Rebecca Willson

Rebecca WillsonRebecca lives and works in Exeter as a freelance musician and teacher. She graduated from Dartington College of Arts in 2007 with a First Class Honours Degree in Music and, in 2015, with a Masters Degree in 21st Century Music from Brunel University. Her current work includes instrumental and musicianship teaching, performing and theatre work as well as playing in a gypsy jazz band.

Feldenkrais at the BKA Summer School

Andrea Hallam talks about Feldenkrais
Andrea will be leading two practical sessions on Feldenkrais at the BKA Summer School 2016.

I always have trouble saying what Feldenkrais “is” (I wish I could put it shortly and succinctly!).

Basically, it’s using movement as a tool to heighten awareness. Its effects are potentially far-reaching and profound, as written about so beautifully by Norman Doidge in his new book. (Feldenkrais people say that it’s the best writing on Feldenkrais there is).

Would it be OK if I tell you about my encounter with it…something of what the Feldenkrais Method is to me personally?

I originally came to Feldenkrais through a back problem. After months of physiotherapy and expert care at one of the best clinics in NYC, the experts admitted there was nothing more they could do and recommended Feldenkrais “because it addresses the nervous system”. Long story short, after the very first lesson, when I didn’t have the faintest clue about what it was, if I was “doing it right”, I felt immense relief. I continued and the more I did, the better I felt, especially my back which had become a kind of obsession by then.

I soon noticed another very welcome and surprising effect…it improved my violin playing immensely!! I felt a visceral, physical pleasure and ease that I had never known. I also became much more creative in my practice, coming up with all sorts of new ideas no teacher had ever taught me. As long as I did a Feldenkrais lesson before I played, I was (still am) guaranteed to have a rewarding, creative, productive practice session. It just became so fun!

Last season the manager of the contemporary music group I play with in Israel offered me a solo on viola by the Argentinian composer Matalon. I immediately agreed. When the score arrived I nearly had a heart attack! It was BY FAR the most technically difficult piece I had ever taken on- 40 minutes of unbroken, solo, virtuosic writing, on VIOLA! (I’ve played a lot of the major violin and chamber music repertoire and this was another story). It also included extra-musical, coordination demands such as co-ordinating the music with a silent documentary film by Luis Bunuel with subtitle cues in French and using a foot pedal for electronic effects.

If it wasn’t for Feldenkrais I have no idea how I would have done it!

Feldenkrais gave me a way of working, of “organic learning”, that helped me every step of the way. I promised myself I would feel no stress, keep everything easy. If I detected the slightest change in quality in my work (stress) I would take a different approach. I found innovative ways to build it up gradually and in the end, the performance was a great success- all with minimum stress! It was definitely a first for me and showed me what’s possible.

I still do a Feldenkrais lesson every day if I can. It has such a spurring effect on my work and everything I do, including parenting. I’ve definitely learned more about violin playing from Feldenkrais than any of my teachers, great though they were. There’s just no substitute for feeling it yourself and that kind of integration that’s only possible through this kind of learning, which is in common with Kodály’s method. “Listen” is the key verb used throughout an ATM. It’s another way to train listening.

Here is a link to a TED talk by a fellow student, Dorit, from my training, with some footage of our teacher, Eilat Almagor working with a toddler. I find it a cute and inspiring presentation:

A Feldenkrais Lesson for the Beginner Scientist: Professor Dorit Aharonov at TEDxJaffa

As many of us spend a great deal of time sitting, either as professional musicians, working at a computer or travelling, I think these lessons can be directly relevant to everybody.

Andrea Hallam

Andrea HallamAndrea Hallam is a passionate chamber musician and is in demand both as a violinist and violist. Andrea has been deeply influenced by the great Austro-Hungarian music-making tradition to which she was introduced at the International Musicians’ Seminar, Prussia Cove Master Classes in 1997.  There as an English Speaking Union Scholar, she met Lorand Fenyves, with whom she subsequently studied for three years. Since 2000 Andrea has been a regular participant at IMS Open Chamber Music and was invited to perform in 2012 at the anniversary concert at Wigmore Hall.

Andrea collaborates regularly with pianist Izabella Simon and has performed twice in the festival in Budapest established by Izabella with her husband, pianist Denes Varjon. Her extensive chamber music experience also includes collaborations with artists such as Steven Isserlis and Mayumi Seiler as well as with members of chamber groups including the Amadeus, Orion, Tokyo, St Lawrence, Belcea, Keller, Chilingirian and Endellion string quartets and the Florestan and Gould piano trios. In addition, Andrea has played with some of Europe’s top ensembles such as the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Camerata Salzburg, Camerata Bern and Ensemble Modern.

Andrea is a member of the Israeli Contemporary Players where she also sometimes plays solo. Last season, she played principal second violinist with the Jerusalem Camerata and has also played with the Tel Aviv Soloists, the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra and Meitar Ensemble.

