Summer Schools

John Robert Brown

Do you like the idea of organising a summer school? Have you ever thought of setting up a short course of your own? Do you dream of a summer spent teaching in a stunning rural location? If so, where do you start?

To speak to the experienced musicians and administrators behind popular summer schools, whether it's a matter of identifying a gap in the market, targeting publicity, choosing a location, finding teachers, or building on success, a consensus emerges. But first, whatever else one concludes, basic choices have to be made.

'Get somebody else to do it!' says saxophonist Richard Ingham, referring to administration, 'I make a point of dealing only with the music.' Ingham, who directs many summer schools, is in great demand.

'There was a point when I was doing ten a year,' he says. 'Each year I do two at Alston Hall, Lancashire. I do another two, one jazz and one saxophone, at Knuston Hall in Northamptonshire, which are already booked for August 2007. I also do one at Malhamdale, Yorkshire, and one in France, in the Charente-Maritime, a privately run event in which an English quartet gets together in a chateau. They hire me to coach them.'

Ingham also coaches on a wind quintet course in Harrogate, directed by Tony Turrill. 'People enrol to make up complete wind quintets, so you have the same numbers of flutes, oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, with a couple of extras,' says Ingham. 'Strings come in, and there's a pianist, so there is diversity. The flute coach is Ken Smith, principal with the Philharmonia. On this one, people come back,' says Ingham. 'The hardest thing is to set one up from nothing, because you have to go out and grab your market.'

Starting from nothing was the experience of Stuart Angel. Backed by the Yorkshire retailer Windstruments, with peripatetic teachers Margaret Humphreys and Christine Lorriman, Angel has run a flute course for seven years. More recently Lisa Nelsen joined the team, as well as Paul Edmund-Davies, co-principal of the Philharmonia. Angel now runs a single-reed course, as well.

'The first venue we used was Howarth Youth Hostel,' says Angel. 'We had uncomfortable bunk beds, and beds with plastic sheets on them! We started with fifteen people. Initially the feeling was that there wasn't anything going on in Yorkshire for flute players,' he says. His aim was to offer the chance of working with teachers of high calibre without the expense of travelling to London or Scotland. 'We wanted to keep it affordable. This year, for a five-day course, we're up to £300 for full board and everything. A lot of courses, you look at them and think: 'That's absolutely fantastic.' Then you look at the figure and it's six or seven hundred pounds for the week. For families, especially if they have a lot of children, it's just out of reach.'

'Once you're over £400, people look much harder at it. This year, 2006, was the sixth flute course. We had 44 people, including some from Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Greece, and America. So it's a local course, but has this international flavour.

'Paul Edmund-Davies has taken flute classes all over the world. That's how the overseas students are recruited. We've got one little girl who attended a class with Paul for a day in Hong Kong. Her mother was so impressed by him that she's flown her daughter over for the last two years to study with him for an extra week.'

A major choice is whether to lighten the organisational load by using a college or conservatoire, where a marketing department can spread the word. Among other reasons this is why Victoria Soames Samek, artistic director of the Clarinet Classics record label, chose Bath Spa University as a venue. Concentration is on the psychology of performance, together with the performer's platform manner and effective performance preparation. Samek explains: 'People have the opportunity to confront the issue, then get back in the saddle to do it again.'

'In our third year we have found an ideal home at Bath Spa University which has a beautiful concert hall, the Tippett Centre, with state-of-the-art facilities. All the concerts are recorded. Every participant receives a copy of a CD on which each student is heard. The Centre, set in lovely grounds, has lots of rehearsal space. There are two levels of accommodation, with three levels of prices. We keep it under £400, for six nights, five full days. We have two full-time pianists. There is a minimum requirement of Grade VI. Our youngest has been 13 years old, the oldest 66. Last year we had 38 students, including students from South Africa and Holland. We recruit mostly by word of mouth,' says Samek, 'And word does spread!'

Where a summer school requires expensive equipment, a conservatoire or university department is a favourite choice. Leeds College of Music runs several courses in scratch DJ and music technology, offering facilities that would be impossible to find in country house locations. Similarly, for a course requiring a number of pianos, a conservatoire or university music department is ideal. David Quigley is the artistic director of the Birmingham International Piano Academy at Birmingham Conservatoire, where the facilities include two concert halls, teaching studios with high quality grand pianos, and over fifty practice studios.

'I was a student in Birmingham, then did my postgraduate study in Paris and Budapest," says Quigley. 'In the summer months things seemed to quieten down in Birmingham, in terms of classical concerts. Birmingham is such a central spot, with the wonderful Symphony Hall, and the Conservatoire with all the facilities there, and it's lying empty during the summer.'

'We held the first Piano Academy in 2005. In terms of advertising and marketing, the Conservatoire has been very helpful. Last year we had 27 students. Besides the UK and Ireland, we had students from Turkey, Korea, China, Russia, Poland, Spain, three North Korean girls. We don't want to make it a massive school, it works very well for us to have thirty to forty students. We don't have any age limit, but we ask for a minimum of Grade VIII standard of performance. We have good names to give master classes, in which all the students play. Last year our youngest students were two seventeen year-olds. There is no upper age limit - it's all based on performing standards. Peter Donohoe is our regular, we have Dmitri Alexeev from Russia, and from Paris we have Brigitte Engerer, who was one of my teachers at the Paris Conservatoire and a major name in France and Russia

'We also have the Conservatoire piano staff: John Humphries, Robert Marken, Phillip Martin, Victor Sangiorgio and Malcolm Wilson. Students stay at Lakeside Residences in the city centre. Last year we charged £575 for the week, inclusive. There are tiers within that.'

Richard Ingham, thoughtful as ever, offers a summary of organisational priorities: 'Know what you are aiming to do,' he says. 'Try to get someone to do all the administration, but liaise with them. Administrators should check the venue, its suitability, its catering capabilities, and the potential for social activities.' Soundproofing between rooms, and the quality and design of chairs (upright, no arms), should also be considered. The event should be planned with a long lead time. 'Don't get caught out here,' he warns.

Ingham also lists the targeting of advertising, the banking of income and the paying of all bills for the venue, tutors and administration, as items to be planned. 'Tutors should bear much of the responsibility for making sure everyone gets their money's worth. They should be present for informal feedback, be interested in everyone, know what they are doing, and have a big library of music,' he says. 'Have musical plans A and B ready, but many more up your sleeve.

Then - provided that you aim for every session to achieve something, that you incorporate some kind of concert where everyone plays, and keep pressure minimal - your summer school should succeed. Good luck!

First published by Rhinegold Publishing in a music summer schools supplement, January 2007. Used by permission.
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