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Andrew Lloyd Webber challenges arts cuts

Andrew Lloyd Webber challenges arts cuts

Andrew Lloyd Webber says his new musical will challenge politicians to improve school music lesson funding.

School of Rock, based on the 2002 film, is about a group of schoolchildren who turn their lives around by entering a Battle of the Bands contest.

The young cast - aged between nine and 12 - all play their own instruments.

"At this time when there are cuts to music in schools, these are the kids that prove music is vital," Lord Lloyd-Webber told the BBC.

He said music "is a force for the good and empowers young people".

'Alienated from politics'

The composer, whose own foundation funds arts education programmes in the UK, said the government should rethink its "counter-productive" cuts.

"At a time when people are feeling alienated from politics, the arts cut right through that," he said.

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who wrote the musical's book, picked up on the theme.

"One of the main purposes of the education years is to help children find out who they are and what they want to do, and the arts are one of the greatest means of allowing people to discover their identity," he said.

"It really is mad for the country to cut back on that and throw out a whole load of people from school who really haven't found out what they want to do."

Lord Lloyd-Webber and Lord Fellowes were speaking as they unveiled the cast for the West End transfer of School of Rock, which opened to enthusiastic reviews on Broadway last year, earning four Tony Award nominations.

The show, based on the Jack Black film, features three rotating casts of child actors, selected after a nationwide search earlier this year.

They range from experienced actors, drawn from the casts of Matilda and The Lion King, to complete newcomers.

Among them is Amelia Poggenpoel, from Formby, who made headlines last year when her singing reduced Shia LaBeouf to tears.

The 10-year-old approached LaBeouf at his #TouchMySoul exhibition in Liverpool and performed Who's Lovin' You by the Jackson Five. When she finished, the actor stood up and hugged her, sobbing: "You touched my soul."

She will play Shonelle in the musical, her first West End role after several appearances in Liverpool.

Amelia told the BBC she was living in a "School of Rock house" with other cast members, where tutors run lessons before and after rehearsals. The set up is "much better" than regular school, she added.

Other cast members include Isabelle Methven and Eva Trodd, both 11, who previously played Little Cosette in the West End production of Les Miserables, and Natasha Raphael, 10, who toured the UK in the role of Annie last year.

Toby Lee, an 11-year-old from Priors Marston who runs a successful YouTube channel showcasing his guitar skills, is one of three youngsters filling the role of Zack.

'Depth of talent'

The show revolves around failed rock star Dewey Finn who, in need of cash to pay his rent, fakes his credentials as a substitute teacher.

But what starts out as an excuse to get paid for slacking off turns into a life-affirming experience, as he prepares his pupils for a local battle of the bands.

"The reason I loved this story is every character in this story is somehow changed for the better through music," said Lord Lloyd-Webber, who first revealed he had bought the rights in 2013.

For the first time since Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971, he chose to premiere his new show in the US, principally because it has more relaxed child labour laws - meaning the production could have one permanent cast.

He previously expressed misgivings about bringing the show to London, saying he doubted whether he could find 39 children capable of pulling off the live musical elements of the show.

Instead, he said, "we could have found five bands to play".

"The depth of musical talent that we auditioned is something that I have to admit I didn't think we would find. I kind of feared they'd all be into their computers, but this proves that they aren't."

The role of Dewey Finn will be played in London by David Fynn, currently starring in US sitcom Undateable.

He said working with three rotating casts of children helped give the show spontaneity.

"It keeps me on my toes and, as a result, it helps them stay engaged."

The show begins previews at the New London Theatre on 24 October before opening night on 14 November.

Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-37307116

Tags: BBC, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Musicals, Music Education, Politics, Entertainment

The Value of Partnerships

Warwickshire Music Hub is leading two exciting singing projects this year.  The first is a partnership with Ex-Cathedra, supported by funding from Arts Council England.  This partnership involves 11 primary schools and around 2,000 children and adults; culminating in a singing day at the University of Warwick Arts Centre on March 11th.

 

The second project is a partnership between Warwickshire Music Hub, Coventry Music Hub and 4 secondary schools, supported by funding from Youth Music. This project is creating a choir of 100 young people, ideally who are not used to singing in choirs, with the focus of two major performances in 2016.

 

By definition projects such as these, supported by external funding, are created with very definite start and finish dates and clearly quantifiable objectives i.e. how many children are involved and what rehearsals/events are due to take place.  This is all very worthy and very exciting for those involved.

 

But the big question has to be - what happens next?  All too often these excellent projects simply stop once the money runs out because they are time limited.  Our challenge is how to create a more lasting legacy and the reality is that money is needed, whether through further funding or sponsorship or simply creating new groups that require membership fees.

 

Getting the balance between time limited funded projects and creating something that lasts is a challenge - but one that is really worth exploring.  The planning has to consider the future and what structures - in this case choral - are already in place.

 

The primary school project 'Singing Playgrounds' should embed singing within the participating schools but that cannot be taken for granted and so discussions need to take place with the participating schools to see what support they might need to continue the positive outcomes of the project.

 

The secondary school project is called the 'Joint Choir Creation Project'. Wouldn't it be great if the legacy was to actually create a brand new choir that met regularly after the project itself comes to an end? At the very least the young people involved deserve the option of continuing to sing; whether as part of a school based group or within a singing strategy created by the respective Music Hubs.

 

This is where working in partnership with schools and other Hubs is potentially so powerful. The reality of creating lasting legacies is that all too often they are reliant on external funding.  Our challenge is to create internal structures that are self reliant; and this starts with partnerships.

Tags: Partnerships, funding, singing playgrounds, Joint Choir Creation Project, Singing

How to get boys to sing

Number one - make sure the Musical Director is a genius.  Fortunately the MD of the Warwickshire Choristers is one.  Number two, create an organisation where the parents are totally committed and supportive.  Number three, remember that boys are not girls and they need a unique approach to rehearsals and concerts. Number four, work incredibly hard.

Garry Jones is a genius.  He is a great friend of mine and a former Director of Warwickshire County Music Service.  Since he retired from that job he has been working virtually full time creating the Warwickshire Choristers and, more recently, the County Male Voices; an equally excellent choir made up of all the boys that started singing with Garry 6 years ago.

The Choristers have been in the final of Music for Youth 5 times in the last 6 years and have received  Choir of the Day in every BBC Choir of the Year competition since reaching the televised final in 2010.  They produce CDs, go on tour and have featured on radio as well as television.  They regularly perform at major concert venues including Symphony Hall in Birmingham, Truro Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral and the University of Warwick Arts Centre.

It is perhaps two things that stand out for me as I watch and admire Garry at work.  A concert last night is a good example.  The care he takes over the choice of repertoire for the boys is extreme - but utterly worth while when you hear them.  Yesterday's concert started with a sublime rendition of Ubi Caritas by Albrecht.  The pure young voices of two solo choristers soared around the Parish church of Leamington Spa and set the tone for the rest of their performance; including music by Jefferson, Poulenc, Frank and Schwartz.

The boys, aged between 7 - 12, perform music that you would not think they have the maturity to manage.  Le Chien Perdu by Poulenc was simply sensational; unaccompanied and without a conductor.

The reason they can do this is because of the unique relationship that Garry builds with them.  This is developed in no small part by his rehearsing style.  I have sat in many rehearsals and it is not unusual for Garry to spend up to 10 minutes on one sound.  The boys come into a choir where excellent is simply taken for granted and the hard work needed to achieve that is there for all to see.

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