Paul Harris

Paul HarrisPaul Harris is one of the UK’s most influential music educationalists. He studied the clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music, where he won the August Manns Prize for outstanding performance in clarinet playing and where he now teaches. He is in great demand as a teacher, composer, and writer (he has written over 600 music books); and his inspirational masterclasses and workshops continue to influence thousands of young musicians and teachers all over the world in both the principles and practice of musical performance and education.

Paul Harris’s concept of Simultaneous Learning is now a recognised and highly regarded form of teaching worldwide. This exciting, imaginative and holistic approach encourages students to learn positively, effectively and independently. It turns the old-fashioned & reactive style of teaching (pupils play, make mistakes and teacher corrects) on its head. This inherently practical way of teaching allows you, as teacher, to get the best out of your pupils and include all the core skills within a standard lesson time. In this presentation you will discover techniques that enable pupils to develop much more fully as musicians.

Carolyn Spencer

Carolyn SpencerCarolyn Spencer works in a large primary school outside Guildford and uses a Kodály approach in her class and instrumental teaching (oboe and piano) and with her choirs.  Carolyn first came across the Kodály approach to teaching music when training as a Montessori teacher 25 years ago and has been using it in her teaching ever since. Trained by The Voices Foundation, she runs insets in schools and has just started a Music Coordinators network in Guildford schools to support teachers. She has conducted research into the importance of music in nurturing the attachment bond between mothers and babies and this underpins all her teaching as well as her termly baby and toddler workshops.

BKA Residentials by Charlotte Brennan

Charlotte Brennan Insert

At the BKA courses, you find yourself surrounded by people who love making music with others and want to learn more. People come from so many different musical backgrounds and levels of experience – the courses really embrace the philosophy ‘music should belong to everyone’. The music you can make collectively on the courses can be so simple, but really stunning – since everyone allows themselves to be so immersed.

Charlotte Brennan Confident PurpleAs a primary school music teacher, I have found the BKA courses invaluable for helping me develop more structure to my teaching. The Kodály approach works on the premise that music is a skill that everyone can learn when they are taught effectively – the courses offer such great training in music pedagogy, and are led by very inspiring tutors. There are sessions specifically on methodology, where you can learn how to break the skills down and teach them in a way that is progressive. I quickly found myself armed with new songs, games and teaching ideas that I couldn’t wait to try out with my classes – and gaining the knowledge of how to present these in a structured way left me feeling much more confident and professional at what I do.

Kodály Lightbulb Moments by Matt Brewster

Matt Brewster InsertMy journey into the world of Kodály began because I had the chance to be a ‘stay-at-home Dad’ for the best part of a year. I had been taking my one-year-old son to his ‘Mini Musicians’ class, initially thinking it would just be nursery rhymes. After a couple of weeks, I realised that there was something unusually clever and structured going on in these classes, and the older toddlers in the group had some quite amazing skills for their age – such as being able to beat a drum in perfect time to music – both crotchets and quavers! This had me intrigued, and when I was told that there was a shortage of teachers on the Isle of Man to run these groups, I jumped at the chance to learn more.

The Summer School was recommended to me by a couple of people who were involved in those groups. The reports I had received from those who were previous attendees were that this was to be a very intense, brain-melting week and I would be utterly exhausted – but that I would enjoy it.

As a result, I journeyed to England with a large degree of trepidation. I had looked at the timetable issued to me and it looked extremely full, including optional classes in the evening! I made a decision to just try to launch myself into everything, and just power through the tiredness. I am so glad I did.

The first thing you notice at Summer School is that you are suddenly surrounded by truly inspirational people, staff and students alike. There is so much talent that the music just seems to burst through the seams of the buildings and fill every space, including outdoors. Musical groups seem to materialise out of thin air and all of a sudden you are playing jazz (for the first time) with an ensemble of people you’ve never met before, but it feels like you’ve known them forever.

Our Early Years sessions were great fun, and really got us to think carefully about the reasons why we teach in a particular way, and to critically evaluate whether or not it is working. I came back with a huge raft of ideas for my toddler group!

I had a go at conducting for the first time (absolutely terrifying!) but through some excellent teaching I was quickly put at ease and since the summer school I have even conducted a church choir – something I never thought I would be able to do.

Matt MusicianshipI learned all about the science of the voice, how the vocal cords work and how to use different techniques to safely achieve the notes and volume required. Did you know that singing at full volume requires far less breath than singing quietly, because your vocal cords spend more time in their closed position? Fascinating!

There were some truly moving moments. Singing ‘The River is Flowing’ with all of the students during James Cuskelly’s session was an almost spiritual experience.

