Lars Holm Teachers/Students Workshop, London - UK
About 10 teachers attended this terrific workshop by the internationally recognised pedagogical expert Lars Holm, held at the Royal Academy of Music on March 9th. They came from the length and breadth of the country as far north as Scotland and Northern Ireland to the south coast and from Essex to the West Midlands.
There were young students from 4 years old right up to university age. There were also a handful of mature adult students at varying stages of their musical development as well as other people just taking a keen interest. The aim of the workshop was to help teachers in the UK with keeping their student's interest so that they don't get bored and hopefully become the next generation of professional UK-reared accordionists.
Owen Murray, Professor of Accordion at the Royal Academy began the day by welcoming all the teachers and students to the workshop. He explained that Lars Holm had been a teacher of pedagogy at the Royal Danish Conservatoire when he himself was studying there and had published lots of interesting music for accordion students several of which are used in the Trinity Guildhall Accordion Syllabus.
With the government accredited syllabus now in its fourth year and the accordion department now in its 22nd year, the professor said that he felt the structures were all in place for an accordion student to flourish from the beginners stages all the way to professional status.
The nature of accordion work available has changed somewhat in the years that I have been a professional. When I started out semi-professionally in 1981 I got a fair bit of 'stereotypical' accordion work; walking around dressed as a French onion-seller playing French musette, or a gondolier in a boater playing Italian serenades, parties, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs with my band, always wondering whether anyone was actually listening to the background accordion 'wallpaper' I was churning out from the corner of a restaurant - and occasionally someone would say "that was nice".
Not much reward for the many hours of practising spent each day either financially or morally. All the time, I was hungry for more; to make my mark, to say something new with my instrument that someone would actually listen to.
What is great about the type of work today is that there is a lot of really interesting and challenging work available. Work where people do want to listen to the music and not just to leap around the dance floor to it doing a mock-tango, or the kind of work where one is told to play quietly because they can't hear themselves talk.
Now, people want to listen to Jazz accordion, to Classical Accordion, to World Music, to Folk Music, they want to hear the accordion as part of a symphony orchestra, a chamber orchestra, in the orchestra pit of our theatres and even on stage in our theatres. It's even getting a 'quietly cool' reputation in pop bands.
Composers want to write for it as a solo instrument, as part of a larger ensemble and for incidental music in films and television. This new kind of work was around years ago but it was in the minority and usually one or two good players got the bulk of it.
Today there is much more of it but the level of performance is also on the rise and the challenges set by it are greater. For this it is important to hold our students' interest and make them realise that a good career is now feasible. If the only work they will most likely get is sitting in the corner of a restaurant they are not likely to be very inspired.
It's vital then for teachers not only keep their students' interest by offering new and different repertoire but also for them to keep abreast with the many wonderful and original new artists who finding success in areas where the accordion was previously hardly ever seen.
This means seeking out new artists, ensembles, going to concerts and festivals of all descriptions. The Internet makes this easy today.
The workshop suggested many ways of making interesting music on standard or free-bass accordions, playing solo and as part of a group even before a student can actually read music properly.
Much of the music that Holm used was either his own material or arrangements of well-known pieces and despite being very apologetic about the standard of his English he enthralled his workshop audience all day long making fewer grammatical errors than many natives I could think of.
Particularly entertaining was an example of an exercise he does with some of his intermediate to advanced students of a simple Finnish polka played in first a Swedish style, then in a Russian Style, then Brazilian, Tex Mex, Balkan and finally in a Bulgarian style with a tricky time signature where 15 beats are divided at the halfway point of 7 and a half.
The latter two raised a laugh particularly from the students studying at the Academy of Balkan origin!
After a brief history of free-bass accordion recordings going back to the 1910s and a history of Sweden's contribution to accordion music, Holm worked with the youngest students who study with Elaine Beecham and Ingrid Gould.
They played a few pieces each to demonstrate their level and then Holm got them playing together as an ensemble. They were an absolute credit to their teachers in the way they participated in both morning and afternoon sessions and waited patiently and without getting frustrated or bored in the interim period.
Then Holm worked with adult students. It's a shame that some adults brought their accordions but didn't feel brave enough to play them because Holm has a wonderful way of making people feel at ease on stage.
After lunch there was a brief recital by three of the six students at the Academy. It was a great opportunity to see the entry level that is now required to study there. Rafal Luc, only 18 years of age and in his second term at the RAM gave an extremely mature performance of Prelude and Fugue No.24 from (48 Preludes and Fugues -J.S. Bach) and a sensitive yet exhilarating performance of Interieur (Angelis).
This was followed by a beautifully expressive May (Tchaikovsky) and the subtly virtuosic Revis Fairy Tale (Schnittke) by Ksenija Sidorova. The finale was by 2nd Year Post-Grad student Franko Bozac accompanied by Makiko Sada on Piano and Calum Gourlay on Double Bass with a blistering performance of Le Grand Tango (Piazzolla).
Following these amazing performances Holm demonstrated ideas for advanced students and for these he used some of the Academy's own students Ksenija Sidorova, Trang Nguyen, Rafal Luc and one of Elaine Beecham's advanced students, Sam Davis who is currently studying music at Canterbury University majoring in Accordion.
Here music was used so reading skills were required, ensemble playing also develops the ear, rhythm and timing and other devices such as bellow shakes and left hand chord substitutions were explored.
There was then a chance for Holm to play excerpts from some of his albums of compositions. Thankfully Holm had brought a few copies for teachers to view and buy if they wished as there have been problems obtaining accordion music from small publishers both for individuals and music stockists in the UK. The publishers should wise up to this as the current expiry date on the current syllabus is 2010.
There was another chance for the adult students to play where the morning session's themes were expanded into playing in canon. The youngsters too finally got another chance to play and demonstrated that they had absorbed fully what had been taught that morning so all credit to the youngest students Kieran and Kristian Kanapathy, Darius Lau and Liam Rice.
To finish Holm touched on the pieces of his and his colleagues such as Tom Pedersen that are included in the Trinity Guildhall Syllabus. I know that many teachers would have liked to have discussed this topic more but the time flew and the Academy closes at 5.30 on Sundays.
Based on the success of this workshop Owen Murray would very much like to invite Lars Holm back next year and this being the case and the participation being similar there ought to be I would hope, another opportunity for eager teachers to ask questions and seek advice regarding the syllabus and further education in the UK again and for those teachers and students who didn't make it this year to experience a really enjoyable and informative day.
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