John Gilhooly, director of Wigmore Hall, on bringing learning to life

Much has been written about the case for cultural education and its place in lifelong learning. The promotion of creativity in schools and beyond, as a genuine public good, is usually backed by bottom-line arguments about the contribution made by the arts to national income, social cohesion and individual health and wellbeing.

Those arguments matter to Wigmore Hall’s pioneering Learning programme. But they’re not the only reasons why we invest so heavily each season in working with everyone from young people, families and community groups, people living with dementia and those experiencing poverty or homelessness.

Partner Schools programme © Benjamin Ealovega

Partner Schools programme © Benjamin Ealovega

We see the joy, the passion and the empathy that Learning unlocks in so many, qualities not always easy to measure but clear to anyone who experiences one of our many creative projects. That’s why we are determined to share the life-enhancing experience of making or listening to music with the broadest possible audience.

Wigmore Hall Learning celebrates its 25th anniversary this month with a Sense of Home. The two-week Learning Festival began on 12 February with the Big Sing! and runs until 26 February, uniting regulars and newcomers in the unbeatable experience of singing together.

So far vocal leader Charles MacDougall has spent the day building a community of voices, complete with Wigmore Hall’s Singing with Friends, our choir for families living with dementia, baritone Julien Van Mellaerts, winner of the 2017 Wigmore Hall/ Kohn Foundation International Song Competition, harpist – and former usher – Olivia Jageurs, and people from all walks of life. Big Sing! also promoted Dementia Friends as part of the UK’s largest ever campaigns to raise awareness and change perceptions of dementia.

Singing with Friends © James Berry

Singing with Friends © James Berry

Sense of Home offers a colourful snapshot of what Learning Festival is about. The festival’s range, broad and deep, shows that Wigmore Hall is a place for everyone – open to all, welcoming, warm-hearted. We’ve drawn on the great musicians who belong to the Wigmore’s family of artists, on performers committed to the value of creative and cultural education, and on our expert teams of educators and workshop leaders to build a fortnight’s programme that’s sure to resonate with participants and audience members for years to come.

Nicola Benedetti joined us on 16 February alongside workshop leader, presenter and singer Lucy Drever for a specially devised interactive concert for families, rich in stories about people from across the UK, the landscapes they inhabit and the lives they lead. Our sense of home, our sense of place, so easily diluted in an age of instant global communication and hectic urban living, will be explored through the music of composers inspired by impressions of familiar surroundings and cherished spaces. A sense of home runs throughout the programme of our Learning Festival, starting with the gala concert that took place on 18 February; ‘Home, Sweet Home’ was the umbrella theme for Ailish Tynan, Benjamin Appl and Iain Burnside’s programme of British, German and American songs.

The unique insights that come from making and sharing music together and the bonds formed between everyone involved in the process lie at the heart of Wigmore Hall Learning. It all began in the early 1990s with a handful of education projects. Learning grew from seeds planted then and, over the past decade, has flourished thanks to the serious investment we’ve made in terms of funding, people and projects.

I’m particularly proud of our work in the community, not least with children with physical and mental health conditions in conjunction with the Chelsea Community Hospital School; our partnership with the Cardinal Hume Centre, which supports families and young people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness; and Musical Portraits, a collaboration between Wigmore Hall, the National Portrait Gallery and Turtle Arts, created for young people with Autism Spectrum Conditions.

But all this is just a fraction of what Learning does: we also have long-established partnerships with schools, many in disadvantaged areas; strong relationships with Music Education Hubs; beautiful family events such as Chamber Tots! and For Crying Out Loud! for the under-5s and their parents or carers; and a growing network of training pathways to prepare the next generation of workshop leaders and musicians.

Each season Wigmore Hall Learning presents over 500 events, complementing the 450-plus concerts in our artistic programme. Our most recent figures show that 10,962 people took part through a total of 30,066 visits to the programme. While everyone at Wigmore Hall is passionate about classical music’s power to touch people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, the Learning team’s dedication to make so much happen for so many is simply breathtaking. Sense of Home spotlights Learning’s commitment to creativity, collaboration and equality, values central to Wigmore Hall and the timeless art of chamber music.
Wigmore Hall’s Sense of Home Learning Festival runs until 26 February. The Schools Concert on 26 February at 1pm will be streamed live on Wigmore Hall’s website.
Wigmore Hall Learning: Chamber Tots

Wigmore Hall Learning: Chamber Tots



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