Recruitment drive, instruments at capacity, and call for instrument loans!

So far we have over 100 signed up in Cambridge (and room for only 20 more), and just over 50 in Oxford. We are on a big recruitment drive to get numbers of participants up in Oxford. If you are part of an orchestra, choir, band or other musical group please spread word! The more players we can recruit, the more funds we will raise.

A few of our registrants still have not set up their MyDonate fund raising page and linked to their team page. If this is you, please do this as soon as possible. You are not fully registered until this step is complete and we cannot invite you to the training/lesson day unless you have these steps have been taken. Instructions can be found here.  If you need help please get in touch (contact Oxford, contact Cambridge).


In terms of instrumentation, the Oxford team might benefit from some additional violinists as well as bassoon, double bass, jazz flute, orchestral percussion, rock and pop drums, snare  and trumpet players. People in or around Cambridge might consider jazz sax and rock and pop guitar! As yet, no one has selected Flugelhorn or Rock and Pop Bass.

If we could recruit these instrumentalists, our composers will have the same parts to write for in each city.  But fear not, the music will be thrilling irrespective of the range of instruments we ultimately achieve!

Harps at capacity in Cambridge, cellos now at capacity in both cities

In Oxford, a stonking 18% of participants want to learn the ‘cello while in Cambridge, 15% want to learn the harp and 13%, the cello.  That is a lot of harps and cellos to find! Because of this we are now closing applications for harps and cellos in Cambridge and cellos in Oxford. But since there are 30 other instruments to choose from, there is still something for everyone!

Instrument Loan

We are doing our best to find instruments for everyone, but if you happen to have an instrument buried in your loft or stashed in the back of a cupboard, please let us know!



Cambridge Violin teacher announced!

Andrew Watkinson violins D4AT8770We are delighted to announce that Andrew Watkinson of the Endellion String Quartet will teach the Cambridge Grade-1-athon novice violinists

“Until now, I thought that diving off the ten metre board, playing solo Bach to a packed Lichfield Cathedral, or the groom’s speech at my wedding were the scariest things I’d come up against, but with Grade-one-a-thon fast approaching I realise these were chickenfeed!”

I was born in Glasgow in 1953 and, though I left when I was ten and haven’t lived in Scotland since, I feel completely Scottish. My years there have left memories of a terrifying (but brilliant) violin teacher, deciding to become a violinist whilst sitting on a bus, and running up and down blocks of flats with election leaflets.

I left to go to the Menuhin School, then quite new and without any rules, where I spent four mixed years, the first two very happy and the next two miserable because my wonderful violin teacher left! It was a shock to return to a “normal” school but I found entertaining if useless ways of passing the time!

Then aged just 17, and intending to take a gap year before going to Cambridge, it was arranged that I should disappear to Switzerland to learn from the legendary and ancient Joseph Szigeti. It was a strange year for someone still a boy and afterwards I definitely needed something more normal! This was provided by two years at the Lucerne Conservatoire with the wonderful Italian violinist Franco Gulli.

I then thought that the greatest school of violin playing was to be found in Russia, so I obtained a scholarship to study in Leningrad. I didn’t find out much about the Russian School but after an extraordinary year I knew a lot more about survival! Not able to return to Leningrad for my projected second year because of complications with the KGB, I stayed in London and started to earn a living whilst having some postgraduate lessons with Yehudi Menuhin and Yfrah Neaman. It was a quite frantic time, freelancing with most of the London chamber orchestras, learning new solo repertoire in the breaks of recording sessions and (especially after winning second prize in the 1976 Carl Flesch Competition) rushing around playing concertos and recitals.

Around this time David Waterman rang me up out of the blue to ask if I would like to have a quartet reading session with some mutual friends. We enjoyed playing together and repeated the experience fairly regularly (with different middle players) until we started to think that it might be an idea to form a regular group and give some concerts. It took us some time to find compatible players but on January 20th 1979 we had our first serious rehearsal.

We were lucky enough to win second prize in the Portsmouth International Competition within three months of starting up and with the help of our enthusiastic first agent our career was hectically launched!

That was nearly a quarter of a century ago and I’m not sure what’s happened since then! In 1980 I married Shuna and a few years later we were lucky enough to have two sons. Neither of them wants to have anything to do with music! The quartet has travelled all over the world and played about 2500 concerts. I have also spent a lot of time directing orchestras and playing as a soloist. It has been an incredibly rich life.

I suppose the unifying thread through all this has been the fantastic music I have had the privilege to learn and play. There have been very few days in the last 25 years when I have not had the joy and the challenge of struggling to fathom the bottomless depths of a late Beethoven quartet, or trying to empathise with the tortured emotional switchback of Schubert’s late chamber music, or attempting to turn into sound the perfect simplicity and joy of a Haydn quartet without getting in the way I believe that anyone who has the opportunity to absorb this miraculous music can only be healed and enriched by it.


Team Cambridge kicks off with a Party!

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 Smile and Jo Studdert, representing Home-Start Cambridgeshire.

Jo Studdert, Amanda Langford and Laurence Watson at Team Cambridge’s launch party.
Thanea taking the stage to welcome the assembled company

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 of Blue 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, Home-Start Cambridgeshire

Jo Studdert spoke to us about the work of Home-Start CambridgshireThis 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 Fund that 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.