Friday, 2 May 2014

Classical Music for the Wild West...

Classical music for kids is a wonderful idea, but is it really for tiny toddlers and screaming infants? Should parents not just be sticking to nursery rhymes and playing it safe? Professional viola player Kate Skeet believes that age should not be a barrier to music education. She has enjoyed instrumental music all her life and didn't want it to stop when her boy Ben was born two years ago. However, she found that although baby friendly concerts are springing up all over the place in London, Cheltenham was sadly lacking in proper classical concerts where children were truly welcome and encouraged to enjoy and 'feel' the music. 
At this point thankfully Fate intervened in the form of the director of the Cheltenham Music Festival director. He came to Kate when a last minute lunchtime slot became available in the Festival and asked her to put her music where her mouth was and put on a concert of chamber music for children and parents. Music appreciation for children can start at the very youngest age and don't be fooled into thinking you child can only appreciate nursery rhymes. Lovely though Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is, there's a world of music out there that little ones will absorb in the blink of an eye and learn to love. The ever resourceful Kate has drawn on her pool of professional local (unflappable!) musician friends and puts on regular 'Lilliput concerts' now with varying combinations of instruments ranging from duets to quintets.  “The atmosphere is relaxed, the music is high quality but concentrating on short pieces for short attention spans." says Kate.
Kate starts each concert with the request that those who are old enough to listen in peace and quiet try to do so, but that it's just fine for the little ones to dance, crawl around or have their nappy changed if need be. “The babies seem to be mesmerised by the music but nobody minds if they start to sing along or dance or wander about,” and delicious refreshments are also provided so really everyone is a winner....
The concerts take place in St Andrew’s church hall in Montpellier, start at 10.30am and last for around 40 minutes. Tickets cost £5 for an adult and child. Check out when the next one is on at the Lilliput Concerts Facebook page or on Twitter @Lilliputconcert

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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Music appreciation- what a laugh!

Little Notes

The fun loving Louise Bradbury and husband Mark of Horsham have set up a lovely series of music education workshops for pre school children and their families. It's a totally hands on experience where the children get to join in and be as creative as they like. Led by professional musicians, workshops in Horsham, Cardiff, Chichester, Harrow and Dorking are 40 minutes long and are once a week for a bargain £6 per child or £9 for two siblings. The sessions start with a fun warm up followed by activities based around a topic such as travel, friendships or animals. The wonderfully versatile professional musicians who lead the sessions encourage the kids to talk about the music and guide them as they explore sounds, shapes, rhythms and rhymes together. 
A different piece is chosen for every session which is played to the group who are encouraged to respond creatively: perhaps using movement, hand-held percussion and other stimuli. We  all know that even smart children from the ages  of 0-4 don't have the longest concentration spans, the pace and subjects change with regular frequency and nursery rhyme sing/play alongs are interspersed with 'chill outs' where the kids take a minute to lie down and imagine pictures in their heads to accompany the music being played. I'm especially impressed by the Bradbury's diverse, imaginative approach which seems to have the parents having as much of a laugh as the children! 
These workshops have been such a success in fact that the older kids wanted their own ones and so an after school Little Notes choir and recorder group meet weekly in Horsham for school age kids. 
This has been met with wild enthusiasm from local families and to top it all off, they've started 'build an opera', a week's course where children go along and create an opera of their very own from scratch. It is lead by a professional composer but the ideas all come from the children. They even build their own sets, make their own costumes and learn about stage direction and lighting. What an incredible opportunity!
Check out the Little Notes activities for your child at 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Notelets... Classics and jazz for kids

