Oxford Note Race 2017 is Launched

Gradeoneathon launch:  Picture: Ric Mellis

In the afternoon on Sunday 30 April a group of keen musicians, friends from Cambridge, valued supporters and Home-Start Oxford trustees met over tea and cakes at the Jacqueline du Pre Building in St Hilda’s College.

Gradeoneathon launch:  Picture: Ric Mellis
Alison Scott welcomes guests and speakers

After time well-spent making new friends and greeting old ones, the assembled company moved into the auditorium. An impressive line-up of speakers was introduced by Alison Scott, Chair of trustees for Home-Start Oxford.



Gradeoneathon launch:  Picture: Ric Mellis
Thanea Hodges

The first to take the stage was Thanea Hodges, the dynamic and engaging music teacher from Cambridge, instigator of the Oxford and Cambridge Note Race. Thanea explained that in previous years Cambridge musicians had participated in Grade-1-athons and raised over £200,000 for charity. This year, she wanted Oxford musicians to join in and to compete with Cambridge to see which city could raise the most sponsorship, with money raised here going to Home-Start Oxford. In Cambridge three charities will be benefiting. Apart from raising money for deserving causes, Thanea explained that the Grade-1-athons enabled musicians from all parts of the music community to come together, as well as providing the opportunity to develop new skills and perhaps even fall in love with a new instrument carrying it on to a higher level. For those who were teachers, it also provided a reminder of what it was like to be a pupil facing their first music exam.


Gradeoneathon launch:  Picture: Ric Mellis
Christine Cairns

Enthusiasm for the project was strongly endorsed by the next speaker, Christine Cairns, the mezzo soprano, who with her husband, John Lubbock MBE, founded the charity Music for Autism. Christine spoke movingly about the impact that music had had on their autistic son and the joy they had experienced in bringing music into his life and the lives of others with autism. Christine teaches singing and both she and John will be making guest appearances at the concert to help the musicians get their act and their voices together for the choral and orchestral pieces. Christine is also planning to learn the ‘cello for the Grade-1-athon.

We next heard from Jill Pellew, a member of the Advisory Council of the Oxford Philharmonic. Jill explained how members of the orchestra were involved in outreach in Oxford, bringing music to school children, people with learning difficulties and those with dementia. She said that the OP recognised the great value of the work done by Home-Start Oxford and that some members of the orchestra were volunteering to take part in the Grade-1-athon.


Gradeoneathon launch:  Picture: Ric Mellis
Prue Reynolds takes the rostrum

Prue Reynolds, who has been involved with Home-Start for over 30 years, and is the longest serving volunteer, then spoke about the charity and her experience. She stressed the enormous importance of the role that trained volunteers played in befriending, supporting and providing practical help to families in crisis and welcomed the recognition, to say nothing of the additional funds, that being part of the Oxford and Cambridge Note Race would bring.


Next, Alison expressed her delight that we had managed to capture one of the Cambridge musicians who has joined our team. David Bourne is a Grade-1-athon veteran who lives in Bletchley and has volunteered to come over to the other side and share his wisdom and experience with us. His account of the afternoon’s events can be found below.

Gradeoneathon launch:  Picture: Ric Mellis
Alex Tester

She also warmly welcomed Alex Tester, Director of Music at St Edward’s School, which has generously allowed us to use their fantastic new Music School for the training day on 9 July and the exams on 10 September. Alex has been a hugely active supporter and recruiter, persuading his own staff to join him in signing up and getting teachers at other schools to come on board.


Gradeoneathon launch:  Picture: Ric Mellis
Ben Norbury

The formal session ended with questions, most of which concerned the exam and were ably fielded by Ben Norbury from Trinity College, London which is generously providing the exams and examiners for the Grade-1-athon.


As a grand finale, the speakers on the platform joined hands and the Note Race was formally launched.

Gradeoneathon launch:  Picture: Ric MellisHowever, it was not all over and guests lingered on a while longer with more cake, tea and chatter.

Gradeoneathon launch:  Picture: Ric Mellis
Katharine Barber and Naomi Yandell share a joke with one of the musicians

If you weren’t able to join us we are sorry you missed out on the opportunity to hear the inspiring speakers and get to meet the wonderful committed musicians who are joining Team Oxford but that was just the start.

There are now 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 Oxford MyDonate page. If you were able to sponsor an aspect of our programme, for instance, the hiring of The Oxford Town 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 Oxford if you are able to help in these or other ways.

Photographs by courtesy of Ric Mellis

David Bourne writes: Sunday 30 April

Thanea Hodges met me at my parents’ home in Bletchley, where we had lunch and headed across to Oxford for the launch. A pleasant journey through the Vale of Aylesbury soon lead us to Oxford and we found St Hilda’s with ease. The Jacqueline Du Pre memorial centre has a croquet lawn on its frontage and two students were having a game. Quintessentially English. On arrival at the JdP in Oxford preparations were underway for the launch and we chatted with our new found friends and enjoyed a cup of coffee. The meeting was introduced by Alison Scott, Chairman of Home-Start Oxford. Once underway there were talks by Thanea about the Grade-1-athon, Prue Reynolds about Home-Start, Christine Cairns (who oddly enough I had worked with on a tour of Mahler’s third symphony in 1991 in Scandinavia but had not seen since!) about her experiences with her own son who is autistic and Jill Pellew from the Oxford Phil, some of whose members are keen to participate.
I was at the podium for a question and answer session but in truth Thanea probably knew all the answers far better! A talk was given by Ben Norbury from Trinity College London regarding the exams themselves. We adjourned to the conservatory on the front of the building and enjoyed more coffee and delicious cakes and there was much chatter and excitement about the times to come and those past… it turned out that Christine was also going to study the ‘cello like me. We had a photograph taken by the Jacqueline Du Pre statue in the conservatory. I hope she will be proud of us. We said goodbye to our new friends and Thanea drove us back.

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.