Andrew Green reports on a project that is successfully bringing classical music to children in London’s inner-city schools . In David Lean’s classic movie A Passage to India, much mirth is generated by the portrayal of a ‘bridge party’, a patronising garden fête-like device of the British Raj to bridge social and ethnic divides. Well, plenty of smiles surround the Bridge Project run by music education specialists London Music Masters (LMM), but it’s never going to be the butt of anyone’s joke. The problem it addresses? ‘London is filled with amazing musicians and ensembles,’ says Bridge Project manager Robert Adediran, ‘but the performers and audiences don’t reflect the diversity of the city itself.’ The aims of the project are simple, but daunting: to build bridges between the world of classical music and socio-economically challenged, ethnically-divided areas of inner London. As a minimum, the programme looks to stir a passion for classical music in children and their families, while nurturing the qualities of ‘discipline, concentration and confidence’, as LMM founder and philanthropist Victoria Sharp puts it. Longer term, the goal is to produce professional music-makers who thereby become role models for continuing aspiration. Assisting in the setting of standards is the project’s link to ABRSM’s Music Medals, of which more below. In 2008 two schools in Lambeth began to pilot the Bridge Project: Ashmole Primary in Kennington and Jessop Primary in Lambeth. Well over 300 children are participating over several years. ‘The foundation of learning from age four is a weekly class of singing and movement which introduces the elements of pitch, rhythm, notation reading and ensemble awareness,’ says Robert. ‘At age five, the children start playing the violin in small groups, with parents attending post-school sessions to learn how to help their children practise. ‘Obviously the violin isn’t right for everyone, but we start there because the skills learned are highly transferable and the children can start playing it when they’re quite young, unlike many wind or brass instruments. After two years children are encouraged to explore other options if they wish. We’re just launching our first experiment with lower strings, wind and brass. The prospect of a Bridge Project Orchestra is very exciting!’ The Bridge Project approach used by tutors and workshop leaders integrates a range of teaching methods, from the traditional to Kodály, Dalcroze and Suzuki. Song, story-telling, imagery, play and movement are incorporated to stimulate learning and make it fun. Promising violin pupils will be offered one-on-one tuition. ‘Our tutors are an international bunch with strong performing backgrounds,’ says Robert. ‘Because of their own rigorous training, they have high expectations of the children.’ This summer sees the first cohort of young violinists being entered for ABRSM Music Medals after two years of lessons. These assessments focus on teaching in groups, aiming to promote both individual and ensemble playing, with plenty of emphasis on interpretation as well as technique. ‘I can’t wait to see how the Bridge Project children respond!’ says Robert. ‘External benchmarks are vital, but equally important is that the Music Medals will be valued by the children as something which validates their efforts and becomes a tangible goal.’ Underpinning the music appreciation element to the Bridge Project are formal connections with musical bodies in London - the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), for example. ‘The LPO is delighted to be a partner,’ says the orchestra’s Education Officer Anne Findlay. ‘We support the project by offering participants opportunities to sit-in on rehearsals and attend schools and family concerts. The project underlines important aspects of our education work.’ Meanwhile, the Bridge to the Community dimension to the project offers children the chance to perform in local hospitals, nursery schools and care homes, enjoying the pleasure of playing in public and observing its effect on others. As one staff member at a children’s hospital puts it: ‘I see daily the therapeutic benefits that arts input like this can have on us all.’ The LMM blog hums with news of the Bridge Project. Mayor of London Boris Johnson likes what he sees. News is expected of a new partnership with a primary school in Westminster. Victoria nonetheless has her feet firmly on the ground: ‘The goal isn’t to produce a clutch of super soloists. If one child went on to study at the Royal College of Music’s Junior Department, that would be the icing on the cake.’
For more information about the Bridge Project visit the London Music Masters website at www.londonmusicmasters.com.
This article was originally featured in the May 2011 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.