Kids concerts with an hilarious twist... 
Last week I had the best fun in a concert I have ever had.... Well maybe it didn't quite top the Star Wars spectacular when Darth Vader conducted with a light sabre but... I joined Catherine Arlidge, member of the violin section of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and children's concert presenter extraordinaire, in what I can only describe as a whirlwind introduction to classical music (and jazz) for kids age 2-6.
'Notelets' concerts last about 50 minutes and I can honestly say the children, and I, were transfixed throughout the entire performance. So often, with the best will in the world, there will be moments in a concert where children's concentration is challenged. The nose picking starts and little bottoms start shifting as we all agree 'it's a bit long for them to concentrate'. However, the incredibly well thought out pacing of the concert meant the kids did get 'down time' numbers between the racing around in the 'racing car' song and marching in the 'Grand Old Duke of York' but in the guise of lying down as sleeping bunnies or becoming twinkling stars. I couldn't see a single child who wasn't hanging on Catherine's every word. Even I found myself grinning like an imbecile at the fantastic witty arrangements by trombonist Alwyn Green which challenged all the musicians and caused quite a few unauthorised giggles.... The kids come up to the stage after the concert and get to try out the
Alwyn Green and his trombone
instruments and meet the musicians who they feel they know by the end of the session. Even the most shy children who peered out from behind parents at the beginning of the concert were bounding forward at the end to pull Alwyn's trombone slide, play rock and roll duets on the piano and pluck the double bass. My kids haven't stopped going on at me since they came to Catherine's concert, to take them again. They announced to me that they 'know how to play now you know' and they want to be musicians when they grow up and play with Catherine....
Catherine and Alwyn started working together in the Berkely Salon Ensemble playing music arranged by Alywn from the 1920s and 30s. This 'flapper' group plays for dances and parties and has the great vibe one gets when everyone there is doing it for the love of the music. Both Alwyn and Catherine's senses of humour shine through in the work they do.
Notelets concerts occur 4 times a year at CBSO Centre in Birmingham, so if you live anywhere near them- take your kids along now! Check out if Catherine is bringing Notelets anywhere near you at I can guarantee nothing will make your kids love music more than this afternoon of music education and appreciation disguised as rip roaring fun!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Classical music concerts for kids? Yeah baby!

Introduction to Classical Music for your little ones... and for yourself!
Children as we know, are little sponges. They absorb everything around them and so as a musician I want my kids to absorb the very best of things, not cheap dumbed down versions. Music is no exception. If you play your child synthesised simple nursery rhymes, then that is all they will know and like. If however you play them the very best and most varied music then they will acquire a broad knowledge of musical instruments and at the same time learn to love music on a whole other level. Pianist Miaomiao Yu has embraced this view by setting up a series of baby friendly concerts with top class classical musicians which will not only stimulate and captivate your child but will also be a wonderful break in the day for you. At her 'Bach to Baby' concerts at child-friendly hours (10.30/4pm)  it's totally fine for your kids to dance/sing along, have a run about, you can even change their nappy mid-sonata if you need to. I witnessed 2 toddlers standing stock still for a good 10 minutes transfixed by the wonderful harpist Sally Pryce as she played a diverse programme of Mozart to Massenet- no need to tell these kids that classical music is magical! It's perfect as the children can listen for as long as they want then pop off for a bit of a run around and return later when it suits them. There's nothing more off putting for a child than having to sit through something as long as a concert, it's much better if they can enjoy it in manageable bite size chunks.
The classical programmes are well thought out with musicians of a very high standard from all over London and are a wonderful introduction to orchestral instruments for kids. The concert lasts about an hour and includes 10 mins at the end of singalong nursery rhymes just to round it all off. There's nothing like a bit of Incy Wincy Spider after some Chopin I think... None of the stuffy sitting still and not clapping in the right places .... You're exposing your child to the very best classical music in the most positive environment. " It's about Mozart and Bach, feeding and crying, and dancing to music  - all of it," says Miaomiao (founder of Bach to Baby) "We haven't made it through a concert without at least one nappy change. That's the way it should be," she says. How refreshing to be able to take your child along to a concert of great classical music that is not just a brilliant experience for kids but uplifting for parents too. Coffee, tea, juice and biscuits are on sale and baby changing facilities are well organised. Tickets are £10 for adults- children go free.
Well done Miaomiao. If only one were able to enjoy classical music concerts this much in the grown up world! 
Bach to Baby concerts are held in 20 venues across London including Borough, Clapham, Dulwich Village, Greenwich, Hammersmith, Hampstead, Highgate, Islington, Notting Hill, Pimlico, St John's Wood & Maida Vale, Tulse Hill and Wimbledon. Check out to how to book the one nearest you at