Rhinegold Photo credit: Terry Jeavons
Judith Weir and the Heath Quartet with advanced composition students

Toby Deller

A Place of Opportunity: The Dartington International Summer School and Festival

8:00, 14th June 2017

This year, the Dartington International Summer School and Festival will be offering bursaries for teachers in the local region for the first time. Toby Deller speaks to pianist and artistic director Joanna MacGregor about the courses and opportunities in store

With the academic year behind you, the prospect of spending another week or two at school may not be immediately appealing. But Joanna MacGregor, the renowned pianist who is now in her third season as the artistic director of the Dartington International Summer School and Festival, says there is at least one reason why her programme of courses and concerts might appeal to those who spend their working lives in the classroom.

‘It’s a good point! But you don’t have to take responsibility – you’re in the hands of other teachers for a change and can sit back and enjoy listening to instrumentalists, composers, writers and conductors as they coach and coax the best out of their groups. There are a lot of different types of music-making – from singing and playing to creating new music, improvising, and working with artists, poets and filmmakers. And the programme ranges from core classical repertoire to jazz, folk, opera, electronica and world music.’

Festival atmosphere
In truth – although it is a school in name, makes use of what were once educational facilities of the former Dartington College of Arts, and runs according to a daily timetable of classes and activities – Dartington is not really a scholarly environment. The surroundings help: the college was developed around a renovated medieval great hall, focus of the summer school activities, in five square kilometres of landscaped garden, agricultural land and wild woods in south Devon. And the fact that there are at least two concerts daily throughout the late-summer weeks that Dartington runs (29 July to 26 August this year) means that a concert-going public adds a festival atmosphere to the event too.

The samba band on the Great Lawn Photo: Alice Carfrae
The samba band on the Great Lawn
Photo: Alice Carfrae

Above all, perhaps, Dartington is intended to appeal to people from a variety of musical situations whether professional or amateur – there are courses specifically for advanced students, for example, as well as those open to all. And each week is given its own flavour through a particular blend of courses and concerts. So how much does MacGregor consider teachers when she is putting the programme together?

‘I think a lot about the breadth of music on offer. I’m aware that many people want to play Schubert and listen to Alfred Brendel talking about Beethoven, but I’m also aware that some of our participants are teachers who want to expand their skill base. They may want to hear some different music, see things in a new perspective, and be encouraged to try things for the first time. I assume many teachers have wide interests, and knowledge of pop, contemporary and jazz music – not just classical.’

In this way, Dartington reflects the scope and diversity of today’s music education, and it is through an open approach that MacGregor believes teachers can find ways to reinvigorate their own musicianship and develop their professional lives. Rather than thinking about their professional development solely in terms of working through items on a CPD checklist, those attending Dartington are introduced to networks made up of different people from the colleagues, students, parents and officials encountered in everyday working life. These networks cover not only the UK but stretch overseas too – hence the ‘international’ in the summer school’s name.

Creative community
For those who may be somewhat jaded – restricted, even – by the realities of classroom work, Dartington is the kind of place that offers an opportunity, through participation in music (whether practically or as an observer) and immersion in a creative environment, to rediscover what presumably drew them into music in the first instance.

Joanna MacGregor: ‘I think a lot about the breadth of music on offer’
Joanna MacGregor: ‘I think a lot about the breadth of music on offer’

‘The ethos of Dartington is one of a friendly, creative community. It’s set in the most magnificent gardens and rolling countryside,’ says MacGregor. ‘Concerts and many of the workshops happen in a medieval quad and in the airy ‘Space’ buildings [recently developed performing arts studios]. Just being in the landscape can give you a sense of renewed creativity and vision. The classes can be intense, focusing on a particular aspect of technical skill or repertoire – or they can be joyous and creative, guided by inspirational musicians. The beauty of the summer school is that you can do several different things a day. After 5pm the concerts start. Many of the people tutoring you will play extraordinarily innovative and interesting programmes while you sit back, and you can meet them afterwards in the White Hart bar for a drink. It’s impossible to come away without picking up fresh ideas and new contacts.’

There is at least one other practical reason why teachers might be encouraged to apply to Dartington: this year sees the introduction of bursaries for teachers from the local region.

‘This year we’re offering ten bursaries to teachers from the South West, as Dartington International Summer School is rooted in this region and wants to deepen its connections with local schools and teachers. We’ve been working closely with five schools for our one-day festival in Totnes – Party in the Town – and making relationships through that. The plan is to offer more bursaries to more teachers, from up and down the country, next year.’


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