Children in Need weekend for Gloucestershire announced

Children in Need weekend for Gloucestershire announced

Pro Corda are delighted to announce that we’ll be back in Stonehouse in Gloucestershire early in 2020 within our new set of Children in Need sponsored weekends.

The Gloucestershire weekend will be 28th and 29th March. It will contain all the non-stop music theatre and stage performance action of the other weekends and is for local participants attending for Saturday and Sunday. (Please note this is not a residential weekend.) We are grateful to our Gloucestershire partners, Shrubberies School, for hosting us in March. Shrubberies is in the heart of Stonehouse on Oldends Lane.

We’re also delighted that as a non residential weekend we’re able to make this exciting provision free of charge thanks to our friends at Children in Need. To find out more about our Children in Need weekends and to apply, simply click the button.

A reminder also that our next SUFFOLK Children in Need weekend is 21st – 22nd March 2020 (a residential weekend at Leiston Abbey.)

We’re also in discussion with the BBC about further coverage of our incredible weekend course students as of April next year and following the intensive media coverage of our participants in November. Watch this space for some exciting new BBC related updates!

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Leiston Abbey

Alfred Brendel to host Pro Corda quartet masterclass

Alfred Brendel to host Pro Corda quartet masterclass

We are delighted that one of our star Pro Corda Senior Course quartets has been selected for a prestigious masterclass opportunity with concert pianist legend Alfred Brendel. The Aristeia Quartet – Bella and Max Todes, Hannah Dienes-Williams, and Dominic Stokes – will perform to Brendel in Paris in January.

They will work on Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, which they performed at Pro Corda’s 50th Anniversary Concert at London’s Southbank last month.

Commenting on the quartet’s success, Pro Corda’s CEO Andrew Quartermain said “I am thrilled that Bella, Hannah, Dom and Max will have this opportunity. They are so deserving of it, and I know that their session with Alfred Brendel will be one that stays with them forever. I was lucky enough to be coached by him as a child and his words, humour and inspiration have never left me. And to be coached by Brendel with the backdrop of  Paris – what better?!”

To hear why they’ve been selected, here is a reminder of their Anniversary Concert performance:

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Leiston Abbey

Pro Corda Students on National TV

Pro Corda Students on National TV

Pro Corda’s coverage on the BBC continued on Friday with seven of our outreach students taking a central role within a three-hour live broadcast on BBC Radio Suffolk. Two of our students also featured on the main BBC1 Children in Need special on BBC 1 on Friday evening.

The Radio Suffolk “Pudsey Tea Party” feature included performances from the Greatest Showman and one of our students, Joseph Littlewood, giving an extraordinary live improvisation performance at the piano.

Holly and Shantelle, who also take part in the outreach programme, were then in action during the BBC 1 live Appeals Night for BBC Children in Need appearing on the video wall meeting Music Theatre and Opera stars Michael Ball and Alfie Boe at London’s Gielgud Theatre.

Truly a Pro Corda week to remember!

You can listen to the two segments featuring Pro Corda on BBC Radio Suffolk right here and see a few brilliant photos of the students in action both at the BBC Radio Suffolk Concert and the Gielgud Theatre, London below:

Click the Children in Need link to take you to BBC iPlayer where you can see the Alfie Boe and Michael Ball performance featuring the Pro Corda students at 2:19:00 onwards.

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Leiston Abbey

Our CEO updates the blog from ECMTA

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 Quartermain
CEO & 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?


Pro Corda students on Radio 2 for Children in Need 2019

Pro Corda students on Radio 2

Pro Corda Outreach students Holly and Shantelle had a day and evening in London today that they will never forget. A day that also brought the magic of Pro Corda yet again to national public attention.

Holly and Shantelle are representing Pro Corda in both national TV and radio features in the run up to BBC Children in Need Appeals night this Friday 15th November.

Pro Corda have received regular grants from BBC Children in Need over the last 12 years as our programmes serving children with additional needs and disabilities has grown and grown. Pudsey bear is no stranger to Pro Corda, nor us to him – but Tuesday in London took the relationship yet further!

First it was Holly’s turn. She appeared live on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2, and as part of a Children in Need 24 hour Karaoke-a-thon on the station with presenter Rylan Clark-Neal.

As well as her interview with Jeremy (in which she taught him the difference between a cornet and a trumpet – see the video below!) she also performed live part of a blues piece for cornet – an instrument she has just taken her Grade 7 exam in. You can hear her interview and her performance by listening below.

Holly has been attending our Pro Corda Create Together weekends for the last 2 years and her confidence has blossomed beyond recognition of the girl who first came to us 2 years ago.

Now 16, she is attending College, plays in a local band, and has big plans for her musical future – she also lives and breathes music theatre. As does 11 year old Shantelle, who was one of the incredible soloists in the “Greatest Showman” performance at Pro Corda’s 50th Anniversary Gala Showcase at London’s Southbank in September.

