Meet the Team - Mandy

Over the next few weeks we are going to introduce you to some of our amazing team. These are the wonderful people who make Pro Corda the magical institution that it is.

Below you can read their mini-interviews, ask them a question, or tell them how they made your experience of Pro Corda such a special one!

Let’s start with the person who has the LONGEST association with Pro Corda, with family ties going back over 80 years!

Meet Mandy

Who are you?

“Amanda Miller, I’m a mum to 5 grown up boys, I’ve got 2 grandchildren and 2 more on the way due within days of each other”

What do you do?

“I do cooking and I’m also head of gardening (not at the same time!)”

How long have you been involved with Pro Corda?

“I’ve worked here over 20 years but Pro Corda is in my blood. My Auntie worked here over 40 years ago, and my mum worked here over 80 years ago when the Abbey was run by nuns. My mum was only 14 at the time!”

Tell us one thing you love about Pro Corda?

“Working with Natalia, and she didn’t pay me to say that! She brought in so many positive changes to the kitchen and our menus, and I’m so happy to be working with her. We have so much fun!”

What’s your favourite memory about your time with Pro Corda?

“I loved it when we had the team from Dig Ventures here. They were all camped out on site and I loved making them their bacon butties in the morning”

What’s the best concert you have ever been to?

“MUD! I was 17 and I went and saw them in Felixstowe. Luckily, I was dating someone who had a car which was handy because I got to see them twice!”

We hope you have enjoyed learning something about our incredible team.

If you would like to ask them a question, or tell them how they made your experience of Pro Corda such a special one then please leave your comment below. We will try and get back to you as soon as we can.

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Chamber Music Courses
Leiston Abbey

A Sanctuary born in lockdown

Early April 2020 was a strange time for us all. The greatest challenges of the pandemic were yet to come for many of us of course. Then it was more about the shock. The suddenness of the recently announced lockdown. Would it be a fortnight, a month, 2 months? Would this thing still be with us by the summer? Christmas even? (I doubt many of us were thinking then of whether covid Plan B regulations would or wouldn’t be in place for Christmas 2021!)

For me personally, and the Pro Corda team, that strange period was about working up a plan to make sure Pro Corda courses could come back in as soon as possible, and meanwhile putting as much of Pro Corda online as we could. Our Outreach students by then were already “dialling in” several times per week and “Pro Corda@Home” was about to launch for our chamber course students. I often found myself in the Guesten Hall alone recording material for those various weekly sessions and, as I sat at the Guesten Yamaha grand during those long days and evenings, it just seemed natural to start putting out some piano podcasts. Initially these were designed to be for our community concert audiences (whose regular concerts with us were on pause along with everything else in person at that time.) Some wider members of the Pro Corda community started to tune in, and we even got listeners from as far as Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and the States. It was also very touching that many of them wrote in wanting to know more about the Abbey and the ancient place they were tuning into each week.

I had to come up with a name for the podcasts and “Piano Sanctuary” literally just popped into a slightly cluttered mind at that stage. But then I thought of another Pro Corda group whose programme with us had been put on hold by the pandemic. Twice a year, since 2006, we have hosted two “Adult Piano” weekends each year. Initially often the parents of Pro Corda students, the weekends began to gather their own pace – each a combination of music course and weekend break in the country (washed down with house wine and great Abbey homely cuisine!) “Adult Piano” was another title which popped into the mind at the time – and not a great one… It always seemed overly functional!

Somehow the concept of “Sanctuary” seemed to chime with what those weekends had always been about, but what those who came on them (together with many of those now tuning into the podcasts) wanted from the piano, what they wanted from music in general, and what they wanted from Leiston Abbey.

As the constant twists and turns of the pandemic and its lockdowns rolled on, Piano Sanctuary seemed to grow in a natural and organic way. When we restarted courses, and although it wasn’t the month when we would usually host one of the twice yearly “Adult Piano” weekends, it seemed only natural to schedule a long weekend for adult pianists – and call it the Piano Sanctuary Retreat. Word got around, with more new people enquiring about “The Sanctuary” and so why not schedule one the next month too… and so on. Meanwhile, some of those overseas listeners wrote about their own piano journeys, and so the Sanctuary online courses were born.

