Sunday saw the conclusion of a truly extraordinary Pro Corda National Chamber Music Festival for Schools.

There has possibly never been a more important time for our National Festival (the only festival of its kind celebrating chamber music in schools across UK) to make a come back. In terms of the full festival, it was the first since 2019. In 2020 we so nearly got there, but with the pandemic’s seriousness becoming ever more apparent in early March that year we didn’t quite make it to the national finals. In January to March 2021 we were mid lockdown. A few schools had managed to get enough groups together for masterclass days but the Festival didn’t really operate beyond that.

Some of the amazing performers at the 2022 festival

This year covid was no less apparent with upwards of 60% of the participating ensembles impacted by absences due to the virus (not to mention most of the adjudicators!) But through multiple reschedules we all found our way through qualifying and semi-final rounds full of excitement and anticipation – and arriving at a Finals day like no other at Millfield School on Sunday. It seemed fitting that the perfect chamber acoustic of Millfield’s Hall and the inspirational surrounding countryside formed the backdrop to a Finals that seemed to speak so powerfully about why chamber music’s come back in schools is so crucial right now.

The incredible standard from such a diverse range of ensembles was a joy to witness in itself. But chamber music in schools performs two critical functions beyond just high standard music making right now – both functions on such moving display at this year’s finals.

It was science not music that got society through the pandemic, but for our festival participant students across the country it was the ever-nurturing togetherness of chamber music which formed such social nourishment after such prolonged periods of remote learning and loneliness.

But further to that, we couldn’t have predicted when planning the Festival’s post-pandemic return that its first full Finals for three years would coincide with a new international crisis – this time a manmade one. And here, the wider social remits of chamber music and its powerful educational resonances have more compelling voice than ever. For, surely, it is education which will, long-term, be our weapon against evil and conflict in this world. And within education could there not be a better lesson in the values of human togetherness and diversity, of social responsible leadership and compassionate team work in equal measure, than chamber music.

Our Chamber Champions 2022

As we witnessed such high standard on Sunday, it was these wider educational resonances that truly echoed. With this it must always be our shared mission to ensure chamber music thrives in every school music department, including the many where it does not yet. This is where our new Pro Corda Academy scheme comes in – lots more of that to come. And it was thrilling to witness the winners of this year’s Chamber Music Festival Finals trophy collect their award – a new partner school for Pro Corda… the City Foundation Boys School – a state school serving 51% pupil premium students and just starting their chamber music journey. They, like all our participants this year, showed us on Sunday that there is truly hope for the future.

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