Last month I spent a delightful and highly satisfying few days attending, for once, to my own performing arts training rather than anyone else’s.
Three intensive days at Benslow Music Trust at Hitchin in Hertfordshire playing second violin parts by Haydn and Mozart certainly improved my playing – which it was in dire need of.
I played violin to quite a high level in my youth and continued in amateur orchestras into my 20s. Then came a job, home and family and gradually there was no time to practise and it all fell away. When I unpacked my violin in January this year I hadn’t played for over 30 years and hadn’t had any kind of tuition since I left school in 1965.
Trying to recover a little of what I used to be able to do has been my 2014 project. It has involved lessons locally and then Benslow which specialises in supporting amateurs and returners as well as offering advanced level continuing professional development.
[pullquote]One of the tutors was depping for the RSC[/pullquote]
I was warmly impressed by the Benslow ethos. Based in a Victorian House with newer purpose-built annexes in its extensive grounds, it offers pleasant residential accommodation (including plenty of tasty home-cooked food) and extensive playing space for both large and small groups. There were 40 people on my strings course and a small course for flautists running at the same time. We had five tutors all of whom were expert at coaxing and coaching without being judgmental or critical, but able to get each and every one of us to learn and improve. One tutor, Jenny Curtis of the Tedesca Quartet, was depping at Stratford the day after the course ended – playing in the band for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won.
Well, I’m doing this simply for pleasure – and, I suppose, to prove something to myself – but for actors these days the ability to play a musical instrument could make all the difference between getting a job or not. Actor musicians are very much in demand, especially in theatre for young audiences which is developing for newly graduated actors almost into the equivalent of the old rep system as an environment in which to hone your craft.
[pullquote]Actor musicians are very much in demand[/pullquote]
The trouble with instrumental music is that your standard declines rapidly if you stop doing it as I know all too well. Nicola Benedetti practises for six hours a day and sometimes more, she told an interviewer recently. You have to keep beavering away at it – even if that means 10 minutes a day, as in my case, rather than six hours.
Any actor who’s ever played anything really ought to be keeping it up and working to improve his or her skills and perhaps that’s where Benslow could help?
It runs courses for all instruments as well as voices and a wide range of ability levels. Many styles are on the menu too including big band, klezmer, folk fiddling and much more. Check it out. It could help you to resurrect, develop or acquire skills which will make you more marketable. There’s a lot of fun to be had there too with like minded people.
And as for me, I’m hooked. I’ve booked in for another course next summer.