Wheels on Debussy is a concert programme for kids. Its aim? To introduce them to classical music in a fun and friendly way. Co-founder Louise Knight tells IAM how it works.
With two babies under two years old, I was getting frustrated. I wanted to take my boys to exciting, good quality live music, played by professional musicians, and open the door of wonderful music for them to charge through. However, I was too far from London, where arts for young children is well-established, and I didn’t have the budget to take them to this type of event regularly.
When I met Wheels on Debussy co-founder Fiona Sharp it became clear. She too was looking for something exciting and different for her children to experience. Fiona is a theatre producer by trade, and I have an events and marketing background, so between us we knew we could organise something special – and we wouldn’t let the fact we are full-time mums stop us.
We wanted something that we hadn’t seen or heard yet – performances for children and adults that flowed easily between something you could join in with and something you could simply listen to. It had to be delivered by an outstanding musician with that spark of an animateur who would nurture the audience and give them a genuinely creative and uplifting experience. The Wheels on Debussy was born.
So how do we do this? Fiona and I work together, fitting in full-time child care of five children between us. We source a variety of world-class musicians to play to this eager audience. Our aim is to showcase different musicians, instruments and styles so that the children can experience the joy and variety of live music. The concerts are totally geared towards the children: we bring toys, colouring tools, craft materials, snacks and drinks for everyone. They can eat their snacks, mums can breastfeed, children can dance and sing – all of this is encouraged.
What makes us different is that the musicians we work with understand both what the children and parents want. The kids get the chance to participate in and shape the music-making, while the parents hear performers that you would find on the finest stages in the world. Glastonbury, Glyndebourne, Sydney Opera House, Wigmore Hall, Ronnie Scott’s – when they’re not giving Wheels on Debussy concerts these are the kinds of venues our musicians perform at. We have had the internationally acclaimed musician Dominic Harlan do a mash-up of The Grand Old Duke of York nursery rhyme and Rachmaninoff, whilst the celebrated cellist, Matthew Sharp has used an electric toothbrush to bring the intricacies of Bach to life!
What’s amazing is the impact the concerts have had on both child and carer. We have had children boogie to classical tangos, jump up and down to traditional Cypriot songs and bliss out to Chopin. And for the parents, it feels like an oasis from the usual playgroups. We empathise with the bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived parents because that’s who we are. After the last concert a woman thanked me saying, ‘what an amazing 45 mins – it made me remember who I was before I became a mum.’ Everyone leaves the concert uplifted, joyful and recharged for whatever insanity the day may bring.
We have learnt that there is a real appetite for our concerts. It’s an appetite that extends to performers too – more and more fantastic musicians want to get involved with our concerts and develop their communication and animateuring skills.
Over the coming months we have regular gigs in Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Reigate and Ashford. We have already started visiting schools and nurseries and have been invited by UK rural touring schemes to reach those places who don’t have access to great art.
In order to ensure the financial longevity of our business, we are creating sponsorship and partnership packages to work with local businesses. And, after only ten concerts, we are immensely proud that over 1000 children have experienced amazing music at affordable prices.