The tuition course that breaks the barriers
WAP Spells Tuition — Lorna Read Investigates Music Course
Britain has lagged behind America in the way music is taught. When I was at college, the only music course available was a worthy, but dry as dodo-dust cruise through the classics, with a concentration on history and the composing of mock-Palestrina chants — fine if you wanted to be the Singing Monk, but useless if you wanted to play in a rock band!
Now, a few of the more enlightened colleges have included the study of rock and pop music on their syllabuses, but there is generally a blinkered approach to the teaching of music. Students are expected to specialise, so it's hard luck if they enjoy playing both classical and jazz. Consequently many would-be musicians develop tunnel vision and finish their training able to play a Beethoven sonata note-perfect from the sheet music but without the foggiest idea of how to improvise anything out of their own imaginations, no matter how badly they want to sound like Herbie Hancock on piano, or Jeff Beck on guitar.
College courses are open only to people who have attained a certain level of technical proficiency and academic ability, yet there must be hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who would love to be able to play an instrument or compose a tune, but cannot either afford individual tuition or qualify for a diploma or degree course.
And there are many people who would like to look into the whole spread of music, from folk to fugues, or would like to take up a completely new instrument in addition to one they can already play. It takes a musician to understand the problems of a musician — in fact, in this case, it took two! And it was those two, John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, who, fourteen years ago now, decided to start doing something about it. Their brainchild, christened The Wavendon Allmusic Plan (WAP for short), began in a small way, with twenty or so music lovers meeting at their house to discuss music and technique. The Dank worths had bought their home, The Stables in Wavendon, with music classes in mind, as it had various outbuildings which could be easily converted into lecture rooms and a theatre. But WAP soon outgrew even these facilities and nowadays the main Allmusic course, and several of the other musical weekends and courses, are held at colleges during vacation time.
The major Allmusic course is always held at Easter, starting on Easter Saturday, to enable working people to attend at least the first three days. Next year will see the biggest one yet, a full eight days residential course which is flexible enough to allow people to attend for as many days as they want, on a residential or non-residential basis. As the name suggests, all kinds of music are catered for — classical, jazz, pop, funk, folk, ethnic, avant-garde, electronic, solo or group singing, various kinds of composing — you name it! A nucleus of tutors, one for each instrument, is booked, and others are taken on as necessary. Education Consultant Dorothy Cooper, who started off as a classical singing tutor on the course, then was asked by Cleo to oversee the whole of the creative side of the operation, told me: 'The teacher-student ratio works out at about one teacher to every eight students, or maybe less according to the subject. All ages come, including some whole families, and many people come back year after year.
'The purpose of the Allmusic course is to cross musical barriers. The first day starts off with an introduction, where the teachers tell the students what's being offered, then everyone gets straight into their classes. There are four one and a half hour sessions each day, covering such things as individual tuition, small group work — we do have whole bands coming to have tuition together — big band work, orchestral, improvisation classes, arranging, composing, conducting, we even fit visits to music factories in. (A tour of the Marshall factory in Milton Keynes is currently on the cards.)
'One glorious thing about the course is that you don't need to be a brilliant musician because everyone is catered for, from beginners to experts, and we take great care to put people of the same level of ability in with each other. One of the lads we had on this year's course bought his tenor sax only the day before he came! But we also have professional jazz musicians coming along to pick up new ideas.'
After the evening meal each day, a live concert is held as the performing side of music is treated very seriously. 'Even the shyest beginners are given every encouragement,' Dorothy Cooper assured me, 'and there is also a final day concert, for which we pick out a mixture of good and not so advanced acts.' Tips on microphone and recording technique are thrown in, too.
You never know who you might meet on a WAP course. Although they do advertise the availability of their courses in schools, music colleges and certain music and educational papers, information is largely spread by word of mouth — and, naturally, by John and Cleo, who never miss an opportunity to talk about WAP when they are touring abroad, which brings to Bedfordshire a number of foreign students whose common language is music! Stockhausen's son, who plays tenor sax, has attended, and so has George Galway, who, like his famous brother, James, plays the flute, plus sax and clarinet! George Galway actually teaches music at a school in Manchester. 'We get a lot of teachers coming to find out how to teach jazz in schools,' explained Dorothy.
The only limitation imposed on entrants is that the Allmusic course cannot cater for more than twenty-six pianists, for the simple reason that there are only thirteen pianos to go round, and they reckon that more than two to a piano wouldn't be fair. Apart from pianos, everyone brings their chosen instrument to the course — some even bring their own electric keyboards. There is no pupil-teacher gulf on a WAP course. Everyone is equal and teachers tend to learn as much from students as vice versa.
When they can, John and Cleo themselves like to attend and teach at their courses. 'A real sparkle is added when they are there,' Dorothy commented. 'One interesting thing Cleo did once was to give twenty people a tape with a piece of music on it to learn... and she ended up with twenty different versions, thus proving that no two pairs of ears hear a thing the same way, which was an interesting experiment indeed.'
Naturally, some people who meet up on a course find their music gels so well that they end up forming a band as a result. Several ex-students have since released records, and the organisers love keeping in touch with people who have attended the courses, and hearing any success stories.
In addition to the Allmusic course, various other more specialist ones are held during the year, including an extremely popular jazz week, a guitar weekend, a chamber music weekend and special music courses for children. As WAP is a registered charity, their courses are subsidised — though sadly, as General Manager Ken Chaproniere points out, the government is cutting back on grants all the time and this year the East Midlands Arts Association have cut their grant to WAP by 50%. For this reason, they are more than grateful for the generosity of sponsors such as Marshall, Shure and Chappells. Rank-Xerox sponsored six musical workshops for disabled children this year and WAP hope to get backing for many more such schemes in 1984.
One way in which they do try to raise money to underwrite the courses is through holding concerts at The Stables Theatre (details available from the Box Office, (Contact Details)). Artists appearing in the near future include the Morrisey Mullen Band, Maddy Prior, Julian Lloyd Webber and John and Cleo themselves.
It would certainly seem that anyone remotely interested in songwriting, playing or performing could gain a lot from the WAP courses. Whatever musical ambition you have in mind, working in a vacuum usually results in a dead end. Lack of collaboration leads to getting into a rut where you play your favourite chords ad infinitum, in the same old familiar style and, with no-one else to spark off ideas from, you can easily get bored and lose interest. But by mixing with experienced tutors and other musicians of the same, or greater levels of ability, you can pick up tips and learn how to enhance what you're doing. My chat to Dorothy and Ken has certainly whetted my appetite to take my trusty guitar and file of song ideas along to the next Allmusic course... watch out Top Ten!
Further information about WAP courses is available from Dorothy Cooper, (Contact Details), or by writing to: Wavendon Allmusic Plan, (Contact Details). Further details about sponsoring courses or students can be obtained from Ken Chaproniere at the above address.
Feature by Lorna Read
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