In my relentless nationwide quest to discover innovative music education, this weekend I found it right under my nose, steps away from my house. With snow and ice all over the streets I was glad to be within walking distance of Morley College, the home of Centre for Young Musicians, London’s alternative Saturday music school (alternative, that is, to the junior departments of the RAM, RCM and so on.) While musical grandees routinely decry the decline of the artform in state schools without, it seems to me, doing anything practical to arrest it, it was a joy to spend the day with CYM’s energetic staff who are able to plug every conceivable gap in anyone’s musical upbringing. Students from all London boroughs are welcomed, with public funding, to study all the orchestral and many other instruments, together with jazz, gamelan, folk, choir (it's compulsory up to Year 9) music theatre, theory.
Judging by the composition class I joined (led by Ehud Freedman) the teaching is accessible, but excellent. Every member of a wide-ranging student group had completed a string quartet movement, all with intense care and I’m sure some difficulty ( I thought as ever, what a challenging medium it is...) An hour later, I was amazed, overcome really, to hear these eight jewel-like pieces performed by student quartets in a polished lunchtime concert. I had to restrain myself from announcing to the assembled parents “just about everything could have gone wrong with this, but instead it turned out perfectly!”
CYM management underlined that ensemble groups, of all kinds, are at the centre of their activities; and after all, why would you learn an instrument, other than to play music with more people ? I had the pleasure of hearing two of CYM’s orchestral ensembles, with the chamber orchestra bravely playing an excerpt from my own Heroic Strokes of the Bow, conducted by the wonderful Peter Ash (pictured). That bold artistic mural seen on the back wall is pure Morley College, typical of the aspirational 'working men and women's college' founded by Emma Cons in 1889. Somehow, with its unpretentious pursuit of professional-level skills, CYM seems to fit in well with that proud tradition.