18 months on we now have over 100 Pro Corda Piano Sanctuary online participants (taking either the “Starter” or “Adventure” five lesson course) and from 12 different countries including the UK. The Retreats are monthly (but for August) and we’re about to launch the “Piano Sanctuary Secrets” events regionally – part piano recital, part social gathering – but all with a twist!

It truly became one of those journeys born out of the bleakness of lockdown that led to a colourful kaleidoscope of different possibilities and as ever it’s the people that make these things. I am so grateful for the incredible range of human beings I’ve met on the monthly retreats and on the online courses. Now a fully fledged subsidiary of Pro Corda, there is so much going on at Piano Sanctuary and it can all be found at www.pianosanctuary.co.uk

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Chamber Music Courses
Leiston Abbey

Launching the Pro Corda Academy

With the new school year firmly under way, Pro Corda is so excited about its brand new programme for schools nationwide soon to launch, and we’re busy piloting it behind the scenes!

Pro Corda Academy has one overriding mission – to take the magic of chamber music training to new schools, new students, and new geographical areas.

One thing we find at Pro Corda on every single day of every single Pro Corda course – whatever the programme, from the core chamber courses to our outreach residentials – is that chamber music goes so far beyond developing the young musician. As our two Founders understood well (and it was at the heart of their mission) chamber music develops the whole young person. It develops that person’s sense of social being, their friendships, the way they interact, the way they negotiate, the way they lead others – and lead others with sensitivity and understanding. As our world seems more under pressure than ever, surely these are human qualities that are needed now more than ever.

So Pro Corda Academy truly is a mission, just like our outreach programme for additional educational needs was when we launched it 16 years ago, and is now – with as much urgency and need. In many respects Pro Corda Academy does something very similar. It takes the core principles of chamber music and adapts them for new groups, but always dialling back to those core areas of human development.

With the Academy, we will be working with schools, music hubs and others to focus on rural and coastal poverty areas where music provision often lags behind other parts of the country. We will use creative ensemble techniques to reinvigorate the reality (across many areas of the educational establishment) of shared instrumental learning – getting students not only excited about their new instrumental journey, but also that journey within an ensemble context.

We are thrilled to be starting one of our pilot projects for the Academy programme immediately after half term with our friends and neighbours at the Alde Valley Academy – right here by Leiston Abbey on the Suffolk coast! We’ll also be starting to film a series of professional training films to adjoin the Academy project with Cyrus media, alongside working with partners in Hull and the South West in the coming few months, before expanding to further areas in the new year. A London launch event will take place in early April and the whole programme will be ready for full launch in time for the September 2022 new school year.

The Academy is already being supported by our friends at John Lewis and the Reinhardt Trust, as well as several private donors and part of the pilot project will of course be to spread the word widely about the Academy’s mission and the results it can achieve.

This will be a major new Pro Corda journey, so watch this space for lots more to come on the PCA!

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Chamber Music Courses
Leiston Abbey

Activities Unlimited students back together again!

Activities Unlimited weekend 15th - 16th May 2021

"A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make"

Pro Corda’s outreach staff and students had their biggest dream come true last weekend, being together again for a magical musical weekend exploring The Greatest Showman. Pro Corda flung open the doors of Leiston Abbey to welcome back 15 lucky outreach students for its first residential musical weekend since February 2020.

The young people celebrated their individuality through dance, drama, music and singing & signing. Pro Corda coaches were dazzled with stunning vocal performances, fluid dance routines and original arrangements of songs from the show. There was also a strong focus on mental health and well-being, taking inspiration from the theme of nature inspired by Mental Health Awareness week.

“They are amazing and have really made my confidence way better and they all are very kind to everyone. I love my Pro Corda family.”

 

– Activities Unlimited Student

The eagerly anticipated return performance of The Greatest Showman from Pro Corda’s All-Star outreach cast was a wonderful reminder of the last time they were last performing together at the Southbank in London. Like all West End performances returning to theatres this month, this show was the biggest and best yet.

Watch out world – Pro Corda’s outreach students are back with a bang!

And as an extra special treat one of our incredible students recorded their very own arrangement of Tightrope. Thank you to the amazing Joseph. You can watch his performance right here:

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Chamber Music Courses
Leiston Abbey

Fabulous February Fundraiser

Thank you for all your support with Pro Corda’s Fabulous February Fundraiser!

