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Thirty years of CoMA

Thirty years of CoMA ! For anyone who doesn't know, CoMA is Contemporary Music for All, and not a profound state of unconsciousness (though maybe sometimes.) Chris Shurety founded the organisation in 1993 because, as an adult learner violinist, he was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to play new music, and didn't see a way to do that in the established amateur orchestras who mostly preferred to play through the classics - which has been my experience also.

For the first ever residential CoMA course at Wortley Hall near Sheffield, Chris hit a nerve with his idea, linking enthusiastic spare-time performers with composers and other performing artists who enjoyed workshopping and improvisation, following the tradition of Cornelius Cardew and John Cage.

Invited to say a few words during the 30th anniversary celebratory weekend, I recalled that as a tutor on the first course (I am pictured in the historic Wortley Hall photo above) I saw the whole thing take off like a rocket, which has never yet touched down. Even through long periods of almost no funding, or none at all, the spirit and practice of CoMA has continued via volunteers, and there are now loyal groups around the UK and in Europe. Several helpful volumes of CoMA compositions (two of them for voices) are in publication, and I can testify that the 'open score' format, which allows totally variable instrumentation, means that the pieces can be played or sung by almost anyone, anywhere.

Unusually after a "XX Years of..." occasion, the future looks even brighter than the past. Chris Shurety, totally deserving his retirement, has been succeeded by Tamara Kohler, and CoMA has recently been granted that elusive holy grail, 3-year funding by ACE. Several of us olde-tyme musicians, in our short speeches, remarked on the fact that CoMA, so long a somewhat 'underground' entity to many in the musical profession, has now been identified as a model for others to follow, in its focus on creativity and public participation.





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