Inspiring collaboration in Kuwait
15 February 2016








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Six schools and 60 students - English Brass Academy's International joint venture in Kuwait has grown!
Kuwait. For most, this far off place usually conjures up images of oil, money, sand and maybe Saddam Hussein. Like me, you probably know little about this tiny country situated on the northern tip of the Arabian Sea sharing borders with Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. However, Kuwait has a rich cultural heritage; its traditional music reflects its seafaring history and its contemporary musicians were the first recorded commercial artists. It was the first country in the Arabian Peninsula to promote the modern arts movement and to offer scholarships in the arts. It is home to 20 art galleries and it pioneered the literary movement in the region. To cap it all, Kuwait is one of Asia's top footballing nations.

I first visited Kuwait in May 2015 to launch the very first English Brass Academy course in the country. Hosted at The English School in the district of Salmiya, the course was a real success: a professional group of brass players and teachers brought together for the very first time, and young brass students from the school performing alongside The English School choir and orchestra. It was a fabulous course culminating in a performance to friends and family, and served to kickstart a real interest in brass playing in Kuwait.

Ten months later I return and the initiative has expanded considerably. We now have six schools involved and almost 60 young musicians, a choir plus string, wind and percussion players. Collaboration between schools in Kuwait is a new idea and full credit goes to Julie Edwards, Director of Music at The English School, who encouraged teachers and instructors to join forces in order to work with me and English Brass Academy to provide a truly memorable experience.

Kuwait Brass, the professional group, rehearsed 10-piece arrangements of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, Bethena and Fig Leaf by Scott Joplin, and fabulous arrangements of Keep Young and Beautiful, Moon River and Charlestown by John Iveson. Meanwhile Day 1 saw almost 60 young musicians registered and straight into ice-breakers, rhythm games and warm ups, followed by the first rehearsal of the beginners band as they launch into two classics for wind ensemble: Colossus and Centurian - full on right from the start!

In the sectionals the Grade 5-ers work as the Intermediate Band - great enthusiasm as they rollicked through the theme tunes to Rocky and Goldfinger. After the break we're into the full ensemble rehearsal for the theme tune to Star Wars - there's certainly no shortage of film music on this course.

What better way to end a very full Day 1 than with a pizza and a movie! The main hall at The English School was turned into an Odeon cinema complete with full sound system. There were some tired and happy children going home by 7pm that evening!

Day 2 brought a gentle warm up routine including stretching exercises and some deep, relaxed breathing before we launched into some very focused rehearsing prior to the concert to over 100 parents and friends. It's beginning to sound great.

Stage presentation takes priority for half an hour before the dress rehearsal after lunch: rehearse the ons and offs...everyone have their music?...take a bow.....down...1..2..3...up and smile...and again....keep smiling.. Everyone is excited and beginning to focus. You can feel the children really want this to be good.

The parents arrive and they're excited too. The lights dim and we're off. Fanfare for St Edmundsbury starts the concert followed by Music for the Royal Fireworks. The ensembles played magnificently. I also had the opportunity to play with Harriet Bushman again in some fun pieces by Moszkowski and a suite of pieces from Bizet's opera, Carmen arranged for trumpet and piano. Harriet trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London and she and her husband Richard are central figures in the musical life of Kuwait. The appreciative and enthusiastic applause told us the concert was a great success.

After the final concert I went down to the Souq for a relaxing evening with Julie and friends from The English School. Kuwait has retained the old souq in all of its complex, bustling and convoluted glory in the city centre. It exudes antique practices, from sharp haggling over trinkets to the quick-witted trading of olives and dates in the food halls of Souq Marbarakia. It's a wonderful place to idle away a few hours and to eat the most delicious kebabs, hummus, salad and bread. It was a fitting climax to a superb week of teaching and music making in what is an extraordinary country.
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