Philippa Davidson hears chamber orchestra musicians give masterclasses for pupils in west London. Young trumpeters took to the stage at Ickenham's Compass Theatre for an evening of advice and performance from charismatic Scottish trumpeter John Miller. The masterclass was the last in a series of projects run by members of London Musici, an enterprising chamber orchestra which has been working in Hillingdon primary and secondary schools this term.
Other events included a percussion day at Bishop Ramsey Secondary School and a workshop for young saxophone players at Cranford Park Primary. Another master class at the Compass Theatre involved the viola players of the borough. The orchestra's conductor Mark Stephenson has long been committed to education and feels there is a particular need in Hillingdon. "It's a neglected part of London. Croydon has the London Mozart Players, East London the Docklands Sinfonietta." Ultimately, he has plans for working in nine west London boroughs, if funding can be found.
He makes no secret of the fact that one of his aims is to build audiences, and to this end has offered all children taking part in the projects free tickets to a London Musici concert at St John's Smith Square.
John Miller, who teaches at the Guildhall and is a coach with the National Youth 0rchestra, clearly had a rapport with the students, whose experience ranged from Grade 2 upwards. "More spooky" was his advice to the first, who offered Gregson's Danse Macabre. "More character - open your throat more. " 0ne of the six intrepid volunteers was asked to prod the trumpeter in the stomach. "What happens to my diaphragm now?" Tonguing and breathing exercises were suggested, as well as ways of perfecting the demisemiquavers in a Haydn trumpet concerto.
The aim was not just to achieve technical accuracy. "I don't just teach the music I teach performance," said Miller. "Fortunately everyone came well prepared. This kind of occasion gives them a real chance to perform in front of an audience, albeit one comprising parents and friends. I once did a master class in Japan, where all the students wanted to play was the C major scale. "
In common with many professional musicians he feels that a masterclass is part of his own learning process. In the second half of the evening, pupils and their parents heard Miller and his versatile accompanist Roy Howat take a rapid tour of trumpet repertoire through the centuries from Albinoni to Gershwin and "The Hump", a cheerful composition by Miller himself. Ancestors of the modern valve instrument were demonstrated where appropriate.
Fourteen-year-old Jennie Coan, who plays in several bands and orchestras, was nervous but said, "John Miller soon put me at my ease." Her teacher Jayne McCallum, head of music at Archbishop Ramsey School, spoke enthusiastically of the percussion day. In the morning percussionist Alasdair Malloy worked with her A level group on their examination compositions. "In the afternoon he brought along a whole array of instruments including a glass harmonica and the day ended with everyone doing the conga round the hall. A lot of pupils will be going to the concert at St John's because they now know someone in the orchestra."
Terry Loane, joint head of Hillingdon Music Service, feels that occasions such as the trumpet workshop are invaluable to the artistic development of young musicians. "It's a link with the professional world. Pupils can hear the piece they've practised played by an expert and also measure themselves against other students. In addition, it's also a happy family occasion."
London Musici Concert at St John's Smith Square April 20. Box office: 0171 222 1061.