SEAT OF LEARNING
Away from its daily programme of chamber concerts, Wigmore Hall spreads its wings far and wide in a bid to bring music education to people of all ages,
Frontline reports from classroom music teachers and their peripatetic colleagues, laced with dispiriting details of funding cuts and contract revisions, contain reasons for gloom about the future supply of classical music’s performers and audience. Yet the story is more complex and certainly less bleak than it appears – less bleak, that is, if your school or community is served by one of the many education outreach projects delivered by the nation’s orchestras, opera companies and concert venues. Over the past two decades, Wigmore Hall has raised music education from sideshow to showpiece, delivered under the banner of Learning to everyone from babes in arms to centenarians.
Mental health, physical well-being, dementia care and lifelong learning fall within the Wigmore Hall Learning tent, as do programmes to introduce toddlers to chamber music or young people to Wigmore concerts. The central London venue also offers training to the next generation of music animateurs and operates an apprentice composer scheme. Its education work scores high on ambition, higher still on quality.
Wigmore Hall Learning is set to celebrate its 20th anniversary this season with Seven Stages of Life. The Hall’s inaugural Learning festival includes concerts in the main evening programme devoted to the journey from cradle to grave. Helen Grime, Wigmore Hall’s composer in residence, has written a song cycle on themes of parenthood, the pain and grief of miscarriage among them, while pianist Graham Johnson has concocted a recital of songs inspired by the ‘strange, eventful history’ of Jaques’s famous ‘All the world’s a stage’ monologue from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Learning, observes Wigmore Hall’s director John Gilhooly, pervades the venue’s planning and influences its audience development. ‘We present 500 concerts here every season, often two and sometimes three a day,’ he notes. ‘It’s quite something to produce 700 Learning events over the same period, around a third of them at the Hall. That shows where we are with education work and is a tribute to the partnerships we’ve built with schools and so many external agencies.’
Wigmore Hall has created education projects with, among others, Alzheimer’s UK and the Royal National Institute of Blind People, worked with Turtle Key Arts to reach young people with autism spectrum disorder, and forged close relations with the Westminsterbased Cardinal Hume Centre. The latter, which supports people affected by poverty and homelessness, recently hosted a group composition project for members of its ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) class and took part in Learning’s Young Producers, a scheme that enables 14 to 18 year-olds to produce their own Wigmore Hall concert. Other collaborations have delivered Learning events with refugees, domestic violence victims, and mothers with HIV and their children.
‘Learning is just as important as our concert programme’
‘We also work with Chelsea Community Hospital School to provide creative and social opportunities to young people while they’re in hospital,’ says Daisy Swift, Wigmore Hall’s Head of Learning. ‘It’s about helping people, including those in isolation units, who face barriers to music-making by improving their well-being and sense of community through collaborative composition. We use music technology as a powerful way of bringing participants together.’
Overcoming isolation is among the concerns of Music for Life, Wigmore Hall’s programme of work with professional musicians, carers and people living with dementia. While many of the scheme’s interactive sessions take place in residential care settings, Music for Life now works with those who are living with dementia in their home. It also hosts weekly rehearsals for Singing with Friends, a new community choir for individuals and families living with dementia. ‘Music for Life is a huge part of what we do,’ comments Swift. ‘We believe that dementia need not stop people from doing the things they love.’
In addition to its schools and community work, Learning feeds minds hungry for knowledge about chamber music and song. Its Behind the Music programme includes masterclasses led by artists such as mezzo Brigitte Fassbaender and pianist Sir András Schiff, pre-concert talks, study days and courses, lecture-recitals and artist interviews. ‘It’s all part of the process of integrating Learning into every area of Wigmore Hall’s activity,’ says Gilhooly. ‘That must come from the top of the organisation.’ Education work, he adds, is often seen as remote from concert life, like a satellite transmitting virtuous signals rarely received by the community of musicians and their audiences. ‘As director, I see it as my job to promote our education programme. Learning is just as important as our concert programme and reflects it too.’
Readers based far from London may sigh at yet another tale of the capital’s conspicuous wealth, expressed here by an arts organisation f lourishing in favourable conditions. Wigmore Hall Learning, heavily dependent on private donors and charitable trusts for its funding, is determined, however, to share what it does with the widest possible audience. The venue has invested over £2m in digital technology in recent years, opening its doors to a potentially enormous online audience. Education events can now be streamed live to students worldwide, archived masterclasses viewed at the click of a mouse.
Daisy Swift says that Wigmore Learning owns a vast store of collective education experience and expertise. The aim is to overcome the geographical limits to its work with schools by developing an online learning resource hub. ‘We are also pushing our education work into outer London boroughs, establishing partner schools in Haringey and Havering, where there’s far less music provision than you see in the inner London boroughs. The idea is to replicate that across all of our work, by thinking about who our partners are and where and how we can really make the greatest impact.’
help at hand: the Wigmore Hall Learning scheme includes Singing with Friends, a choir for people affected by dementia; and (below) its musical outreach helps victims of poverty