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Supporting tomorrow's musicians

7 years ago

 For many, the name ABRSM brings to mind scales, aural tests, sight-reading and set pieces but, as Andrew Green finds out, ABRSM is about much more than just exams. ABRSM’s International Sponsorship Fund, launched in 2011, enhances music training and development in many ways around the world. ‘ABRSM is an international organisation,’ says Chief Executive Guy Perricone, ‘and this fund is all about strengthening our engagement with the international music education community. After just one year we’ve been delighted by the difference this funding has already made to all those involved.’

Education in Uganda

In Uganda the fund has provided support for the Tender Talents Magnet School (TTMS). Since 1999 the school has taught some 450 students at Kasangati, near Kampala, thanks to the vision of its founder Frank Katoola and his wife Brenda. Dependent entirely on donations, the school teaches young people up to the age of 20 from the most deprived parts of the community. Many have lost parents to AIDS. Others are refugees. Some have no homes to go to. Developing the musical dimension to the TTMS curriculum was the first project tackled by UK-based charity, Musequality, after its launch in 2007 by violinist David Juritz. He set off from home with just a rucksack and violin to raise money and awareness of how music can enhance young people’s lives round the world. ‘Having funded the music programme at TTMS for five years,’ says Musequality’s Executive Director, Jeremy Bradshaw, ‘we felt it was time to look for partners. We applied to ABRSM and were delighted to receive £2,000, which goes a very long way in Uganda.’ ‘We urgently needed funds to continue with our music education programme,’ says Frank, himself a choir trainer at the school. ‘With ABRSM’s help we’ve been able to support the music teachers who come to us from Kampala Music School and pay for a piano we’d been renting. ‘The school has shot up the table of academic achievement in Uganda,’ says Jeremy, ‘and we believe music has been a key element in promoting that. Learning a musical instrument or to sing provides the discipline, practicality and sense of personal responsibility that then spins off into academic subjects.’

Singing in the Philippines

That accent on music playing a part in improving lives is a recurring theme. In the Philippines, funding from ABRSM is assisting the work of the Mandaluyong Children’s Choir, which gives special attention to talented young people from deprived backgrounds. The sponsorship has gone towards everything from the choir’s annual summer outreach programme, choral competitions and concerts, to seminars for teachers and a Choral Fiesta in Mandaluyong City. Above all, funding from ABRSM has meant that the choir can now invite more young people to take part in its many activities and reap the musical and wider benefits.

Instruments for Jamaica

In Jamaica, ABRSM is helping to meet the most basic of musical needs – instruments – for the Providence Heights Community & Marching Band. The band works with ‘at risk adolescents and young adults from the Providence Heights National Housing Trust development, near Montego Bay, who have the determination to be successful in life,’ explains Music Director Dwayne Haughton. ‘Before receiving the grant it was challenging to conduct a rehearsal. Our instruments were second-hand and donated, and their condition had deteriorated. We had no funding to repair them or buy new ones. ABRSM support made this possible. It also meant that some of our students could take part in seminars and local programmes. Our grant from ABRSM has changed the future of the band.’

Inspiring musicians in Malaysia

ABRSM sponsorship is also finding its way to Malaysia, helping to finance an orchestral training event run by Musica Sinfonietta. Formed in 2010 by a group of music educators and performers, the Sinfonietta promotes both music-making and the arts in Penang and across the wider Malaysian community. ‘Students, from all parts of society, form the majority of our musicians,’ explains June Ong, the Sinfonietta’s President. ‘We present two major concerts a year and stage an annual music camp, alongside other events. The training orchestra features around 20 players, while the main orchestra includes around 50 musicians, aged from 9 to 55. This number grows to 100 at music camp.’ It’s the music camp that was helped by ABRSM's donation. ‘As a non-governmental organisation,’ says June, ‘we’re always looking for sponsorship. So we took the opportunity to apply for ABRSM's help. Now we can afford what we need to make a better camp, with more tutors and better facilities.’

India’s new orchestra

The India National Youth Orchestra (INYO) was launched in 2010 as a pioneering musical initiative in the sub-continent. Some 150 musicians representing 12 different states have become involved, demonstrating ‘unity in the cultural diversity of our country,’ says Sonia Khan, INYO Managing Director. The diversity extends to social and professional backgrounds. Alongside engineers, students and doctors, the INYO also collaborates with the Oxford Mission in Kolkata and the Gandhi Ashram School in Kalimpong to offer openings for underprivileged young people.

Training and development

Key to the development of the orchestra is both training for players but also ongoing professional development for teachers. Already the INYO yearly schedule embraces a 10- to 15-day workshop, which this year was held at Bangalore in southern India. ‘We received enough assistance from ABRSM to get our musicians from Kolkata and Kalimpong to Bangalore and also to pay for their accommodation. Without ABRSM's help, some of our most talented musicians would have missed the workshop.’ 'Intensive training has meant rapidly improving standards,' says Sonia, which in turn have widened horizons. ‘We’ve given our musicians the opportunity to play at various international concerts – they’ve rehearsed and performed with German, Austrian, Italian and Canadian orchestras.’ Through playing in this orchestra young people are gaining much more than just musical knowledge and skills. ‘Travelling, staying together and playing music in the company of other young musicians from around the world has been such fun,’ explains 15-year-old violinist Jasiel Peter. ‘I feel the INYO is family!’ ‘The INYO has given me opportunities I could never have dreamt of,' adds 16-year-old Divya Raghunathan.

Working with teachers

Finally, back in Uganda, ABRSM funding has been helping the Kampala Music School (KMS) to develop its support for teachers – both at the school and elsewhere in the region. Regular workshops have been taking place in term time on instrumental technique, musicianship, sight-reading and aural skills, expanding material, exam preparation and performance practice. ‘We also hope to organise training from beyond Uganda for our teachers,' explains Natasha Chong, Deputy Director at KMS. ‘The teachers here have so much drive and commitment and long to have the opportunity to progress,’ she adds, ‘but until now neither KMS nor the teachers themselves have been in a position to pay for such development. We hope that in the long term this funding will help the school to grow, providing more work for teachers and new musical learning opportunities for young people in Uganda.’ In short, supporting and encouraging music making and learning at all levels and in all settings – just what ABRSM’s International Sponsorship Fund is all about.

This article was originally featured in the January 2013 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.

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