Last weekend we welcomed our European partners to Leiston Abbey for the annual conference of the European Chamber Music Teachers’ Association. “ECMTA” might not trip snappily off the tongue but this umbrella group representing chamber coaching throughout the continent has grown considerably over recent years and I’m thrilled that Pro Corda, as the foremost UK provider, has taken on a leading role.

We hosted the annual conference for the first time in 2017 when a variety of tangible long lasting results came through – including “EarSense” – a new international online chamber music library – developed by an American musician with strong tech interest, but possibly somehow fitting that its seed was planted at Leiston Abbey, a place where just about every note of the chamber repertoire has been heard at some point or other!

Andrew QuartermainCEO & Artistic Director

Last weekend was to be no exception with seminars from the likes of Simon Rowland Jones and the Endellion’s Andrew Watkinson. As the first delegates from 7 different countries arrived at the Abbey on a cold November night, the Guesten Hall immediately sprang to life with a more philosophical and universal tone and key questions for the weekend.

Key Questions for the Weekend
  • Why do we do what we do?
  • How do we make chamber music education relevant for all of society?
  • And if we think it is something that can have an incredible relevance across society and education, how do we breakdown the walls of the “chamber” and take this form of music making out to new territories?
  • And finally, if we think we should be taking it to new territories how do we equally ensure we are preparing the next generation of chamber music teachers who will be receiving a baton whose flame we want to burn ever brighter?

One of the great things about a residential conference is of course the informal discussions over lunches and dinners (and besides, how could anything that happens at Pro Corda not have food as a central aspect?!)

During informal discussions to debate the answers to the above questions, social themes far away from the performance platform and the teaching studio kept cropping up. For example, chamber music’s core ingredients of celebrating the uniqueness of individual personality within the context of a cohesive and refined social grouping. It is hard to escape the microcosmic thought that surely this human and social equation is more relevant than ever in an international society where globalisation, that on paper should have brought humankind more together, has seemingly driven us apart. A world where we can fly to across the globe in a day but where we seemingly struggle to reach out to our nearest neighbours.

It was this dual personality of chamber music that we kept coming back to last weekend. If chamber music was just about grouped togetherness would its message be unique beyond a more cliched theme that teamwork and working well with others is good? But when we factor in the way chamber music exposes – in such an intrinsic and exciting way – the individual voice within an ensemble, while at the same time bringing those voices together, surely we have something so much more enriching to play with.

And then to the nuts and bolts. If we really believe these things how can we play our part in making other people believe them?

Can we do that by just coaching advanced quartets and trios?

Can we do it by just working with those from the same social backgrounds?

Can we do it without addressing the complications of generational cycles – namely the same groups of people so much more likely than other groups to be exposed to this wonderful form of music making?

And if the answer to those questions is a resounding “no”, then how do we adapt our approaches and missions?

It could never of course be possible to be definitive in answers to these things in one weekend. But I genuinely feel we did push some exciting boundaries with our European friends last weekend.

We explored creative non-repertoire teaching techniques, we heard a presentation from Pro Corda’s own Laura Feeney about chamber music’s pivotal relevance within autism and additional educational needs. We had a representative from the Global Leader’s Programme joining us to share his experiences working with diverse cultures; and crucially through it all we tried not to forget that in making something more relevant you should aim never to take away its core ingredients. Of course our mission must in equal measure serve those advanced quartets and trios. But if we just do that, can we truly say we have taken chamber music out of the chamber?