Our friends at the DM Thomas Charitable Trust (the charitable arm of Hilton hotels and a long time sponsor of Pro Corda’s Create Together programme) had donated THREE incredible Hilton experiences to be won in the prize draw. Lots of people donated VERY generously and the prizes have now been announced!!! Read on for more details…

Our STAR prize was

A two night break for two adults
at the Hilton Lake Como in Italy!!

once all travel restrictions are lifted and it’s safe to travel abroad.

We have also given away:

A two night indulgent spa weekend for two adults
in a King Deluxe room at London's Syon Park Hotel
A two night bed and breakfast stay for two adults
at Puckrup Hall Golfing Resort in Tewkesbury
A Piano Sanctuary course of your choice for yourself or a friend
A gourmet hamper from Friday Street, Suffolk

The Pro Corda magic has reached some of the most disadvantaged and isolated young people during lockdown and, thank to your help, it will continue to do so.

The Fabulous February Fundraiser has been pivotal to allowing us to sustain the “dual Pro Corda” this year and keep our programmes online while bringing all our courses and programmes back in-person too. We needed your help to continue this amazing work for all our online provision from Create Together, Wherever! to ProCorda@home. And you delivered!

Every penny raised will allow Pro Corda’s online programmes to keep going throughout lockdown and remain free to access.

Thank you for your generosity!

 

The draw has now taken place in the famous “Greatest Showman” hat and the winners have been announced on the Piano Sanctuary on Air podcast. Click through to hear all the excitement and find out if you’re a lucky winner!!!

To have a chance of winning one of these stunning prizes:

Fill in the form here with your name, contact details and your donation to the vital lockdown work of Pro Corda.

The deadline for entries has been extended to 11.59am on Saturday 13th February 2021

The lucky winners will be drawn out of the “Greatest Showman Hat” live on a special edition of “Piano Sanctuary On Air” podcast which will be live on the Pro Corda website or our Live at the Abbey soundcloud page at 4pm on Sunday 14th February.

THANK YOU!

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Chamber Music Courses
Leiston Abbey

Pro Corda Festival 2021 Update

Pro Corda will still be running its national schools’ festival this year.

We understand that many schools will not have students in for at least this half of term, and many groups within home learning are unable to rehearse. We will therefore work with all our entrant schools to offer a flexible chamber masterclass and creative workshop series to suit schools. This can be offered online or in person as regulations ease. It means the Festival is kept alive this year, at a time when the social and educational powers of chamber music are needed more than ever before.

However, for this year, the festival will be non competitive. All that we do this school year within the festival – both this term and next – will provide a great foundation for a really exciting Chamber Music Festival in its usual format in Spring 2022.

Some of the amazing performers at the 2020 festival

How will it work in 2021?

For this year’s festival we need to conform to all current government guidelines. With most students out of schools for at least this half-term we are therefore offering our entrant schools an exciting flexible online Chamber Music Masterclass Series and creative workshop series to suit school.

These live online masterclasses can be booked as day or half-day events as your Chamber Music Festival experience in 2021. All masterclass groups will receive a Pro Corda Chamber Music Festival certificate signed by our Patron, Julian Lloyd Webber.

Crucially, the online masterclasses can be opened up to further students within your department. Given the restrictions on rehearsals, maybe your chamber ensemble isn’t quite there yet for full performance or you have younger/less advanced students and want to introduce them to the magic of chamber music – we will be using special creative ensemble improvisation techniques for this. Leading international chamber artists will lead the masterclasses which will be broadcast live to your school from our stunning 14th Century Guesten Hall and “Pro Corda Live” studio at Leiston Abbey.

If you have any questions about the Chamber Music Festival please do contact our CEO, Andrew Quartermain through via the form below.

We look forward to working with you in 2021!

Pro Corda Festival Judge Laura Feeney
with 2019 winners

The Pro Corda Festival is the only national festival to exclusively promote and celebrate chamber music within schools. It is available to all instrumental ensembles between three and nine players. The festival is a fantastic annual celebration of chamber music education in the UK. It has become a prestigious event with many schools being eager to be involved.

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Chamber Music Courses
Leiston Abbey

Piano Sanctuary - a film

Click on our short film to get the true flavour of Piano Sanctuary. A very special place, a unique programme , and tailor made for each adult learner’s wishes and desired outcomes; Piano Sanctuary really does offer something for everyone…..

