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,

BBC Music Magazine - - FEATURE - re­ports An­drew Ste­wart

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

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