of concerts and activities including: the Wandlebury Picnic Concert (31 July from 3.30pm, Wandlebury Country Park); Youth Music Theatre's production of The Ballad of Salomon Pavey (25 July at 7.30pm, Cambridge Arts Theatre); capoeira workshops (24 July at 11am – 3pm, West Road Concert Hall); and violin workshops with Jack Glatzer (The Story of Paganini, 30 July at 3.30pm, Emmanuel United Reformed Church) and Steve Bingham (Violin, electric violin and live looping, 4 August at 3pm and 4.45pm, Emmanuel United Reform Church) demonstrating how the violin alone can be utilised to create two completely different styles of music.

These run alongside a feast of mainstream programming in orchestral concerts, choral concerts, recitals, walking tours and other events. Selected highlights include a 400-year-anniversary performance of Monteverdi's Vespers by the Academy of Ancient Music and the choir of King's College (9 July at 7.30pm, King's College Chapel), Last Choir Standing judge Suzi Digby's Voce chamber choir (17 July at 8pm, King's College Chapel), an organ recital by John Scott, the current director of music at St Thomas Church, New York (24 July at 7.30pm, King's College Chapel), and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, who will perform Debussy’s Cello Sonata and works by Bach, Fauré and Piazzolla interspersed with reminiscences on his career (An evening with Julian Lloyd Webber, 4 August at 8pm, Fitzwilliam College Auditorium).


Worshipful Company of Musicians invites London schools to participate in its outreach project

10 June 2010

The Worshipful Company of Musicians (WCoM) is inviting schools in London boroughs surrounding the City of London to apply for a musical visit from one of its 120 Yeomen. These are emerging professional musicians who have been supported financially by the WCoM, and who front schools' sessions as part of their involvement with the organisation. Sessions involve a visit from one or two Yoemen, who include players of many instruments in both jazz and classical genres. The visiting musicians perform and introduce the school or class to their instrument and its repertoire.

WCoM Yoeman visits are free of charge. To apply for one for your school, email Margaret Alford on clerk@wcom.org.uk or call 020 7496 8980.

Deadline extended to 27 June for Yamaha and LIPA's Make It, Break It Awards 2010

9 June 2010

A final call for entries and extended deadline of 27 June have been announced for this year’s annual Make It, Break It Awards (MIBI). A showcase and industry platform for outstanding young songwriters, the MIBI Awards were founded in 1994 by Yamaha and The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA). They are now also supported by EMI and HMV.

MIBI concentrates on the songwriting and professional development of 14 to 19 year olds by encouraging the two skills essential to creating a successful record:  ‘Make It’ -  songwriting prowess; and ‘Break It’ - marketing and innovation. The competition has two age categories: 14-16 and 17–19, and judges select three winners from each category.  The judging panel includes EMI President Guy Moot, Record Producer Steve Levine, Broadcaster Mark Radcliffe, Promoter Harvey Goldsmith, Mike Walsh of XFM Radio and Mel Armstrong of HMV.

Winners receive a host of prizes including performing at the awards ceremony, an all expenses paid music academy at LIPA and an A&R meeting with EMI. The contest also offers the winners' schools a £500 prize of Yamaha equipment.

Entry details as well as video interviews with members of the judging panel and previous winner and judge, Coldplay's Chris Martin, can be found at the website here.


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