Playing house

4th September 1998 at 01:00
In 1982 Caroline Lumsden began teaching violin to her children and their school friends in her kitchen. Since then, her music teaching has grown into something of a mini-empire. She is director of Beauchamp Music Group, a registered charity that has taught hundreds of young people, gaining many of them places in our best youth orchestras.

At the same time her home and the group's base, Beauchamp House - a fine old dower house set in Gloucestershire's rolling acres - has grown almost organically to accommodate music.

On Saturdays, hordes of children roll into its lofty rooms for music clubs. In the summer, the meadow outside is thick with pitched tents for music and drama summer schools.

An old dairy has been converted into a suite of music rooms. And slap bang in the middle of the garden is a rehearsal hall big enough for a full orchestra and audience of 200.

So how has Caroline Lumsden done it? With the help of cartoon characters such as Bessie Bee and Gareth Grasshopper, part of the Musicland system she devised for teaching musical notation. Her methods are now used throughout the world, with books translated into French, Italian and Spanish.

At Beauchamp House, in Churcham near Gloucester, piles of the latest Musicland books line the hallway fresh from the printers. Caroline and husband Alan, professor of music at the Birmingham Conservatoire, are recovering from their daughter Emma's wedding two days earlier.

The reception brought home to them just how far they have come. Many of Emma's contemporaries who had their first music lessons in the Lumsdens' house were wedding guests.

"Most are now either performing or teaching music," says Caroline. "We've come full circle. Now the next generation are all setting off."

Their own children are talented musically. Emma, 21, is studying at the Royal Academy of Music and wants to become a professional cellist. Sister Rebecca, 23, is a singer and viola player and is embarking on an acting career. Ben, 19, is just off to Cambridge to study music, and Katie, 17, is a grade 8 distinction pianist.

Ms Lumsden trained as a violinist and singer at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but then decided to go into the classroom and spent two years as a primary school teacher in London.

She left to have children, and she and Alan headed for the country and the good life. They bought Beauchamp House in 1981 but at first life was, they admit, more chaotic than good.

The house was infested with deathwatch beetle, and the cellar was waist-high in water. By then the couple had four young children, and Alan, a world expert on early music, was abroad much of the time playing with the Early Music Consort of London.

Even so, Caroline still found time to teach. "When the children started at the local primary school, our eldest, Rebecca, said she wanted to learn violin, " she recalls. "Emma wanted to learn too, so I said if you can find a group of friends who want to learn, we'll do it.

"We started with 40 children. A term later we had 100. Two years later we had 300 children and had outgrown the kitchen. So we converted the buildings into music rooms, and in 1984 built the concert hall in the back garden."

Alan says: "This part of the world suffered a complete lack of provision.Suddenly we were inundated with children. It wasn't planned, but it became a huge part of our lives."

During her time in the classroom, Caroline had been impressed with the Letterland system for teaching reading and writing. When she started teaching music at home, she began giving the notes names and characters.

Gloucestershire artist Erik Weeks brought the characters to life in cartoon form and the Lumsdens began producing their own tutor books for recorder and violin.

Today they sell between 2,000 and 3,000 copies a year worldwide. The Lumsdens say they could boost sales if they handed it over to a publisher with proper marketing resources, but they would lose control.

"We don't make any money from it," says Caroline. "All the money goes into the next thing. But then we're not doing it for the money."

Caroline, Alan and the Beauchamp group's other music teachers insist pupils play together even from an early age. There's also an emphasis on fun, with singing, rhythm and theory training, and eurythmics - rhythmical games such as jumping in time through hoops.

Parents can come to learn with their children, and Beauchamp Music Group also runs training courses for teachers, even those with little or no musical expertise, to help them take the methods back to the classroom.

Another string to Caroline Lumsden's bow is the Gloucester Academy of Music and Performing Arts. Many Beauchamp students move on to the academy, which holds various courses and A-level classes in music and drama.

Caroline's dream is for a national academy for the performing arts in disused warehouses in Gloucester docks, and until a few months ago she and other GAMPA trustees came close to realising it. But a Pounds 15 million bid to the Arts Council was turned down.

Now the plans are going ahead, but on a smaller scale and much more gradually. The national academy is expected to be up and running in one of the dock buildings by September 1999.

Caroline Lumsden is convinced there's a huge need for this kind of provision. "So much research proves that children who have had early musical training develop academically, physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially - and they just achieve more.

"My message to the Government is please take up the cause, get music back into schools and give every child a chance to use an instrument. Every child is capable of achieving."


Amelia Jones was four when she first went to Beauchamp Music Group for violin lessons. Now, aged 13, she has passed grade 8 distinction in the violin and grade 8 piano and is set to take grade 8 double bass later this year.

Her mother, Sheena, says Amelia could sing in tune even as a toddler, but neither she nor husband Robin had any reason to believe their daughter was musically gifted.

"She started at Beauchamp when she was at playgroup. I thought it would be something to hold her interest for the year before she went to school. She was quite a bright little thing.

"She did her grade 5 by the age of seven, and was grade 7 when she was nine. She did grade 8 last November. She's stayed with the Beauchamp system all the way through - the rhythm and the singing.

"It all follows the same system - those who don't go to rhythm and singing don't learn the theory that easily. Because it's fun you don't realise you're learning the theory."

Mrs Jones says Beauchamp Music Group has opened up horizons for Amelia socially, and she has grown up with performing in public.

"They all have a marvellous time. It's more like a youth club - they usually have a game of football in the break. They all become really good friends. "

Today, Amelia attends Gloucester Academy of Music and Performing Arts and has just started tutoring her first pupil, aged five. She wants to go on to the Royal Academy of Music and play professionally.

Her mother says: "The main thing Beauchamp gave her was the sense of fun.It was something you did because you enjoyed it, because you wanted to do it."

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