When I drive to work each day right now and I arrive at an empty Abbey House and Guesten Hall, I am reminded of my first personal memory of Pro Corda’s magical site. I was 12 and was walking through what we now all know as the coded door to Abbey house for the first time as a young pianist, apprehensive yet so excited about what lay ahead on the Junior course.

I remember the smell of mashed potato as I walked in! (In those days the Guesten Hall hadn’t quite been built and we used to eat our meals in what are now the common room and the library – some particularly strict course matrons at the time dividing girls and boys in each eating space much to our polite disdain…. )

And, of course, by that first evening on my first ever Pro Corda course, my memories are of an excited mosaic of people coming together in a uniquely beautiful space, new lifelong friendships forming, new incredible music discovered, and creativity oozing out of every beam, crevice (and rabbit hole…..) That was the evening I discovered what chamber music was.

Andrew QuartermainCEO & Artistic Director

And so it was that up to mid March 2020 the same hustle and bustle of artistry and friendship bound together by Pro Corda’s unique education characterised each and every week at Leiston Abbey. Our most recent course season this year had been one I didn’t know back then as a child – our term time courses and weekends for children and young adults with additional needs and disabilities. We had just hosted one of our longest standing partner schools – the Shrubberies from Gloucestershire – who had staged a sparkling performance of “Mulan” in the Upper Guesten and had had their week full of friendship, discovery and creativity (and on at least one day that same smell of mash I remember walking into that very first day all those years ago!)

Our activity immediately before the national crisis was in fact off site – the biggest Pro Corda schools festival to date had run it semi – final rounds across the UK during the first 2 weeks of March and Laura, Katy and I were in Brighton on 14th March ready to go with the National Finals day on the 15th which then had to be cancelled at the last minute. The last actual Pro Corda live event pre-crisis was the Friday prior, a memorable reception at the 1901 Arts Club in London.

Some of the amazing performers at this year’s Pro Corda festival

Over a month on there is of course a sadness to the Abbey’s stillness I drive into each day. We should by now have had the annual joy of the Easter Primary and Junior courses, further schools bookings, SEN weekends, and an archaeological group from Cambridge University coming to stay with us to discover yet more about our site’s rich history.

All of this will return. As readers know there is a firm mitigation plan in place, all courses are to be rescheduled (not cancelled,) and I am already working proactively on our route back to “normal” delivery via the revisions we, like everyone, will need to make in our daily practices – from social distancing to aspects of course structure to ensure everyone’s safety and good health. And it goes without saying we will not press play on all of this until it is absolutely safe to do so. Some aspects of our programmes will take longer than others. Our dinner concerts for our ever growing local public audiences may take longer to bring back for example, but they too will be re-programmed at the earliest opportunity.

But meanwhile, I notice two other important things about the Abbey right now.

Its unique energy, while its walls have indeed temporarily fallen silent, is in fact buzzing more than ever to inspire the Pro Corda team to rise to the challenge of delivering the Pro Corda magic to those who need it the most (and in fact a growing number of users.)

Laura Feeney has been busy each week preparing our Virtual Theatre performances each Sunday for our students with additional needs (plus weekly instrumental, vocal and creative workshops.)

Annabel Thwaite has been preparing “Pro Corda@home” which launches on May 1 st for our core course students.

“YSE@home” also launches next month for our London Saturday school young string players.

The concert and chat podcasts coming out of the Guesten Hall are reaching many who are completely isolated (including the elderly) and – like all the above – are in fact growing our audience of each Pro Corda stream we currently put out in this way.

And then there is something else rather special that I feel from our beloved Abbey right now. That it is itself, as well as inspiring us to do more than ever, charging its own batteries of therapeutic energy within the flints of the ruins, the beams of Abbey house, and the rafters of the Barn, Chapel, and Guesten Hall; so that it is ready to welcome back the larger-than-ever Pro Corda family through its caring gates once again as soon as we are able to all come back together – and for the very best version of Pro Corda and Leiston Abbey we have ever known.

I wish you and your families good health and safety, and I look forward to seeing you soon