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A Playing Day with the Mayor’s Music Fund

5 months ago

Olivia Funnell

Partnerships Manager

ABRSM’s Partnership Manager Olivia Funnell spends the day with the Mayor’s Music Fund.

Who likes pizza?’ The forty young scholars stare quizzically at conductor Tim Steiner, instruments in hand. Tim makes the triangular outline of a slice of pizza with his arms stretched out horizontally in the direction of the ensemble. He then makes the pizza slice larger and smaller.

Whoever is in the slice, let me hear you play your chosen sound!’ As a spectator on this Playing Day, I could see how such a simple, fun technique was highly effective. It was training these young musicians to focus simultaneously on the conductor, listen to each other and control their own sound. It also created an impressive soundscape! 

In my new role as ABRSM’s Partnerships Manager, I’ve had the privilege to see young musicians at different stages of musical progression rehearsing a range of music from classical and jazz to funk and pop. On this occasion at London’s Royal Festival Hall, I was excited to see the fruits of ABRSM’s partnership with the Mayor’s Music Fund – which supports children in the early stages of learning an instrument. The charity provides four-year scholarships to children from every London borough who show talent and dedication to learning their instrument, but whose circumstances would not allow them to continue instrumental tuition. In addition, three Playing Days a year enable the scholars to share their enjoyment of music and be inspired through making music together. 


But how do you create a valuable, collaborative musical experience for children, some of whom have been playing for little more than one year, while others are nearing the end of their scholarship and are Grade 5 plus? One solution is to design your workshop around improvisation and semi-structured musical building blocks. For this Playing Day, Tim’s composition Twister, commissioned by ABRSM, provided a flexible musical framework where all players could participate at their own level. 

Initially, the young musicians were challenged to explore the range of sounds they could produce on their instrument. This created much enthusiasm which Tim then channelled into their learning of the Aeolian mode, the tonality of Twister. Once the tonality became natural to their ears, the final transition to the notation of Twister was more accessible for all. As the workshop progressed, it was fascinating to see how the players were increasingly focused on the challenge of creating an original work to be performed afterwards to parents and the public.

While the parents began to take their seats around The Clore Ballroom stage in anticipation of the performance, I had the chance to ask some of them about their child’s relationship to music. Each parent talked enthusiastically about how the opportunity to learn an instrument and play music with other scholars provided a highly enjoyable, stimulating and beneficial experience for their child. 

At 6.30pm, under the coloured lights of the platform, the scholars performed with spontaneity and an excitement born of knowing they had created a unique piece. Members of the public were drawn to watch and listen from the foyer balcony. It was an inspiring example of how creative young musicians are, when given the confidence and freedom to experiment. In addition to the value of the musical experience, I hope that the open, bustling and professional atmosphere of the Royal Festival Hall enabled the players to see themselves as active participants in a wider cultural community.

Find out more about the Mayors Music Fund at

Photos © Paul Cochrane


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