The English Music Festival is about much more than a four- or five-day festival in Oxfordshire: we are committed to bringing this wonderful music to other audiences of all ages, raising public awareness of it and seeking to re-establish it in the concert repertoire. This is the philosophy behind our record label, EM Records, and our newly established publishing house, EM Publishing. However, an important part of our work in this direction lies in education – giving young people the opportunity to hear the music the EMF promotes, to learn its background and its place in European and American musical history, to discuss it, and to play it; and, in the process, to deepen their understanding and appreciation of a genre that is often sidelined and overlooked.
Our first Festival, in October 2006, was preceded by a Joint Schools Concert hosted by Radley College, which featured exceptional performances of some of the finest English music by students from a number of Oxfordshire schools. It was a fantastic opening to the Festival, attended by an enthusiastic audience. Music featured ranged from renaissance dance movements and Purcell’s moving Music For a While through to Malcolm Arnold’s Shanties for Wind Quintet.
At the 2008 Festival the educational element continued when Festival Director Em Marshall gave an assembly to the local primary school in Dorchester, St Birinus, on Holst’s Planets. It was warmly received by the children and she, in turn, was greatly impressed by the knowledge, enthusiasm and interest of her young audience.
New educational project
For the 2012 Festival, we are embarking upon a new project: a series of talks in Oxfordshire schools to introduce young people to, or to enhance their awareness of, the music the EMF promotes. We have been successful in obtaining funding for the scheme which means that these talks and workshops can be delivered at no cost to the participating schools; and, as an added result of this funding, the EMF is able to make a certain number of free tickets to its concerts available to students who are interested in attending. Wherever possible, the subject of a workshop ties in with the students’ current studies, in order to enhance its relevance; but, otherwise, we offer an overview of British composers and the genre of English music, thus broadening the students’ perspective on musical history.
This educational project is one on which we especially keen to build and we hope that the workshops in schools we are holding this May, during the weeks leading up to the Festival itself, will become the start of a larger-scale project which will continue throughout the year; hopefully, in the longer-term, including the establishment of a Summer or Easter School, which would include talks, workshops, masterclasses, and concerts, involving some of the world-class artists who appear at the Festival.