Course Information


Magdalen Farm



TA20 4PA


Our next course will be
from 4th to 10th April 2016

Age and Ability

Ages 9 to 16 years


Musical standard between Grade 2 to Grade 8


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Magdalen Farm Strings 2015

Our Eighth Successful Year

by Course Director Sarah Gleadell

Sarah Gleadell

A big change for 2015 - for various reasons we were unable to run the course at Magdalen Farm this year. However we were lucky to enough to find ourselves at Weycroft Hall, near Axminster. This is a splendid medieval manor house in beautiful grounds, with a Great Hall in which there was a Steinway Grand as well as a huge working fireplace together with an ample supply of logs. The children thought that the general setup had a definite touch of Hogwarts about it. Suitable spaces were sometimes a little hard to find for all the various chamber groups but everything worked out extremely well, much helped by non-stop sunshine for the whole week.

As always our main focus was on chamber music, something that a fair number of our participants have little opportunity to get involved in at home. Everyone played in a chamber group as well as one of two larger groups, divided according to age and ability. Both groups came together for 'tutti orchestra' under the direction of our Course Leader, Brigid Kirkland-Wilson. Brigid plays regularly with Devon Baroque, performing on both standard and baroque violin, as well viola. Her teaching experience at Wells Cathedral School, Cheltenham Ladies College, and the Royal College of Music Junior Department is invaluable, as well as coaching on NCO and Pro Corda courses. She is a perfectionist and our Magdalen Farm Strings participants respond incredibly well to her tuition: they greatly respect her but also very much like her well-honed sense of humour.

A wide range of music was played, notably several pieces by our patron, Colin Matthews who once again generously gave up his time to come to a rehearsal as well as to the concert. Amongst other English composers featured were William Boyce, Benjamin Britten and Simon Ives. Colin has been a huge support to Magdalen Farm Strings from the very start: his continuing participation and enthusiasm is immensely encouraging to us all.

Polly Orr-Ewing, ably assisted by Katrina Thompson, leads the younger players, who were very strong this year. Even the 8 and 9-year-olds took part in quartets and performed on their own in the final concert. Polly also leads the choir, which this year sang several poems by Wendy Cope set to music by Colin Matthews, including her funny Pig Songs

Lucinda Wright once again joined us as our specialist cello tutor and Dalcroze Eurhythmics teacher. All our musicians enthusiastically join in her daily eurhythmics sessions and enjoy demonstrating what they have been doing at the end-of-course concert. Lucinda has been with us almost from the start and is an invaluable member of the team. Dalcroze is an integral element of Magdalen Farm Strings and an essential part of the overall musical experience we aim to deliver.

Our joint house mothers this year were Bonnie Schwarz and Alma Orr-Ewing, both of whom have grown up with Magdalen Farm Strings and are excellent musicians. They combined being motherly with total reliability, but also managed to arrange all sorts of fun and games. Bonnie and Alma looked after everyone, particularly the younger ones, making sure they went to bed at the appropriate time, brushed their teeth and were up in plenty of time for breakfast and warm up.

Once again we had the most wonderful warm sunny weather all week, a huge bonus for our varied and enjoyable outdoor afternoon activities which are intentionally in complete contrast to the intensive music making that has been happening each morning. A highlight this year was a visit to Clive Farrell's wonderful butterfly sanctuary near Sherborne - 200 or so acres of organic countryside, carefully managed to attract and nurture wild life. The children were fascinated and intrigued: all agreed that the two hours we spent there was not long enough. 'Forest School' was also very popular: it involved orienteering, fire making from scratch, and some challenging team games. The 'Laser Quest' afternoon session involved more team games with much charging around and hiding behind the topiary. Not terribly PC but a lot of fun!

Every evening after supper there is some sort of participatory entertainment. These sessions are very much for fun whilst being a part of the overall Magdalen musical experience. This year jazz singer Zoe Schwarz and guitarist Rob Koral ran a jazz workshop where groups of children were given a theme and then came back with their own interpretations and improvisation to combine with the others, using a variety of instruments and voice. Miranda Rutter a leading exponent of folk music came another night - she is a brilliant communicator and is always immensely popular. There were some great performances in the Talent Show, ranging from virtuoso recitals to eccentric comedy routines. And of course on the final night there was 'The Banquet' when everyone dressed up to the nines for a splendid candlelit dinner in the Great Hall.

We were delighted to welcome our supporters and sponsors Colin Matthews and his wife Belinda, Jean Edwards and Richard Ely to our concert on the last day. The children demonstrated everything they had been working on during the week with great enthusiasm and élan. Performances were of a high standard and welcomed by much applause, after which the friendly and helpful staff of Weycroft Hall provided us with a delicious buffet lunch.

It was sad to say goodbye to everyone after such an enjoyable and rewarding week. We very much hope that everyone will come back again in 2016.

Once again we would like to thank the following for their continuing encouragement and support without which it would be impossible for us to run the course: Colin and Belinda Matthews, Jean Edwards, Henry Cottrell, Richard Ely, Andrew Fletcher of the Joyce Fletcher Trust and Roger Massingberd-Mundy of the Christina Aitchison Trust.