‘Lightbulb’ moments
But for me, the true highlight of Summer School were the musicianship sessions. They provided some extremely taxing mental exercise, challenging me to totally rethink how I approached my understanding of music. These sessions have huge potential to cause your head to spontaneously explode from all of the intense concentration, but Cyrilla did an incredible job of guiding us through it with immense patience. I looked forward to every single session, and at the end of it all I came out with a very good idea of every gap in my musical understanding. I discovered a lot of gaps! But rather than this being frustrating, I found it utterly inspiring. Things I had found difficult for years suddenly clicked into place like a light being switched on, and there were so many ‘lightbulb moments’ I lost count. I got so used to saying the words ‘Wow… of course, that makes so much sense!’ that I drew a picture of a lightbulb so that I wouldn’t ever forget that Kodály feeling.

I returned to the Island utterly exhausted and my brain had melted as I was promised it would – but I also felt like a child who had been taken home after a week at Disneyland. I really didn’t want to leave. I could have stayed in that environment for months and never got tired of it!

Since returning, I have started using Kodály in my own violin lessons, I’m now leading my toddler sessions on my own, and have noticed that my sight-singing is improving immensely.

I am very much looking forward to returning to another Summer School soon!

Matt started learning the piano at the age of four, before beginning a lifelong relationship with the violin aged five. After completing his degree he spent nearly four years working at Avid Technology on the market-leading score-writing software, Sibelius. Since moving to the Isle of Man he has worked as a secondary school teacher, a private violin teacher, and a teacher of Kodály-based toddler classes, while managing to fit in four different choirs and running a public board gaming group!

Eleanor Meynell


Eleanor Meynell won a scholarship to Chetham’s School of Music at the age of 11 where she studied with Heather Slade-Lipkin and Ryzsard Bakst and later, singing at the Royal Northern College of Music.

During her time at Chetham’s she was a prize- winner in several national and international competitions, winning Bromsgrove Young Musician of the Year aged 15 and was awarded both ARCM and LGSM diplomas.

Eleanor developed an interest in singing while still at school and, inspired by singing Pierrot Lunaire with Daniel Harding and Simon Rattle, went on to pursue a joint career as both singer and pianist at an international level.

Eleanor has broadcast as a soloist and chamber musician on BBC Radio 3, Classic fM and Radio Belfast and collaborates with several instrumentalists and singers. She is also a member of the Monteverdi Choir and for the past ten years has toured with them performing at major concert halls and opera houses all over Europe and the USA. She made her Wigmore Hall debut in 2015 conducted by John Eliot Gardiner in music by Schubert and Brahms which received critical acclaim in The Times.

Eleanor sang full-time with the BBC Singers for five years with whom she broadcast regularly for BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Proms and she is on the staff at both Trinity Laban conservatoire and Goldsmiths College as accompanist and vocal coach.

For more information please visit

Martin and Shan Graebe

What a wonderful day with Martin and Shan Graebe on the Kodály Spring Course 2016.

Our first lecture was from Martin, who took us entertainingly through the story of English traditional song from medieval times to the present day. We heard about the people who sang them, and the men and women who collected and published them. The story was illustrated with pictures, videos and sound – including a few songs from Martin and Shan.

Martin talked about some of the main collectors, Sabine Baring-Gould and Cecil Sharp. They had two crucial characteristics in common – an interest in people and the ability to get on with them. Both qualities that Sam Lee displayed last night in his session on the songs of the travelling communities of the British Isles.

I was fascinated by the role of the Broadside Broadsheets in the introduction of apparent folk songs into the repertoire of the country singers. Did they start as compositions for the Broadsheets and then become adopted into the folk repertoire or were they taken from the community in the first place. It was fascinating to hear that songs that the singers thought had been passed down through many generations of their families were in fact much more recent compositions. Of course, they have since been passed down and kept alive through singing because the flimsy broadsheets are long destroyed.

After a short break it was Shan’s turn to entertain us by teaching us some folk songs, including a wonderfully encouraging improvisation session which became the accompaniment for another of her beautifully performed songs. It was interactive, open, creative and an encouraging environment to experiment with our own harmonies.

Finally after dinner they performed some of their favourite songs. Each one accompanied with an engaging story about its origin and meaning.

Spring Course 2016 – Thoughts on Day 1

Some of our attendees have been posting their thoughts on the Kodály Spring Course 2016 on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are the comments on Day 1 – remember to use #BKA2016

“A few minutes in and we are singing a Machaut virelai, switching between solfa and letter names (with some body percussion thrown in for good measure) then singing harmonic accompaniment before singing the melody while playing… ‪#‎bka2016‬” Ben Westley

“I was moved up to the level 7/8 musicianship group and I was shocked that I actually coped quite well. Today I have been doing modal transformations and singing in canon with myself playing… All thanks to some amazing teachers. ‪#‎BKA2016‬” Ed Jones

“Intervals add up to 9! Light bulb! ‪#‎BKA2016‬” Emma Ede presented marvellous concert of gypsy songs at tonight. Fab” Rebecca Berkley

“In Telford for four days Spring Course. Sharing expertise, singing and learning together. ” Will Green

“Tonight was a wonderful reminder that singing in it’s essence is just story telling. Music should never be separated from its meaning.” Rebecca Willson

And how about some informal music making to finish the night off?