Shantelle joined Holly later on Tuesday for a very special TV feature which we will have to keep you guessing about……It is top secret as it forms part of Friday’s Appeals show, but keep looking at Pro Corda’s web news and social media feeds for the moment where we are able to reveal more about the TV piece, and some very special people Shantelle and Holly met in the process of filming it!

Meanwhile, both Holly and Shantelle will be joined by other Pro Corda outreach students on live radio this Friday. Tune in to BBC Radio Suffolk from 1pm to hear them in action together with Laura Feeney and Andrew Quartermain.

Truly, an incredible week of publicity for Pro Corda and the people who make Pro Corda the incredible music school it is – its students.

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Leiston Abbey

European Chamber Music Teachers’ Conference

Pro Corda hosts Annual European Chamber Music Teachers’ Association Conference

For the second time, Pro Corda is thrilled to be hosting its European partners for the annual conference of the professional body representing chamber music education across Europe.

The European Chamber Music Teachers’ Association (ECMTA) will arrive at Leiston Abbey on Friday 8th November and the weekend will see seminar presentations from internationally famous chamber artists including viola player Simon Rowland Jones and pianist Daniel Tong.

Pro Corda itself will give the welcome and keynote speech to delegates which will be delivered by Laura Feeney, Director of Schools and Outreach Programmes and CEO Andrew Quartermain.

Simon Rowland Jones
Daniel Tong
Laura Feeney
Andrew Quartermain

Commenting on the conference Andrew said “Now is a more important time than ever before to share across borders how we can use the unique and universal powers of chamber music across education. Not just as an instrumental and highly refined musical training, but for the wider benefit of those who can benefit the most from chamber music’s therapeutic qualities of communication, leadership and empathy. As CEO I am absolutely thrilled that our European friends and colleagues will be joining us once again at our beautiful home – the only full time site in Europe dedicated year round to chamber music education.”

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Leiston Abbey

Our CEO kicks off the brand new Pro Corda Blog

Going live with our brand new Pro Corda website is the new Pro Corda blog. I stress this won’t always be by me! Our coaches, course directors, and those involved with Pro Corda’s outreach work will also be scribbling down their thoughts along with the most important people of all – our students.

There will be two common themes which possibly won’t surprise you: Pro Corda and chamber music.

The two are of course one and the same. But, blessed as we are with Leiston Abbey as our permanent home (the only full time site in Europe dedicated to chamber music education) there will be a few blogs about the Abbey. With such an ancient and beautiful site it would seem strange for it not to form an integral part of the Pro Corda story. A story which has now entered an exciting new chapter as we turn the page from the Trust’s 50th Anniversary celebrations and enter Pro Corda’s next half century and all the possibilities that brings.

Andrew Quartermain
CEO & Artistic Director

With such bulky segments of time in mind, I thought I’d make a start in this first article with an equally bulky topic (which arguably can’t be squeezed into a few paragraphs, but I don’t want to keep you from exploring the rest of our new website!) – The Universal Power of Chamber Music.

I write this not with the backdrop of 14 th century Suffolk flint that surrounds my office at the Abbey but with the rather delightful setting of rolling Tuscan hills as my view. A landscape nearly as expansive as the topic of chamber music itself, and a setting that is home this week to members of our Senior and Pro Corda North courses who are taking part in our annual Florence tour. They’ve performed two stunning concerts already this week in environments that will surely leave a life long impression on young minds. One to go at the time of writing before we bid a sad farewell to this incredible place for another year.

Although it’s not our usual year round setting, the excitement and joy of our students this week has formed a timely reminder for me of the very substance of the holy grail of chamber music training. A paradox that has struck me from the moment I took up post as CEO is that chamber music training is anything but what one reading at least of its name might imply. The word chamber as a classical description of social music making that brought people together in fine drawing rooms and supper parties also risks forging a perception to the outside eye of something that is closeted, enclosed, protected, – a “rare breed” of artistic performance even.

Yet surely this most incredible forum of human communication is the polar opposite of a closed door to a confined space. When seen through the ever important context of education, far from a door shut to secure a chamber, it is conversely the same door flung open to a wider world of endless possibility and opportunity.

Pro Corda’s Founders realised this crucial conundrum. Their vision of a music school was not a place just to prepare young instrumentalists for the next chapter of music careers, but rather a place to prepare young human beings for the next chapter of lives.

The skills that a “chamber” training gives do indeed prepare the young musician in a particularly refined way – they have to enter a new level on every front of musical performance. But the truly magical moment comes when the young chamber group is pushed out from the harbour of a week’s coaching and sets sail. There is no conductor. Each player’s unique responsibility to, on the one hand, anchor the performance’s togetherness but on the other, and in equal measure, to take risks and push boundaries is paramount.

In a digital age where we’ve received a hundred electronically generated “3rd party” instructions from a seemingly ever-more distant outside world before we’ve eaten breakfast, chamber music challenges our young to see the reverse. It invokes spontaneity, sensitivity, responsibility taking and proper leadership, empathy, and above all a level of human communication which, in a modern age that arguably should be bringing humankind together via technology and invention, ironically seems to be driving people apart.

