From education to employment

Deptford Church’s Refurbishment to Bring Community Together in Music

At a recent European Social Funding (ESF) launch hosted by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in London, Mary Conneely, the Regional Director of Regeneration in London, stressed the importance of regeneration linked not just to the Olympics in 2012 ““ which approach would leave London with vast empty complexes and enormous one ““ off debts ““ but regeneration of people and communities as well.

A “big city” culture can swallow up communities and lead to the fragmentation of social structures. One of Further Education’s prime objectives is to promote social inclusion and the building and maintenance of community structures through training and learning. In the first of this series of articles, FE News Editor Jethro Marsh looks at the fall and rise of St. Paul’s Church in Deptford, and experiences the power that music possesses to bring together people from across the social spectrum.

The Fire and Restoration

Deptford has a long history of community strength and diversity. Henry VIII designated this small shipbuilding town his principle Royal Naval Dockyard, which led to its growth at the time into one of the largest English towns of more than 10,000 people. Over the course of the centuries many famous individuals have visited Deptford, ranging from the notorious Tsar Peter the Great through to playwright Christopher Marlowe.

Following a fire just a few years ago, St. Paul’s Church required extensive renovation to bring about its remarkable renaissance. The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded St. Pauls Church a sum of £2,777,000. This led to a commitment on the part of the church to offer its services to the local community, in this instance through hosting performances and promoting local artists in their aspiration to professional success. On the 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birth, the St. Paul’s Sinfonia and guest soloist Meg Hamilton kicked off 2006 by entertaining and enthralling the audience drawn from across the local community.

Music to Community’s Ears

The concert, which took place on Friday 27th January, featured a programme of Mozart, with one contemporary piece by Paul Newland. Following the much ““ loved Cosi Fan Tutte Overture, Meg Hamilton came to the fore with an elegant performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D Major, K.218. From her bold and confident entry in the first movement, through her cultured and elegant sound and lyrical phrasing in the second movement and ending with the stately French style rondo Finale, her excellent musicianship and expressive playing brought the concerto to life.

The audience enjoyed her performance, bringing her back to take a bow three times through their continuous applause. Speaking after the concert, Meg was clearly delighted at the opportunity to perform in the church, saying: “I felt really relaxed and focused as I played my favourite Mozart concerto in this stunning church, with an orchestra full of friends, for a smiling and appreciative audience.”

The second half featured the St. Paul’s Sinfonia performing Mozart’s Symphony Number 41 K.551, the famous Jupiter Symphony, with energy and enthusiasm as the sound of a fully committed and dedicated orchestra of young musicians filled the hall. Andrew Morley, the conductor and co ““ founder of the St. Paul’s Sinfonia, was able to spare a few moments to speak after the performance of the importance of the church in encouraging artistic development, and of the unique formation of the St. Paul’s Sinfonia.

“The main body of the church was very severely damaged (in the fire),” he said of the church, “so they set about raising funds, from local benefactors and fundraising. Basically, they restored the church. Part of the Heritage funding was that it should be used for the community, and so a friend of ours who was on the board of a local community committee said “I”ll set up an orchestra!” He introduced other actors in the drama of setting the orchestra in motion, including the Helen the flautist and the leader of the orchestra, James Widden, who introduced Mr. Morley.

The orchestra is a truly exceptional achievement. At the start of the year, Mr. Morley and the orchestra gathered and it was announced that sadly the orchestra would not be able to afford to pay the musicians. The response was positive; the musicians, recognising the importance of the group both to their own experience and to the community, agreed to continue to perform for free. “We are looking to get sponsors for next year,” said Mr. Morley, hoping to offer some payment in the future. Discussing the reasons why the musicians return, he said: “A lot of the better musicians want the chance to come back and play with other good musicians. Secondly, a lot of them are friends, and the social thing has built up; a community aspect.”

A World of Music

Meg had performed two weeks before at St. Paul’s Church, as part of the creative and innovative young string trio Kosmos whose novel approach sees them specialise in bringing a wealth of different folk music styles together and to the public. Her colleagues, violinist Harriet Mackenzie and “cellist Laura Anstee, were also present on Friday and shared their own thoughts on the church. Harriet shared some personal family involvement in the church, saying: “It was fantastic to play in this beautiful church. Actually, one of my ancestors was the architect”¦It has beautiful acoustics and it was really an honour for us to play here.”

Laura Anstee said of the church: “I thought that this church was very beautiful, and that it was a very atmospheric evening.” She also stressed the importance of the church’s role in bringing more people into music and bringing more people together, responding when asked about returning to perform again at a later date: “I am looking forward to coming back, with more audience, who are interested in Klezmer, Rebetiko and Gypsy music.”

Music is a fundamental form of expression and communication and can serve to bring a community together in a way that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers. The commitment and talent of the St. Paul’s Sinfonia, conductor Andrew Morley, and soloist Meg Hamilton should be recognised and praised. It is to be hoped that one of the myriad of bodies for funding, perhaps the Arts Council, will be able to find some funding to support the orchestra and help them to continue to bring communities back together, both at St. Paul’s and beyond.

Jethro Marsh

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