When I was asked to teach the new cellists for their first and only lesson in The Oxford and Cambridge Note Race I couldn’t resist the opportunity, particularly as it is in support of some wonderful charities.
Since that time I’ve been contemplating this unique challenge and look forward to distilling as much beginner cello knowledge into the allotted hour as possible on 9 July! I’m also preparing myself to be called a GOAT herd – which I am told is the term used for someone teaching a Grade-1-athon musician!
Yesterday evening in a beautiful sun lit room at St John’s College School, a group of intrepid Grade-1-athoners met, together with representatives from the three charities who stand to benefit from our latest fund raising efforts – Laurence Watson representing Alf Dubs Children’s Fund, Amanda Langford the representative of Blue Smileand Jo Studdert, representing Home-Start Cambridgeshire.
The evening commenced with a welcome address from Thanea Hodges, ring leader extraordinaire for Team Cambridge. She spoke about previous Grade-1-athons and the remarkable level of funding that had been raised for East Anglian Children’s Hospices and the Spinal Injuries Association. For 2017 Thanea decided that we needed to push the boat out. This year’s effort is the most ambitious yet. It extends the reach of the programme to encompass Oxford, in the form of ‘The Oxford and Cambridge Note Race’.
We also heard from Roz Chalmers, a seasoned Grade-1-athoner, who described her personal journey, the trials and tribulations of becoming that small child again, mystified by a bright, shiny new instrument and the new range of language that goes with it. How the blazes do I find B flat on a trombone? Can someone please help me oil my valves?
Next we heard from Kevin Jones, former Headmaster of St John’s College School and Chair of Team Cambridge Note Race organising committee. Kevin spoke of his experience over the years helping to herd the ‘G.O.A.T.s’ (Grade – one – athoners) as we have affectionally become known. Kevin also spoke of his dismay at the attitude of the British Government to the plight of child refugees and young people and families suffering from stress and mental health issues. He told the gathering why supporting the Note Race will raise awareness of the chosen charities and their work and will provide much needed funds directly where they are needed. Of the plight of unaccompanied refugee children, he said, if I knew that a child in my school might come to harm and did nothing, I would have lost my job. It is very wrong that our government is knowingly allowing children to be in danger of abuse and trafficking when we should be giving them a home.
Our next speaker was Amanda Langford ofBlue Smile. Amanda told us about the wonderful work being carried out to provide counselling and art-based therapy to children between the ages of 3 and 13 who are showing signs of suffering from mental health difficulties. The therapy sessions help the child adjust, develop confidence, make friends, thrive and become happier. As a consequence, it reduces school failure, anti-social behaviour, mental illness and a legacy of dysfunction, all of which puts huge pressure on schools, social services and the youth justice system.
Jo Studdert spoke to us about the work of Home-Start Cambridgshire. This is one of the UK’s leading family support charities. Home-Start Cambridgeshire’s aim is to give every child the best possible start in life. The ethos of the charity can best be described as ‘One parent helping another parent through a difficult time’. The service supports families, through weekly home visits, to deal with diverse concerns such as parental mental health issues, isolation, postnatal illness, disability, bereavement, multiple births and parenting skills. All round the country local schemes recruit and train volunteers to support local families with young children at home. The trained volunteers provide tailored practical and emotional support to help parents and children build confidence, independence, resilience and community connections. The Oxford Note Race Team have chosen Home-Start Oxford as the beneficiary of the funds that they raise.
The final speaker for the evening was Laurence Watson, grandson of Sir Nicholas Winton who against great odds rescued 669 children, mostly Jewish, from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War. Nicky, as Laurence referred to his grandfather, had to meet stringent conditions set by the Home Office in order to get these desperate children to safety in Britain. The world only found out about his work over 40 years later when in 1988, he featured on the BBC programme That’s Life.
One of Winton’s rescued children was Alf Dubs and it is the Alf Dubs Children’s Fundthat is the third beneficiary of Team Cambridge. The focus of the Alf Dubs Children’s Fund is to help unaccompanied child refugees and vulnerable adults in Europe find safe, legal routes to the UK and support their transition to a new life.
Laurence, who graduated in physics from Clare College Cambridge, left us with his grandfather’s moto resonating in our ears – if something is not impossible there must be a way to do it.
The evening rounded off with further exchanges over drinks and discussions about practice, lessons, scales and theory!
There are a number of ways in which to get involved. First and foremost the musicians amongst you can learn a new instrument and seek sponsorship from friends and family. To register please visit our Information for Musicians page. For those for whom this task is a step too far, you can make a donation via the Team Cambridge MyDonate page. If you were able to sponsor an aspect of our programme, for instance, the hiring of West Road Concert Hall, where the grand concert finale will take place on 10 September, we would dearly love to hear from you! Equally we are seeking volunteers to help out at the concert and also on the lesson day on 9 July. Please contact Team Cambridge if you are able to help in these or other ways.
The Cambridge Team is grateful to St John’s College School for hosting the event, and to all those who attended.
My first connection with the Cambridge Grade-one-athon was when Thanea Hodges was looking for an exam venue. It had to be in central Cambridge, and as she wanted eight exam sessions to be running concurrently (each with their own warm-up room); that meant sixteen rooms each with its own piano. A tall order, but as Director of Music at King’s Choir School, I knew that we had just built a new music block with individual practice rooms for the sixteen choristers. A perfect fit! The school was delighted to help, and the sessions ran without a hitch.
Since then I have composed various pieces for successive Grade-one-athons, both for individual instrumental sections (strings, wind and brass) and for full orchestra. Writing for full Grade 1 orchestra brings with it many interesting problems! Rhythms can be as adventurous as you please, but woe betide the composer if he writes any note not in the Grade 1 scale selection. Flutes at this level tend not to play above mf, whereas oboes and saxophones seem to have a range which starts at forte and grows exponentially! Then there is the key that the piece should be in (though, with the best will in the world, the music often sounds as if it’s in three keys at once…) – strings prefer sharp keys, brass prefer flats, and saxes won’t get out of bed unless there are a least two flats in the key signature! All in all, a very challenging brief – but always lots of fun.