To find our more about Piano Sanctuary, our Online Courses, Retreats and Podcasts please click the button. From there you can also get in touch and get involved. We look forward to seeing you soon!

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Chamber Music Courses
Leiston Abbey

Leading the Way - a film

Please enjoy this beautiful film, made possible by the Max Reinhardt Trust and produced by Veronica Reinhardt and Graham Maughan. Filmed throughout the 6th of our summer chamber series it tells not only the story of the magic of Pro Corda, but the very special coming together once again of our incredible family of students after lockdown. The film really does speak for itself and will hopefully resonate with all who are part of Pro Corda, and many who are not yet.

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Chamber Music Courses
Leiston Abbey

BBC Children in Need & our Virtual Theatre

BBC Children in Need have been at the heart of enabling Pro Corda’s sustained “Create Together, Wherever!” digital programme for our many students with special needs over lockdown. Families, parents and siblings have been at the heart of this programme. Pro Corda Create Together has always been rooted in the whole family and working with parents and carers, and the lockdown period obviously brought this network of constant communication and sharing closer together still.

Our families were constantly telling us how the online provision was a lifeline at the time when so many resources for children and young adults with additional needs were cut off – and not least many of their schools and colleges.

The BBC asked us to start filming and producing video diaries to chart this journey, and have put these together in a poignant film they have shared across BBC and Pudsey social media. Alongside the coverage Pro Corda regularly receives from BBC Radio (with a BBC London feature next week for example) and also our coverage on BBC Look East, this films adds to the range of films charting Pro Corda’s work across all its programmes during the national crisis.

Watch the BBC film here:

Our relationship with Pudsey himself goes back over 15 years, when our programme for special educational needs first started. As Children in Need itself celebrates 40 years this November, we are so grateful for all the financial help the BBC have given Create Together since its inception, and the belief the BBC has placed in our unique work in this area which itself lies at the heart of Pro Corda.

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Chamber Music Courses
Leiston Abbey

The return of Chamber Music - on every level!

One of the things that struck me the most during the revised summer course season was just how powerful and needed the emotional togetherness of chamber music is right now. As our summer course students returned after nearly 6 months away from their schools and the familiar structures of their normal lives, the feeling of togetherness was palpable, the connection within their ensembles electric, the joy on their faces magical.

Pro Corda’s summer courses also demonstrated another crucial practical fact at this ongoing time of national crisis (with new government regulations coming into force at the very moment I write this.) Chamber music coaching and performance is safe. It can be done in a suitably distanced way that does not impact the physical togetherness of the group. Its coaching can be no less engaged and invigorating, and its educational impact can be no less profound.

Andrew Quartermain
CEO & Artistic Director

We are of course lucky at Leiston Abbey with the larger teaching spaces we have. But we want now to work with all our partner schools and others because small ensemble instrumental performance is something that can resound once again in classrooms and school halls across the country – just as it is already at Leiston Abbey – with risk properly mitigated, and educational and artistic results once again enlivened in a way which just cannot not (and will never be able to be) done online.

That is why we now go full steam ahead. Ensuring safety for all will be our number one priority at all times. But we must continue to bring each and every Pro Corda course and programme back in person and we will.

Some of this summer’s participants enjoying our lockdown courses and concerts

The chamber courses have returned, and our full programme announced for 2020-21 is now live. Our London Saturday School “Young String Experience” returns in October. Also in October we’ll see our first outreach workshops – all built on the core principles of chamber music – back in person. Here we continue to deliver a full programme online (which can be done very successfully) and to ensure we reach ALL our outreach students, including those we cannot bring back together in one space right now.

So as ever its about being adaptable, spontaneous, and imaginative – all the things chamber music teaches us! During lockdown I wrote about Pro Corda’s principle of taking chamber music out of the chamber. To unleash its potent properties on ALL in society who can benefit the most from them. The pandemic has propelled us to do that all the more. Both at Leiston Abbey and across the country – and watch this space for a brand new national Pro Corda schools programme to be announced.

But now is also the time to be safely back “in the chamber” where we can as well. In larger safe spaces meeting together once again in person to experience the thrill of the emotional togetherness chamber music brings at a time when we are still forced significantly apart via national rules. I will never forget as long as I live the joy on the faces of our students this last summer. That must be just the beginning of our journey to use chamber music as a healing tool and an instigating force for good not just in the music world, not even just in the education world, but in society in general.