I visited the Purcell School’s composers in a spirit of tribute to their teacher Alison Cox, who has taught at the school for close to thirty years, a remarkable achievement in any job whatever. Alison’s influence on pre-college composition stretches further afield, including the popular Sound and Music Summer School. In her time, composition teaching at the school has become ‘professionalised’ as a first study, on an equal basis with, say, playing the violin. I was greeted with a lot of very able new work – from 11-year old Chelsea Becker and upwards in age. The photo shows a ‘goodness gracious me’ moment looking at Lauren Marshall’s fascinating work, the sun is black, which neatly enfolds Chinese opera, the I Ching and a haiku (in Chinese, which Lauren wrote herself).
The school of around 180 pupils is a bit more British than I supposed (I had expected possibly a more numerous far east cohort in search of the instrumental excellence on offer here) with about 140 students attending under the Government’s only really generous gesture towards music education, the (means tested) Music and Dance Scheme, necessary given that the school’s fees top the table amongst independent schools. Not surprisingly, many parents would love to get their kids in here – the school is alert to this, insisiting that the students themselves should wish to be here and will benefit from a specialist music training in their teens.
Given the extreme deprivation in musical provision in education now, heart-rending in some instances, I’ve begin to feel strongly that our better-endowed teaching institutions have to plug themselves permanently into sharing their musical wealth around the country, and show that their charitable status is justified. So I was very happy to meet a few Purcell students who are managing their own personal outreach projects. My favourite was a duo of young women who call themselves Yr Obo Teithio (The Travelling Oboes.) They are crowdfunding the purchase of a few Junior oboes in collaboration with Howarths (imagine thinking this up, aged 15 or so, and then actually doing it!) which they then lend to young players whose school or local authority doesn’t have instruments to lease. I can’t wait until this remarkable generation of young musicians grows up (not long to wait, I would say, having met some of these very mature-minded people) and take over the profession.