Our challenge at Pro Corda, as we enter the next 50 years, is to ensure that the universal educational powers which lie at the heart of chamber music’s gift are made available for all who can benefit from that gift the most – from our core course young musicians to our outreach students (where its specific reach to those with autism will form a blog topic some time very soon.)

As we open the chamber’s door and look out, it seems that wider society needs more than ever before the incredible form of music-making that started life within the comfort inside. We must look outside the chamber to release the true magic of chamber music. The door must stay open!


Florence tour 2019

Pro Corda students in Florence

For the second year, and thanks to the kindness of a very generous sponsor, Pro Corda students have gone on tour during the October half term week to Florence.

This year we are taking members of the Intermediate and Senior courses together with Pro Corda North students.

Working intensively with Pro Corda coaches throughout the week at their Villa, the students will give 3 high profile performances during 5 days – including a concert on 22nd October in the incredible 1,000 year old Church of San Miniato al Monte.

All students attending the fully funded tour have fundraised in lieu of tour fees for both the Leiston Abbey House Refurbishment project and also the Pro Corda North scholarship fund within our new partnership with the ARCO scheme, which will see gifted students from Cape Town come over to our North course each August following successful pilots in 2018 and 2019.


Outreach Director Laura wins Global prize

Outreach Director Laura wins Global prize

Pro Corda’s Director of Outreach and Schools, Laura Feeney, has just been awarded the Hildegard Behrens Foundation Global Humanitarianism Entrepreneurship Prize upon graduating from the Global Leaders Program.

During the nine-month Executive Graduate Certificate in Social Entrepreneurship, Cultural Agency, Teaching Artistry, Civic Leadership, and Organizational Management Laura developed skills to enable her to write a business plan for a SEND music professional development programme.

Laura undertook fieldwork assignments in Chile, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Suriname where she worked with local non-government organisation music programmes. During these placements she taught local students, trained local teachers, analysed business structures, developed new programmes and raised awareness of SEND music through lectures and workshops delivered in each location. Laura also gave a SEND music workshop at the Youth Orchestra of LA National Symposium in July.

The Pro Corda SEND Music professional training will be launching in 2020 as a new development programme within our Outreach delivery to empower school staff to deliver specialist training in SEND schools throughout each term and at the heart of curriculum. You can read more about the Professional Development programme, and contact Laura, by clicking the link below

Inspired by the humanistic legacy of legendary 20th Century dramatic soprano Hildegard Behrens (1937-2009), the annual Hildegard Behrens Foundation Global Humanitarian Entrepreneur Prize recognizes the merit of distinguished Social Enterprise initiatives that take an innovative approach to harnessing the power of music to add value to their communities.

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Create Together - The Vision

Abbey House Fund Pledge Card Appeal

Abbey House Fund Pledge Card Appeal

November will see the start of refurbishment works, and adding of new facilities, to Pro Corda’s main student accommodation – the Abbey Farmhouse at Leiston Abbey. Part Tudor, part Georgian, “Abbey House” has formed a second home to so many hundreds of Pro Cordians since the late 70s when the Trust purchased the site.

These days it forms an artistic and creative home to more students than ever before, and across all sections of society, with Pro Corda running a full time programme of courses throughout the year.

The Abbey House refurbishment forms a central part of Pro Corda’s long term ambitions to develop Leiston Abbey to secure fit for purpose facilities long term for Europe’s only  full time site dedicated to chamber music education.

Much work within this has already been carried out. The Barn Concert Hall re-thatching and timbering, works to the Guesten Hall and 14th century Lady Chapel, a new recording and composition studio.

Our long term dream is new purpose built studios. But first we must see to the student accommodation which lies at the very heart of the Pro Corda experience.

We’ve made a positive start on the fund thanks to several Principal Donors and a range of energetic student fundraising. But there is a long way to go and we must make a start in November.

To this end, we’ve launched a “Pledge Card” appeal to all Pro Corda families. Current course student’s families will have received a specially made CD recorded by CEO Andrew Quartermain in the new Guesten recording studio. Titled “A little gift from Leiston Abbey,” it features works by Haydn, Liszt and Schubert.

All pledge cards returned (and all amounts) will translate into the immediate help we need to make this refurbishment happen, and to full effect.

If you haven’t received the CD (not available in the shops!) and would like one, and to take part in the appeal, please contact Andrew using the form and a pack (including the CD) will be posted to you by return.

All those who take part, together with all those who have already fundraised for Abbey House, will be recorded in a special 50th Anniversary Abbey House book to be produced by the Spring. All supporters of the appeal will also be invited to a special Spring Ball at Leiston Abbey next year to view progress on the house and to come together for a fine social occasion.

Please consider taking part in this appeal – you really will be making an immediate difference for so many hundreds of children, young musicians, those with additional needs who attend our outreach courses, and all the hundreds of current Pro Cordians who call Leiston Abbey House as their home.

Thank you from us all!

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Leiston Abbey