Principal Musical Director’s Review of the Year

February 2021

The Dark Peak Music Foundation is now in its 20th year. Over that time well over 750 children have gone through our ensembles, many staying with us for as many as ten years. It has been a big part of many children’s formative years, and for some it has become their career, with a considerable number of our alumni now working in the music profession as performers, academics and teachers.

In normal times we might have been holding special events to celebrate this milestone, but that opportunity has been denied us by the pandemic. However, I think we can celebrate in a different and more subtle way. In unexpected ways we have been made more aware of how important community, common purpose and culture is to us all, and just acknowledging this is in itself a cause for celebration.

For a start we can recognise how important music has been during this terribly difficult time in helping us to cope with the stress of being under such severe restrictions. The many comments we have received from parents and students about how important it has been to them to have that regular contact with friends with similar interests and the structure of weekly lessons and ensembles that has given them some semblance of routine. We have had countless tales of children who have been struggling with the isolation, feeling lonely and disorientated, fearful for their futures as they have their educational routine disrupted, and some genuinely worried for the health of their families. Even if it is a strange and second-best way of doing it, we are very mindful that what we are doing is playing a small part in helping children with their mental well-being. Through the enormous effort of our team of directors, devising meaningful and engaging activities, up-schooling themselves in new technologies and producing two full scale online concerts, we can celebrate the creativity and resilience of our organisation. The online concerts have given our students the chance to share their achievements with their wider families and friends, attracting over 1000 views for each event – maybe something we might consider going forward.

Throughout history, music always has been more than just an entertainment or a pastime – it is human communication at its most profound level and an expression of all human emotions; a cathartic art which enriches our lives …. in the words of the great conductor Ricardo Muti “one of the primary elements to have a better society in the future”.

I have to say I have been immensely proud to be involved with such a strong and forward looking organisation; its amazing students who are always a joy to be with and show such commitment and loyalty, our incredible team of professional directors who bring such breadth and depth of experience from all branches of the music profession; the parents who have without a second thought unconditionally supported the music centre, which has enabled us to do all these things – how easy it would have been to say “let’s give it a miss until this has passed”, which would have led to the music centre losing so much ground and most probably countless children quitting music altogether.

Over the past two years we have been working hard on our Joint Instrumental Development Strategy, working with Derbyshire Music Partnership to build the team of instrumental tutors. We are really pleased to have a new generation of young teachers working in the area, including Simon Lodge teaching brass, India Merrett teaching violin and Sophia Sully continuing her great work with low strings. We have also been delighted that Simon has made a flying start taking over directorship of the Glossop Junior Wind Band and have also been absolutely thrilled to have the nationally recognised saxophonist Carl Raven joining our team as Director of Jazz Studies. We have also been delighted to welcome back Rachel Whibley, who is very much part of the DNA of the Foundation and has stepped in to run our senior woodwind group.

I’d like to thank all our trustees and parent helpers for their vital support behind the scenes, in particular Fiona Baynham who has done such a wonderful job as our treasurer and is now stepping down due to her workload (working in the NHS!). But I’m sure no one would mind me singling out our extraordinary chair, Andy Zuntz, whose energy, positivity and inclusive style of leadership bonds us all together and enables us all to give of our best.

We are yearning to get back to playing in full groups again. As we gradually turn the page, we are now focussing our attention on the time when we will have our bands and orchestras at full strength, with a (hopeful) plan to stage some form of live concert as soon as possible in the summer. What form this will take will depend on where we are, but with that beacon to light our way our ensembles are now working in online sectionals, rehearsing so that we can resume live rehearsals without having missed a beat.

As we eventually emerge from the chrysalis that we have been in for well over a year, our ensembles will look and feel very different. Some of our players will have moved on to the next stage of their life, younger players will be moving up to take their places in the more advanced groups, our rising stars will be stepping up to lead roles and we will begin the process of forging those tight musical and social bonds which are the bedrock of music-making. The more groundwork we can do now, the higher our starting point. I believe we will have come out stronger; we will have a greater appreciation of how valuable it is to be able to play together; our players have continued to develop their own individual playing and will have a better understanding of our individual role in the architecture of music; we will have formed a stronger team, with more resources and imagination at our disposal.

This difficult year has been hard for everyone in so many ways, but I believe it has brought out the best of us. I am confident that we have weathered the storm and will emerge as a strong, resilient and well-run organisation ready to continue our mission of giving young people the precious opportunity to develop their interest in music, and the lasting friendships that come from playing music together.

Jeff Snowdon

January 2021