Saturday, 18 September 2021
IN the face of increasing cuts to musical education in schools, Laura Reineke is battling to keep the subject alive.
The 45-year-old violinist is director of Henley Music School, a non-profit organisation she founded a decade ago.
She has just registered it as a charity, which will allow her to apply for funding from national arts organisations and claim Gift Aid on all donations.
The school needs to raise £60,000 a year to keep running and the figure continues to increase as it accepts more and more pupils.
Mrs Reineke has played the violin since she was two and can also play the piano and sing.
She has lived in Henley all her life and now shares her home in Berkshire Road with her husband Antony, who runs the Studio 35 jeweller’s in Duke Street, and their children Mae, 17, Ava, 15, and Alfie, 12, who are all are musical too.
Mrs Reineke insists that all children’s interest in music must be nurtured as it boosts their self-esteem and is a lifeline for those who struggle academically.
Her school offers individual tuition in singing and a range of instruments at Henley’s four state primaries — Trinity, Badgemore, Valley Road and Sacred Heart — as well as Gillotts secondary and the independent St Mary’s School.
It runs after-school and lunchtime clubs for instruments including the recorder, ukulele, flute, guitar and samba and African drums.
Pupils can learn using a technique pioneered by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály which teaches the basics of music by ear and through exercises such as singing, marching, clapping and making hand gestures.
Their parents pay only a nominal fee and and instrument hire is free. Bursaries of up to 100 per cent are available to families on low incomes and there are larger discounts for the bassoon, French horn and viola, which Mrs Reineke calls “endangered species” as they are less popular.
The school has more than 450 children including almost 100 four- to 18-year-olds who attend its monthly Sunday sessions at Shiplake College. There is also a “mini-choir” and drum groups for younger children and a brass band.
The charity has a piano teacher who specialises in teaching autistic children and gives free lessons at Bishopswood Special School in Sonning Common, where Mrs Reineke is a governor.
It also helps at music afternoons organised by brain injury charity Headway Thames Valley, which meets in Greys Road, Henley.
More recently, Mrs Reineke and her colleagues have started teaching music at a number of schools which can no longer afford to include it on the curriculum themselves. The schools pay what they can and the charity makes up the difference.
The music school’s pupils often perform at the Henley Youth Festival and the Living Advent Calendar. The latter has included appearances by the Henley Youthful Orchestra, a group of parents and adult supporters which the school began in 2015 to raise money and continues to thrive.
In 2016, it launched the annual Henley Young Musician Competition, which takes place at Shiplake College in November in partnership with the Rotary Club of Henley Bridge. It is open to children in years seven to 13 who have achieved at least grade five in their chosen instrument.
Mrs Reineke says: “I can’t tell you how tough it was to register as a charity. You have to draw up all kinds of legal documents and prove that you’re deserving of charitable status.
“It was a massive relief when it was confirmed. I’m really pleased because I’m just a violinist doing a job I’ve never done before and it has been a very steep learning curve, although a worthwhile one.”
Mrs Reineke grew up in Peppard Lane, Henley, with her parents, Terry and Elaine Dudeney, and younger brother Thomas, who has since passed away.
Her mother, who has been a violinist in the Henley Symphony Orchestra since it was founded in 1970, played the instrument from a young age and was keen for her daughter to follow suit.
The young Laura was taught by Ron Collier, who now teaches for the music school, using the Suzuki method, which was new at the time.
It teaches by ear and feel rather than using sheet music and Mr Collier imported a special violin from Japan that was small enough for a toddler’s hands.
Mrs Reineke says: “I don’t remember much from those early days but the violin has always been in my life and I can’t imagine not having it.
“The great thing about playing an instrument when you’re younger is that when you go to school, you can do something nobody else can. It’s a great confidence boost at that age, although it’s hard work.
“To get to a decent level in music, or any level at all, the initial effort has to come from your parents because you need help making a habit of it. Once you’ve established that routine, you’re off and have to ride the peaks and troughs without giving up when it gets tough.
“There are certain life stages, like around year 6, when children won’t want to practise as much but they have to keep going to see the benefits. In fact, at some point 99 per cent of children won’t want to practise under their own initiative — that self-motivation tends to develop when they’re older.”
Mrs Reineke attended Rupert House School in Bell Street and St Joseph’s College in Reading, achieving her grade 8 in violin by the age of 12. She joined Reading Youth Orchestra and was its leader for two years from the age of 17.
She also learned to sing and took up the piano when she was seven, although she didn’t achieve the same level of proficiency. She studied A-level music at The Henley College, as well as English and art, and says that time in her life was “brilliant” thanks to teacher Chris Walker.
Mrs Reineke recalls: “Chris was a great example of that ‘one teacher’ everyone has who really inspires them. He was terrific fun and we were lucky to have some very talented musicians in our year.
“The music department was thriving and had about 20 students, which is unheard of these days.
“I remember I used to play all the time in school — in the orchestra, choirs, in assemblies and all that sort of thing but nowadays music is under such threat.
“In a recent survey, two-thirds of 650 schools agreed the subject could be facing extinction due to government funding cuts. Schools are reverting to the basics while the uptake of music and art is plummeting.
“I always loved performing because that was the fun bit. It’s vital for children to work towards a performance as they can focus on an end goal and they get the kudos, applause and congratulations, which is really beneficial.
“I was always likely to pursue music as a career as I wasn’t very good at anything else, or if I was then I certainly didn’t work very hard at it!”
