"A visit to remember"
Since September, the schools and community team at Saffron Hall has been abuzz with projects and workshops, making connections with everyone from local primary schools to people living with dementia to young people at specialist music schools.
Schools and community work is intrinsically linked to everything we do here at Saffron Hall, so you’ll notice that when many world-class artists visit the Hall, schools and community engagement forms a core part of their visit, with the public concert just being the tip of the iceberg.
September started with a bang with Britten Sinfonia’s 10-year-anniversary performance of Max Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed, and a pre-concert Q&A session for Music Academy students with Britten Sinfonia leader Thomas Gould. The Music Academy is an enrichment scheme run by Saffron Walden County High School (SWCHS) focusing on students in Years 12 and 13.
Since the record-breaking 2014 release of the original Vivaldi Recomposed album, Max Richter's piece has been used in numerous film and TV soundtracks and commercials, from Bridgerton to The Crown, making it a perfect ‘first Saffron Hall concert’ for the new 22-23 cohort of Music Academy students. They enjoyed hearing from Thom about his experiences leading Britten Sinfonia and playing the violin solo in this event.
Later in the term, many Music Academy students from SWCHS joined with Year 9-11 students from Helena Romanes School and Castle Manor for An Afternoon with Isata Kanneh-Mason. This event was a relaxed opportunity for the students to hear live performances from Isata (who performed for the public later that evening) and their own peers, and to dig a bit deeper into repertoire and performance techniques through Q&A and discussion.
Students’ questions covered a huge amount of ground including stories from Isata’s musical family and tips on practice and preparing for performance as well as revealing the top tunes she listens to when not playing and how she felt when performing alongside Elton John. In the words of one student “it is nice to realise that talented people are also real humans – quite comforting!”.
The SWCHS Year 9 Residency returned this year, with Peetha Narayanan, Tara Franks, and Bernhard Schimpelsberger as the ‘artists in residence’. The Year 9 Residency is a three-day intensive project for students in Year 9 at Saffron Walden County High School organised every year by Saffron Hall.
Year 9 is a crucial transition year for secondary students as they move into GCSE year groups, with many students feeling disengaged from school, isolated from their peers and deprioritised by the institutions around them. This annual Residency forms a vital touch point for re-engaging those students and focuses on building confidence, motivation and teamwork.
The title of our 2022 Residency was: Rhythm is Everywhere, and the participants learned about and practised different types of rhythms from around the world, focussing on Indian rhythms and Konokol, an ancient Indian rhythmic language. Participants explored their connection with themselves, their surrounding and each other through writing, using their voices, body percussion and playing instruments.
"I really liked the feeling of pride and amazement at the end of the residency."
"An amazing opportunity to connect with other musicians and too create some amazing music with professionals (and some nice time too get of school!)"
In December, we were delighted to offer secondary school students the opportunity to attend a daytime performance from Manchester Collective entirely for free. Students from SWCHS, Passmores Academy in Harlow, Linton Village College and Helena Romanes School had the unmissable opportunity to hear Shostakovich's brooding String Quartet No.8 arranged for chamber orchestra alongside new music by Oliver Leith and Missy Mazzoli. Members of the Collective took turns explaining the structure of each piece, picking out motifs and links to the lives of composers, before a lively Q&A.
Together in Sound
Running like a thread throughout the whole autumn term has been our Together in Sound projects in Saffron Walden and Braintree, which is run in partnership with Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research (CIMTR) at Anglia Ruskin University. This project provides people living with dementia and their companions and carers the opportunity to attend a weekly music therapy group. There’s a focus on joint music-making and listening with a goal of supporting communication, relationships, and increasing quality of life through a collaborative group process.
As you can imagine, this project had been quite harshly affected by COVID-19, so the fact that our Autumn 2022 sessions had more participants than ever before represents a big win for dementia services in Uttlesford and beyond. Participants at the sharing session in Saffron Walden were joined by a choir from R A Butler school and professional flautist Carys Gittens to sing together, listen to performances, write songs, improvise and enjoy music.
"Over the course of the block, I’ve seen Mum go from being socially anxious to initiating interactions with some members of the group. I was staggered when she quite spontaneously said ‘I like coming here’ (this was week 3). She now has the confidence to speak up in the group and make suggestions. I feel like for an hour and a half a week, I get a little bit of my Mum back that I thought was lost."
"It's amazing to see the change in people over the ten weeks of the programme. People come out of their quiet world, enjoy the spontaneous singing of sometimes tunes that they remember from long ago, or the challenge of singing a new one. Playing instruments to illustrate a story, maybe flying in an aeroplane, sailing on a boat or a walk in the woods, you never know what is going to happen, but the effects are extraordinary."
Connecting artists with the community
A highlight of the term was Project Handel, a free two-day ‘write your own opera’ project for young people in the October half-term run in collaboration with English Touring Opera. The final creation composed by these young people with the help of a professional baritone, composers and musicians, was a masterpiece based on the life of Napoleon.
It included some music written by Handel, solos sung and played by young people, lyrics and music written by the group and original choreography put together in a two-day whirlwind and performed at the end to families and friends. All the young people who took part in these workshops then had the chance to attend English Touring Opera’s public performance of Agrippina that evening at Saffron Hall.
"I was really eye-opened after the project as it really made me appreciate all different kinds of opera that is available to us. And improved my confidence as a performer and creating something new from other peoples ideas."
Saffron Centre for Young Musicians Brass band took part in a side-by-side with the Cory Band, which was a roaring success. The band were so kind and welcoming with the young people, the young players had a blast, and the audience received their involvement in the concert really well.
Dunedin Consort held vocal clinics led by tenor Ben Hulett for local singers which were taken up by several adults and young people keen to get some feedback and improve their singing and musicianship skills. We are excited to welcome back Dunedin Consort next year, when they will be doing a side-by-side project with the SWCHS Chamber Choir. The choir will be performing alongside professionals in Dunedin's public concert - tickets are already on sale.
On the day after A4 Brass' concert at Saffron Hall the players and Katie, our Learning & Participation Co-ordinator, ventured into two primary schools: Great Easton, and Harlowbury. They performed short interactive schools concerts with music from around the world and which was really well received by students and teachers.
"It was the most wonderful musical visit. The children had the best time and the performers were absolutely brilliant. It was definitely a visit to remember!"
As if our schools and community team have not been doing enough this term, they also managed to officially launch Saffron Sounds, a set of online resources for primary schools created by the Jess Gillam Ensemble. These free resources are available to teachers and music educators for free following a short sign-up process. And it’s not just online! Members of the Jess Gillam ensemble will be leading in-school workshops for lower Key Stage 2 in January and February, and there’ll be a big Saffron Sounds LIVE! event welcoming students from participating schools in May.
If you would like to find out more about our schools and community work, please contact Katie on email@example.com. If you are interested in volunteering to steward education and community events, contact Kathy on firstname.lastname@example.org and if you’d like to contribute to all the work we do here, please consider donating to support our work.