IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER WARREN GREEN: “ARTS IN EDUCATION GUARD THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY”
Christopher Warren-Green by Alina Pullen
Working extensively in Europe and North America, the celebrated British conductor Christopher Warren-Green is Music Director of the both the London Chamber Orchestra and Charlotte Symphony in North Carolina. In addition to guest conducting eminent orchestras world-wide, Christopher has been invited to conduct by the Royal Family on many occasions, including the wedding of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Westminster Abbey in 2011 and the wedding of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at St.George’s Chapel, Windsor.
A violinist by training his early education began as a member of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, eventually becoming Concertmaster of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. His lively manner of conducting and passion for involving local communities has garnered much praise in both the UK and abroad. Christopher, alongside his wife Rosemary Warren-Green, leads the London Chamber Orchestra’s outreach project — Music Junction – most recently showcasing talented young performers alongside the orchestra’s professional players in a concert at London’s Cadogan Hall.
“The idea is to get anyone from any background playing music together, in harmony. It is not just because we want them to become musicians, it is because they will do better in their studies. If they get better in their studies, they will start changing the world a bit. It is about the future of humanity,” says Warren-Green
University of Sussex’s research into the state of music education in primary and secondary schools shows that music is no longer taught across Key Stage 2 (grades 7 – 9 for students aged 11 — 14 years old) in over 50% of state-funded secondary schools. In addition to this, the findings show that in some cases the students have “little or no music education during their entire secondary school career”. Marginalisation of music in many schools leaves pupils to seek access to music education from external resources, which becomes the sanctuary of those who can afford private lessons.
“I was given a violin by the school and a teacher to teach me. My mother couldn’t afford lessons”, — says Christopher in response to the current decline in access to music education in schools, -
“However, my first exposure to music was when I was seven years old at the church choir. When I was young most churches in England had a choir and an organist. The choirs are very important. Getting involved in music with other people is very important. I urge any parent to have their child to sing in choir as soon as possible to aid their development.”
The idea to engage pupils from all backgrounds in a professional orchestra, playing all symphonic instruments, in order to give them access to music education and improve their social and individual well-being, came to Christopher and his wife Rosemary during one of their trips to Brazil, where Christopher conducted the Orquestra Sinfonica da Bahia in Salvador. There he experienced first-hand a youth orchestra project for the arts, based on the Venezuelan El Sistema. The initiative aims at keeping the troubled youth in schools and while helping their education and development with an after-school artistic activities they can enjoy. Christopher explains:
“The school finishes at midday, and children walk into the project, attracted by the sounds of music. They can pick up any instruments or do arts — paint or dance — all afternoon. The biggest attraction for them, however, is that if they come in, they get lunch. A lot of those kids are begging on the streets for their parents, but they are also starving. At the end of the day they will be asked if they want to come back tomorrow to which they will always respond “yes!”. In this case, they are asked to bring a letter from their teacher, confirming they have attended their lessons in full on that day. Then they will get lunch and get to enjoy making music and the arts all afternoon. This is how this fantastic initiative keeps the children in schools, out of trouble and aids their development.
There is one particular case I remember. One of the boys in the project, a nine-year-old saxophone player, came from a gang where he used to steal from people on buses. Having encountered the project and picked up the saxophone for the first time, he was not able to part with it. He confessed that his dream now was to play saxophone; he did not want to steal anymore or be away from the project. This is the power of music, this is what music can do. For me, this was a very clear and powerful message of how crucial arts and music are in young people’s education.”
“If we cherish the arts in education, we will need fewer prisons, fewer emergency rooms. This is not about the future of classical music, this is about the future of humanity.”
Rosemary Warren-Green, a celebrated educator, as well as the London Chamber Orchestra Principal Viola and Education and Outreach Artistic Director, joined forces with Christopher in establishing a project, that would aid music education in southern England and give children an incredible opportunity to play alongside the orchestra.
“We started off getting just a few children whom I taught from scratch, — says Rosemary, — Shortly we started commissioning pieces for the children to play with us, then more people began writing for us. The project grew, including more instruments, until we had all symphonic instruments and four hubs of participating schools. We go into schools with demonstrations and just play, hopefully the tunes they will recognise, after which we invite them to try the instruments and join us in our project. We give workshops and masterclasses, the culmination of which is a Cadogan Hall concert with a piece written specially for those pupils. Each time we have the composer working with the children, moulding the piece around the them to make the music interesting and accessible. They love this aspect the most, the kids can take ownership of it rather than just perform it. And of course, they develop relationships with one another, a lot of them are very shy, but then they come of their shells and start helping and it is very, very rewarding.”
“We have to get out there as musicians, that is one of the main aims of this orchestra as well, not just to give concerts but to mentor the kids. Each hub includes children from an ordinary school, children at risk, children with disabilities, young carers and very fortunate children who have been learning privately and are quite advanced in their studies. The idea was that we are teaching everyone but then the more able children mentor the other children. It is very important for the pupils, who come from the more privileged backgrounds, see that there are people out there, a lot of them, who did not have same opportunities. Getting them to mentor those children is going to nurture caring in them. It is all about nurturing and cherishing, which is what the arts do. Music is not selfish; it is a very caring profession.”
Each year creative industries contribute to welfare of the UK economy. According to the Measuring Music 2018 report of November 2018, the music industry contributed over £4.5 billion to GDP (2% increase from 2016), £2.6 billion to exports (7% increase) and about 145,815 jobs (3% increase). These are example figures to show the contribution to the UK economy, however it is significantly more difficult to measure the contribution to social and individual wellbeing and to cultural life. Perhaps, it is inestimable and invaluable altogether.
To highlight the significance of the arts in social development, Christopher mentions pupils in the project who suffer from selective mutism, according to the NHS this is a severe anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in certain social situations, such as with classmates at school or to relatives they don’t see very often.
“We have a lot of kids in the project who suffer from this condition. In the beginning we found that quite a lot of them start talking or whispering by the end of the project. Being involved in a creative a piece of music with other people makes an immense difference. Kids love watching other kids, they can see they are not alone. They get to work and communicate on so many levels, between themselves and with the professionals, using a universal language of music. That’s what a real orchestra is, all instruments, all voices, however different, coming together in harmony.”
“It has to be all encompassing, has to include everyone. It is very difficult to organise, and it costs a lot of money, we have to raise a lot of money to be able to do Music Junction. If Artists are prepared to give some of their time when they can to give something back that is an important thing.”