At 18 she accepted an unconditional offer to study for four years at Trinity College of Music in London.
She says her time there was “hard work” because she was expected to perform regularly but it was also enjoyable to be on the stage at places such as the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.
She played with both the London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra.
After graduating, she continued to live in London and took a part-time secretarial course while gigging and working in restaurants, which is how she met her husband-to-be.
They were married at St Nicholas’ Church in Rotherfield Greys in 1998 and then moved to Henley as there was little musical work for her in the capital.
Mrs Reineke began teaching violin privately and first had the idea for Henley Music School in 2005 when Mae started at Trinity Primary School.
Mae, a cellist and singer, now attends Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School in Marlow while Ava, who plays viola and sings, goes to Cranford House School in Moulsford and Alfie, a trombonist, is at Crosfields School in Reading.
Mrs Reineke helped run and conduct the Trinity school orchestra but noticed it becoming smaller each year as fewer children were taking up instruments.
At the same time, many parents were asking her for help in finding lessons for their children so in 2008 she launched clubs at Trinity and Badgemore primary on top of her private teaching.
Attendances grew steadily and in 2010 Mrs Reineke registered it as a community interest company in order to make fund-raising easier.
In 2014 she has gained about 40 additional pupils when she was asked to take over the Henley Festival’s youth orchestra, which she had been teaching since its launch in 2008.
Most of the orchestra’s teachers joined her team and she wrote to potential sponsors, including Olivia Harrison, the widow of Beatle George, who still lives at the couple’s Friar Park estate in Henley.
Mrs Harrison gave enough to cover a year’s running costs through her late husband’s Material World Foundation and has made several smaller donations since then.
Other contributors include Henley Town Council, the Thamesfield Youth Association, the Mosawi Foundation and Henley investment firm Invesco. The school is also partnered with the Henley Symphony Orchestra, which the children watch performing to see the level they can aspire to
Mrs Reineke says: “I remember thinking, ‘I’m just a violinist and this is a big job. How on earth am I going to get the money to keep it going?’
“Olivia has been absolutely fantastic ever since as she shares my concerns about music and is passionate about protecting its future and we’re lucky to have a lot of support from the community.”
Her biggest challenge now is helping schools to keep music on the curriculum.
Mrs Reineke says: “I see this as a ‘rescue package’ for musical education in this area. For example, Sacred Heart told me their budget for the samba drumming and I was able to raise the difference.
“I would never want a school to think they can’t afford it — all they have to do is let me know what they can contribute. Some people think of music lessons as an unaffordable luxury but that shouldn’t be the case.
“Funding for music is being aggressively cut but schools must consider more than just academic exam results. Many feel the need to cut back to just the basics but that alienates so many children, including those with learning disabilities, for whom music often is ‘the basics’, and they end up unfulfilled and disillusioned.
“I want to plug that gap until the powers that be realise they’ve done something dreadful.”
Mrs Reineke hopes to increase the uptake of music at GCSE level, which she claims is poor because the primary curriculum doesn’t bring children up to the required standard. This is reflected in the fact that The Henley College has suspended its A-level music and music technology courses due to lack of demand, although it plans to revive them eventually.
She says: “Taking GCSE is a huge step because pupils need to learn things like musical composition but there are early signs that we’re making a difference. Some of our former pupils are keeping up their instruments at university and playing in orchestras, which is a great way to meet people.
“Now we’ve got a lot of primary-aged children coming through the system and I’m hoping that improvement will continue to show.
“Music has a beneficial impact on children’s mental health as it plays to their strengths. Not all kids will succeed academically but there are other ways they can excel and we shouldn’t be narrowing down young people’s options to the point where more and more of them are experiencing low self-esteem.
“It’s the basis of so many emotional problems but I don’t know if the Government will ever realise what a ridiculous error they’re making.
“I’m optimistic for the children I teach but not for the bigger picture. Private schools are held up as examples of good practice but even their music departments face dwindling numbers because of pressure to achieve academically.
“I will keep going for as long as I’m needed and other communities could take up similar projects but it’s incredibly hard work and it would be better if more funding were available in the first place. Sadly, though, I doubt that will happen.”
Mrs Reineke says events like the outh festival and Living Advent Calendar are good platforms for children to perform but some local families still don’t value music enough.
She explains: “Henley has lots of opportunities for young musicians, which is wonderful, but we face a slightly different problem in that parents think nine A* grades and getting into a good university are the key to doing well in life. We have to embrace difference and undergo a major cultural shift.
“Henley is full of highly educated people in high-powered jobs but they don’t always see that music can be a career. You might have the next Adele sitting in the back of a maths class but unless they have the chance to try music they will never discover that potential.
“Music should be accessible to everybody regardless of age, ability or financial means. You don’t have to be brilliant as long as you enjoy it and it makes for more rounded adults than focusing exclusively on maths, English and he sciences. You should find out what a child is good at and run with it because happy children always learn well.”
Mrs Reineke would like to have her own premises.
She says: “It would be amazing to have a little recording studio, practice rooms and a performance space where children could make or listen to music with their teachers. However, that’s just a dream at the moment as I haven’t even got all the money I need for next year.
“For now, I just want schools to feel able to include music as part of their daily routine and to feel confident that they don’t have to pay if they can’t afford it.
“All we ask in return is commitment and a smile. It’s all about enjoyment and having another string to your bow.”
17 September 2018
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