PREVIEW/FEATURE: Guildhall Summer Schools (Jazz & Rock Week, Advanced jazz and Singers' Weekends Jul-Aug)

Scott Stroman directing the Singers' Weekend in 2017
Photo courtesy of GSMD


London’s Guildhall School Of Music and Drama has been running one of the UK’s top summer schools for over 30 years, helping musicians of all abilities and backgrounds hone their skills. Ahead of this year’s event, founder and director SCOTT STROMAN shared some of his favourite memories from across the decades and explained how it all works. Interview by Tom Reed:

The one week jazz and rock course is the centrepiece of the whole thing. That’s for all levels. We take over the whole of Guildhall. It’s a festival vibe. Every morning there are classes for each instrument, then large ensemble sessions – a big band, a rock workshop, a rhythm workshop, a choir. After lunch we have harmony and improvisation classes, rhythm classes and rehearsals in smaller groups – jazz combos and rock bands.

Beyond that there’s lots of informal music-making. Every night there’s a concert from the tutors and as soon as that finishes we have The Club. That’s an open stage. There’s some jamming and students can perform things they’ve learnt that day.

It’s a lovely social situation as well as a great musical learning experience. You might have a professional clarinet player from an orchestra, who’s come to develop their jazz skills, playing next to an eleven-year-old kid who’s a wiz on the guitar. You get this incredible mix of people – all ages and backgrounds. International students too. Some people [Guildhall undergraduates] come just for the hang. They pop in and play for a few hours because it’s such a nice vibe.

There have been some fantastic concerts. John Taylor was a member of the staff for a number of years. I can remember him humping drum kits all around the school like a little kid. And I remember him and Norma Winstone doing an amazing concert, just piano and voice, and Hugh Mitchell (Norma’s partner) coming up to me afterwards and saying: “Please tell me you recorded that!” They hadn’t played together in a long time and this amazing thing happened.

At the end of the week there’s a culminating concert with around 35 student performances. It’s the most eclectic thing you can imagine. You can have a vocal quartet followed by a performance of a new rock song, followed by a bit of Count Basie.

A lot of Guildhall undergraduates have come through the Summer School and we’ve had several bands form. Stacey Kent [was a pupil], Martin Hathaway, the pop singer Dido and Tom Gordon, the drummer with the BBC Big Band.

Saxophonists on the Jazz & Rock Week 2017
Photo courtesy of Guildhall School

The thing I like the most about it is the feeling of camaraderie. There are lots of people who come back for the course each year and have built these great relationships, and there’s always a warm welcome for first timers who can come along and meet like-minded musicians and take their playing to the next level. The end of course concert sees over 100 course participants come together in various combinations for two hours of really inspiring music making. I think the enthusiasm for music just fills the whole school and creates a special atmosphere each year. It’s an incredible, positive, lift each other up, share ideas kind of vibe. (pp)

This year’s Jazz & Rock Week runs from 29 July – 3 August 2018. Tutors include Jean Toussaint and Jason Rebello. The school also offers an Advanced Jazz weekend course, focusing on jazz harmony and language, and a Singers’ Weekend. 

FULL LISTING OF GUILDHALL SUMMER SCHOOLS

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