The Wandering Minstrels

Primary schools project 2013-2014 supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

We believe that children should be given access to live high-quality classical music experiences at the earliest opportunity. Our ‘Wandering Minstrels’ team of gifted musicians devised a programme of workshops designed to enthral children of all ages and involve them in exploring the world of music and its impact on our lives.

'I now know how a harpsichord works and more importantly I know what it is!'

The workshops explored the nature of music performed in the Georgian and Victorian eras, putting it into its social context. The children were given the opportunity to develop their vocal skills, and also gain a deeper understanding of the study of sound through a detailed account of the workings of instruments such as the cello and harpsichord. The children all learnt the basic steps of the minuet, with harpsichord accompaniment.

The historical context was set up through the means of a time line, with children representing kings and queens from the present era to the time of George I. There was also reference made to the Jacobite Rebellion, Bobby Shaftoe and the Beamish connection, and the changing use of English over the years.

‘Wor Geordie's lost his penka!’ - learning about the North East's history through music

The final focus was on the Tyneside music hall, hence the performance of the Lambton Worm and ‘Wor Geordie's lost his penka’ with appropriate artifacts such as a small monster, clothes prop, gunpowder and matches!

All good fun for both the performers and the children – and for many children it was their first contact with professional musicians. We believe it to have been a very positive and rewarding experience. There is certainly a demand from all the schools to repeat the programme.

Music education in the North East a priority for the Avison Ensemble

Due to the scarcity of money for music projects at this time we have earmarked all our available funds to underpin our vital work in schools in the region. As one Head Teacher commented 'We really appreciated your visit and it is exactly the kind of experience I’m able to offer less and less due to the budgetary pressures we are under.'

During the year 2013 we have presented 55 workshops in some 28 schools, commonly giving two performances at each school, and in total 3,735 students were engaged in these workshops.There were performances in three special schools in Gateshead, including the Cedars Sports Academy, Dryden School and Furrowfield School.

Feedback from schools and pupils has been 100% positive.

 'It was brilliant. I thought it was all fun!'

Here’s just a few of the many comments from the children involved in our workshops:

  • ‘I enjoyed the singing; it was good to take part in the dancing. I loved the cello playing, it was brilliant. I thought it was all fun!’ Year Five Pupil.
  • 'Thank you for teaching me about Britain’s historical music and dances. I have learned so much from that assembly including the harpsichord that I have heard of but never seen, the cello I have never seen and thought it would be so big and I have also learned some new songs and dances such as the minuet and Bobby Shafto.'
  • 'I thought the musical workshop was absolutely fantastic. I loved the harpsichord, singing and cello, you played them beautifully. The singing told us about the kings, where Geordie came from. I was gobsmacked about the songs. I had never heard of them but they were extremely great.'

'It has been a really special day in our school.'

And here's just some of the praise from the teachers and head teachers:

  • 'Thank you for giving our children this wonderful experience, which they will never forget. It has been a really special day in our school and we hope that you will come and work with us again.'
  • 'I have never had so much enthusiastic feedback from members of staff about a music workshop.'
  • 'It is so important the children are told these stories and hear these songs as they play a big part of our north east history and are part of their ancestry.'

The areas where we have engaged pupils have been in Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle and North Tyneside, and we have focused on either a Key Stage 1 (infants) programme or a more sophisticated Key Stage 2 (junior) programme.

On behalf of the children teachers and musicians involved, we say a special, big THANK YOU to the project’s principal supporter the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The Foundation's support has also enabled us to run the Avison Ensemble Young Musicians' Awards, our 'In Celebration' concerts and Benjamin Zander's The Art of Possibility workshops.