CES Preserves Endangered Woodwind

DEEP IN Croydon’s leafy
suburban sprawl, horns are
rasping, oboes are tooting and
bassoons are honking at the
Centre for Endangered Species (CES), a
scheme which is starting players young on
some of the rarer breeds in the teaching
jungle. But the CES aims not only to teach
these instruments: its job is to foster as
many links, friendships and performing
pathways as possible for its beginner players,
with the hope of filling the seats of the
years to come.
After all, says Bronia Parry, assistant head
of instrumental teaching at Croydon Music
and Arts and director of the scheme, not all
the factors which led to these instruments
becoming dangerously scarce can be rectified
simply by providing more instruments and
teachers:
‘What I wanted to do was give them a
special place, because when you play an
endangered instrument you might be the
only one in the school,’ she says. ‘The idea
was to bring them together and form a club –
“You belong to the CES”. They learn together,
then go through the workshops together,
and eventually go through our whole system
together.
‘And I think it’s interesting why the kids
choose these instruments, because they don’t
want to be just like everybody else. They don’t
want to be like the flute player or the violin
player, they want to be slightly different,
and you get some real characters forming.
So with Conor and Claire  for
instance, we’re going to try to have them as a
pair of horns going right the way through our
system together.’
Martin Grainger is the scheme’s horn
teacher. I’ve watched him sitting with the
group’s young horn players, quietly giving
titbits of advice and chipping in with the
general banter (on first-name terms, but not
unruly) which ripples among the children
and teachers, and I catch him after a lesson
with two older pupils:
‘Obviously when the CES was set up
it was because we all realised we had this
huge shortage of horns, bassoons, double
basses and oboes, and it’s been a really good
response to that: every year we seem to have
more take up.
‘Then there’s a workshop band which
runs for their second year, and we try to
promote the group work as soon as possible
because it’s such a big part of keeping them
interested, musically and socially. And horns
particularly benefit from this kind of teaching
because the horn is difficult to teach with
other brass instruments – something that’s
easy for the horns will be in a tricky key for
the other brass instruments, and vice-versa.’
‘Overall,’ he says, ‘I think it’s been really
successful in promoting these instruments.
We manage to get some good work done
while keeping it nice and relaxed, but the
kids have to want to come here – and so it’s
really nice to hear that they enjoy it.’
Conor, 11, and Claire, 9, have both been
attending the CES since November 2009,
learning the French horn in the group with
teacher Martin Grainger.
Claire started off wanting to play the oboe,
which she tried at one of the taster days which
the centre organises at the beginning of the year:
‘And you could just see that she wasn’t an oboist
or bassoonist,’ says Bronia Parry. ‘She was
blowing so hard – so put her on the French horn!’
‘If I’m tired,’ says Claire, ‘then I blow my French
horn and then I go, “Aaah!” and I wake up!’
So how does Conor find playing the horn?
‘Quite fun, I like it,’ he says, ‘I used to play the
guitar but this is better.’ He plays ‘just for fun,’
he says. ‘I might join the school orchestra or
band or something, but not one that does
anything big on stage.’ Yet he has no problem
with performing at ‘Fairfields or something’,
referring to Croydon’s 2000-seater Fairfield Hall!
Calum, 11, and Seb, 12, both started learning
the bassoon at CES. Calum is in his first year,
and Seb has now moved on to the second year,
having individual lessons with Bronia Parry.
Seb enjoyed the group learning aspect of the
CES’s first year: ‘I liked the bassoon because I
already played the cello and I like the nice low
bass instruments,’ he says. Which does he
prefer? ‘I’m better at the cello! But I like them
both really, for different reasons. I like on the
bassoon that you can go really really high or
really really low – it’s brilliant – whereas on the
cello I only really like going high.’
Calum also plays the flute, but found the
bassoon at a CES taster day, and was surprised
to find the bassoon quite playable. ‘We got to
play all the instruments and I found the bassoon
the easiest. I’m not too sure why because, with
playing the flute, the oboe should’ve been
easiest because of the keys. Anyway, I’ll
definitely carry on with it.’
The Centre for Endangered Species at
Croydon Music and Arts is encouraging
a steady stream of young oboists,
bassoonists and horn players.
Alex Stevens takes a look at its
techniques and future success stories
borough’s top orchestras and ensembles for
www.rhinegold.co.uk/musicteacher

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