Could you first introduce yourself for the reader?
I’m Alison Mears and I’m the Director of Guildhall Young Artists and Safeguarding at Guildhall School of Music & Drama – one of the world’s leading specialist music and drama schools. My primary responsibility is to look after all the regular training Guildhall School offers for under 18s. Most of our work focuses on music but we are now expanding what we offer to include drama and production arts.
What happens at Guildhall School of Music & Drama?
Wow, so much! Where do I begin?
Well, the first thing to say is that Guildhall School is a vibrant, international community of young musicians, actors and production artists in the heart of the City of London. We’re next door to the Barbican Centre and close to the capital’s lively East End. The School has some of the finest facilities in the UK and offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs in music, acting and production arts as well as Saturday schools, summer and holiday courses.
We are also the UK’s leading provider of specialist music training for under 18s. Our specialist Saturday school Junior Guildhall and the Centres for Young Musicians provide high quality music training for young people, while Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning – an outreach division with the Barbican – seeks to create inspiring arts experiences for all.
I’m also excited to say that we were recently ranked as one of the top ten performing arts institutions in the world.
What do you offer to young people?
Guildhall School offers an exciting host of opportunities for young people to explore music and drama, whether taking their very first steps or putting building blocks in place for a professional career.
Junior Guildhall, our specialist Saturday school, offers advanced training to young people aged between 4-18, which you can combine with their general education. Students travel to Junior Guildhall from across the UK (and sometimes even from abroad!) to join with like-minded young people. If you’re considering a career in music or drama, this is one of the best courses to get onto in the world.
If you want to explore your musical interests, but maybe not to the advanced level of Junior Guildhall, our very popular Centre for Young Musicians provides high quality progressive music training to thousands of young people across the country, with branches in London, Norwich, Taunton, Saffron Walden and Peterborough. Each has rapidly growing Saturday schools and we’re now starting to set up holiday courses to respond to the high demand.
Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs helps people in the performing arts to launch their own enterprises, and we also offer a range of short courses for people of all ages and abilities.
An exciting new venture is Music Education Islington – a Music Education Hub for the London Borough of Islington, led by Islington Council and Guildhall School of Music & Drama. This partnership opens up a wealth of diverse opportunities for young people in Islington to access world-class music education, resources and expertise. It is the first Music Education Hub to be led by a local authority working with an internationally renowned conservatoire.
What activities are most popular for young people and why?
I’m very pleased to say that all the activities we offer are popular and it really depends on what you are interested in.
We run the London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO) which celebrates its 70th birthday next year providing opportunities for students across London to work on a huge range of orchestral repertoire with professional conductors and soloists.
We also put on "Big Gig", a free fun event for people of all ages to come together and make music – a very popular event for the whole family and it doesn’t matter if you play an instrument or not and you don’t need to be able to read music!
Could you give an example of a recent project you have run, and the impact it had?
There are so many it’s difficult to choose but here are a few highlights...
Musicians from Junior Guildhall joined forces with a professional Baroque orchestra to give a concert in St Andrew's Holborn which showcased a number of our soloists and also provided training in baroque playing styles which definitely expanded the young players’ musical horizons.
In July, Junior Guildhall Brass Band took part in the Alicante International Brass Band Festival, working alongside international students and professors to give an outstanding concert at the end of the week.
We’re really pleased to see that we’ve got 6 students from our Centre for Young Musicians in Norwich, which opened only 6 years ago, leaving us to study music at university or conservatoire this autumn; five of them are from state schools.
In the South West, we’ve just held our first Summer School for music and drama. We were thrilled to be able to offer bursaries to support disadvantaged young people to take part. We’re hoping they’ll join our regular Saturday school once term starts.
The LSSO went on tour to the Czech Republic and Slovakia over the summer which was great fun for all involved.
Have you seen any change in the industry over the last few years? Is it positive or negative?
I guess it’s no secret that primary and secondary schools, with squeezed budgets all around, are finding it increasingly hard to offer not only whole class music experiences but also the vital ensemble and more individual tuition required to progress instrumental, vocal and production skills. Our concern is wanting to become a musician could start to be the preserve of certain sections of our society. We want interest and potential to be nourished regardless of background. We all miss out if we’re unable to support a talent for music and the arts which exists everywhere.
On the other hand, we’re super excited by just how varied and dynamic artists, producers and musicians need to be in our new technological age. Just have a look at any young person’s playlist. You need aural, improvising, writing and arranging skills and be just as comfortable with Beyoncé as with Bach. How amazing for young people to be able to create, record and mix a track and up-load it to an audience in Beijing. As creative educators we’re constantly adjusting to a changing world.
Is there anything you particularly want to promote to young people at the moment?
Yes! The Centre for Young Musicians in London have open days on January 18th and 25th 2020. Also, Junior Guildhall Symphony Orchestra concert on 30th November. Thirdly, auditions for Junior Guildhall for application in September 2020 opens in January.
Where can people find out more about the work you do?
The best place to find out more about what Guildhall School does is by heading to gsmd.ac.uk. Here you will find full details of all the courses the School offers as well details on upcoming workshops, events and Open Days.
If there is something you are interested in come and see for yourself and visit one of our courses. You will be assured a warm welcome!