Of the many people I have met in the last two years running Bachtrack.com, two who have impressed me hugely are the Majaros. Pamela and Simon Majaro have spent the last ten years, at an age when most might be reducing their bridge playing, or giving up gardening, working extremely hard to introduce children to chamber music. This has not been a desultory attempt amid a host of other interests, it has been a full time job creating and enlarging the scope of operations under the banner of the Cavatina Chamber Music Trust.
Cavatina trains small numbers of groups of good, professional chamber ensembles (usually trios or quartets) to be able to perform their special brand of concert to groups of children of primary and secondary age both in a concert hall and in a school environment.
The trust organises concerts at either very low prices for families or completely free, depending on the venue. Based in London there is a series of concerts in North West London, at Swiss Cottage Library, in South East London at Blackheath Halls in Greenwich and one a year at the Wigmore Hall.
In addition Cavatina takes ensembles into around 50 State primary schools a year without any cost to either the school or to the audience.
Their concerts succeed in stirring the children's imagination as small excerpts are used from larger works, and the children are asked to say what the music reminds them of. At a recent concert very young children shouted out phrases such as “like a flower blooming” and “something dangerous, like a horror movie” showing a maturity of understanding and a freedom of imagination which surprised me. Typically the audience is then invited to participate in some sort of game involving clapping, humming, singing or making a particular noise, in groups, which then builds into a work of music. It is astonishing how a crowd of hundreds of children aged 3 – 8, sprinkled liberally with grown ups, can perform their set parts to a high enough standard to create a clear polyrhythmic pattern.
There is a great deal of interaction between the performers and the children, with each member of the ensemble taking turns to lead the listening children in one activity or another. I have seen several games which work well in deconstructing the ensemble for the children to observe. The most recent put a child into the job of boss. They faced the ensemble and could simply put out a hand to stop any one of the four players (and up to three at once) to demonstrate breaking down the blended sound which a string quartet works so hard to achieve, into its component parts.
A significant strand to Cavatina's work is to offer a ticket scheme in tandem with chamber music societies across the country, offering children between the ages of 8 – 22 free tickets to each Society's events (although up to the age of 14 children must be accompanied by a paying adult.) Societies involved cover the country from Bishop Auckland to Cornwall and can be found on a list here. The affiliated societies are not allowed simply to wait for children to apply, but instead they are expected to promote the scheme in their area, through contact with local schools, universities and youth clubs, thus drawing more children into Cavatina's net. The Wigmore Hall participates in the scheme on some of its concerts and this successful scheme's top age will be extended to 25 from January 2010. In one year between school concerts, concerts in regular venues, and affiliated ticket schemes Cavatina have touched the lives of between 6,000 and 7,000 children.
Consistent with Cavatina's aim of reducing the age of people attending chamber concerts they will start holding concerts for parents and children in school halls. The informality of the school hall will help break down barriers between performers and those unfamiliar with the music. Hopefully this will be a positive for the young parents accompanying their children who might just become chamber music goers themselves before they go grey.
Elsewhere, Cavatina work closely with Trinity College of Music, sponsoring two string quartets in residence and a biennial String Quartet Festival, together with numerous masterclasses. They also run student ambassador schemes, and offer friends' events for their supporters without whose help their work might falter.
The Majaros don't rest on their laurels and I will watch with interest how the Cavatina Chamber Music Trust continues to move with the times.
As Clara Robins, aged 9 wrote after a recent concert "The Emperor Quartet gave a concert for young people to introduce them to chamber music. They played some beautiful music including Stravinsky, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel and James Macmillan. The Quartet also involved us by asking children to come up on the stage to conduct, stopping and starting different instruments, and wear silly hats, waiting to swap them when the theme came round.
I really recommend these concerts to all children because you go away thinking how much you have learnt about music."
For more information on the Trust or to become a friend see www.cavatina.net.
8th November 2009