It was one of those dream-like thoughts that flit through your mind in a utopian stupor whilst daydreaming on the train. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place in Central London where I could teach!”
Most people sensibly let such thoughts pass after a few minutes; I have the unfortunate habit of picking up the phone and trying to make crazy ideas happen.
So it was that, a couple of days later, I found myself impulsively signing a lease on half a building next to Buckingham Palace in Westminster. As you do.
I gave myself three months, and negotiated a break clause for the same. I figured that I could lose money for no more than 2 months, otherwise the venture would be doomed. That was in April.
Now it’s mid-October, and we have well over 40 committed students, plus many more occasional ones. In just six months! It would be a lie to pretend it’s an easy ride, but I now know for sure that the gamble will eventually pay off.
And what an opportunity.
I really didn’t think about it at the time – I just wanted a central-ish box room where I could teach students without having to charge them ridiculously high rates. And then it turned out that the adjoining two rooms were also available. So instead, I seem to have established an actual, very real ‘bricks-and-mortar’ school. This is totally different to private teaching! It is an maelstrom of musical, educational and commercial checks and balances that need to be satisfied and systemised across a really wide spectrum of teachers, learners, and resources. There is one hell of a lot of responsibility. And I am doing everything I can to get things right.
For all my lack of planning, I have some very firm ideas about how a specialist ‘violin school’ should exist, and what it should stand for. You can read the first draft of my philosophy here. At the heart of it lies an embrace of creativity, for therein lies the greatest music making and also the evolution of our great traditions.
The team I am assembling is completely extraordinary – a collection of maniacs with mind-blowing amounts of experience, intelligence, and hard-won wisdom. They’re also genuinely nice people with a lot of integrity, so I have high hopes.
But the sheer amount of work involved in setting this up is fearsome even for me, and I’ve put some things (including PhD and some performing) on hold until the end of the year, by which time I hope the ship will be able to sail its own course without me doing everything myself. So if your email is one of the many hundred sitting unread in my email account, I can only apologise and say ‘I will get back to you soon’…
In the meantime, things are progressing fast. The organisation has been renamed (from London Violin Studio to ViolinSchool), a website – which will soon become an interactive e-learning platform – has been created at www.violinschool.org, and the formal curriculum is in an advanced stage of development. Some brilliant workshops and masterclasses have already taken place, a smallish but nonetheless very real violin library is in preparation, and I have just confirmed that the School’s Christmas concert will take place at the new St James Theatre (www.stjamestheatre.co.uk) that recently opened across the road. Without wanting to reveal too much too soon, I have some really exciting plans that will open up some of the world’s finest ‘violin minds’ to the public, and ViolinSchool will be the vehicle to make this happen.
As the all-consuming challenge of creating administration, finance and technology systems begins to subside – not least thanks to Maria Thomas, a music-business genius whose steady hand guides the school away from my maddest ideas – my attention turns to the legacy of 19th and 20th century violin pedagogy. I started to synthesise and filter these monumental works long ago, and so although I know exactly where the school is headed from a pedagogical perspective, I do still have to find a way of presenting the great violinistic masters (Dounis, Galamian, Flesch, et all) in a way that is relevant to today’s violinists. Violinists of any age and level (for that is our slogan).
Not wanting to give myself a too easy time of it, I thought I’d set the bar high to motivate the team. So we’re aiming to become the world’s pre-eminent Violin School within a couple of years. So wish me luck with that. Ahem.