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Curating Elgar at The Firs

Statue of Sir Edward Elgar gazing out to the Malvern Hills at The Firs, Worcestershire
Statue of Sir Edward Elgar gazing out to the Malvern Hills at The Firs | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

Curating Elgar is a co-produced project working with over 200 people in diverse community and education settings through musician-led workshops. The aim is to introduce people to Elgar through The Firs, translate the impact The Firs had on the world and make his music relevant for a wider audience.

About the project

Curating Elgar is a co-produced project, led by the team at The Firs with professional musician Ruth Hopkins and filmmaker Nicky Prestage. The team worked with over 200 people (aged three to 90) in diverse community and education settings, to understand how to make Elgar relevant for a wide audience.

Through workshops, tailor-made for each specific group using music, dance and sensory activities, participants were invited to investigate how Elgar’s story, music and connection to the landscape made them feel, and how this could be utilised to develop a family-focused experience into making music in and inspired by the landscape.

Ideas and ways of working were charted in a film, findings from which are currently being made into a co-produced guide to making music inspired by Elgar and the participants, which will be available on site and online in spring 2022.

Find out more about the project in this video.

Piano sold by Edward Elgar's father from his music shop in Worcester at The Firs, Worcestershire
Piano sold by Edward Elgar's father from his music shop in Worcester at The Firs | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

The team

Ruth Hopkins – musician

Ruth believes that live music making should be accessible to everyone, regularly creating interactive performances and training staff in special educational needs settings and dementia care homes.

In 2017, she was awarded the Live Music Now Fellowship to support her work in this area and she holds a PG Cert in Sounds of Intent from the University of Roehampton. She also works as a mentor for Live Music Now and facilitates sessions for The Amber Trust.

Ruth is a principal singer with Opera Ridotta and, passionate about bringing history to life through music, she also directs the award-winning historical group K’antu Ensemble with whom she performs extensively.

Tymek Jozwiak – musician

Tymek is a drummer based in Birmingham. He works predominantly in the field of jazz and improvised music but is also involved in folk and early music projects.

While a student at the Birmingham Conservatoire, Tymek was awarded the Tony Levin Drum Prize by the legendary British jazz drummer himself. He is currently working with some of the finest musicians and band leaders in Britain and has performed with K'antu Ensemble and at many clubs and festivals across the UK and Europe.

Nicola Prestage – filmmaker

Nicola is a documentary filmmaker, film facilitator and digital artist. Her film career started over a decade ago filming and producing adverts and customer insight films. Her digital artwork has been displayed at various galleries throughout the UK including Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and alongside Grayson Perry’s artwork at Croome Court.

Nicola produces creative and engaging films which help people understand the challenges that other people face and to dispel negative stereotypes. She is passionate about facilitating film, drama and digital media projects and enjoys working with people to support them in unleashing their potential.

She facilitates projects to build self-esteem, confidence, group cohesion and transferable skills to enable participants to engage and contribute positively to society.

The Curating Elgar project: a timeline

17 June 2019

Workshop at Calthorpe Academy

We arrived at school bright and early with a car packed full of sensory resources ready for our three workshops with eighteen of Calthorpe Academy’s pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties, some of the most disabled in the school. 

Our grass matting, animal finger puppets, trays of soil, stones and leaves, combined with video projections of the Malvern Hills transported us to Elgar’s world. Each class took a musical journey exploring the sounds of nature using drums, rain sticks and their voices to create improvised soundscapes.  

Whilst the children were all non-verbal, it was clear that they were enjoying themselves. Staff commented that it is rare for everyone to stay in the room for an activity session. However, the music captured their attention and with the help of support staff, all the children were involved with the musical activities.  

The highlight of the day was when one non-verbal student found his singing voice during the session. Initially, everyone thought it was me singing, but he was perfectly copying my tone and we ended up improvising a duet together. 

Mahonia at Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey


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