News Archive

String Day Fun!

String Day 2018 started with a lively body and mind warm – up, led by one of our SPO students. After that we learnt and sang a round called “Singing in the Choir” and then went on to learn to both sing and play “One Day Like This” by Elbow. This was followed by learning to play “Classical Bits and Pieces”, which featured excerpts of pieces by many famous composers. The children then did the composing. Inspired by watching a video clip of “No Place Like …” by Kerry Andrew, in groups supervised by teachers or SPO students, the children composed their own pieces, using body percussion, actions, words and vocal sounds.


It was a very sunny, sociable day and we all enjoyed picnicking in the beautiful grounds at Moorlands Federation. We started a new String Day tradition – cinnamon swirls!


At the end of the afternoon relatives and friends came to listen and watch a performance of everything the children had learnt during the day. Everyone agreed that they had achieved an incredible amount and gave beautiful performances of the songs, pieces and compositions.

SPO Performance is outstanding at the Music for Youth Finals

Wow what a performance from SPO at the finals of Music for Youth at Symphony Hall. Proper amazing playing from these incredibly talented young musicians! Cannot remember having such positive feedback from the music mentors either. Well done everyone and especially the tutors, sites Rainer Dolz, conductor of SPO.

SPO dazzled the audience and Music Mentors at their recent performance in Symphony Hall, Birmingham as part of the finals for the Music for Youth festival. Performing an attractive programme in the Suffolk Suite and Dvorak’s Symphony no.9, SPO rose to the challenge of performing in such a magnificent venue and gathered some fantastic feedback from the adjudicators Neil Valentine & Roger Argen. To read the Music Mentors report, click here

Royal wedding singer Elin Manahan Thomas on tackling performance anxiety


She may have performed to a worldwide audience of two billion at this year’s royal wedding, but soprano Elin Manahan Thomas considered giving up singing after suffering performance anxiety.

“I have never suffered from it before, and when it came, it was crippling,” says Manahan Thomas of her first panic attack, which followed a performance.

The attack led her to question her future as a singer. “I had a real crux moment when I thought, ‘I’m going to give up’,” she explains. Instead, with the help of meditation and meticulous planning, she has found a way forward and, in May, her rendition of Handel’s Eternal Source of Light Divine accompanied Meghan Markle during “that golden moment” as she walked down the aisle to join Prince Harry at the altar.

“The big thing for me to work out was why I wanted to sing, and it is to communicate,” says Manahan Thomas. “I have always thought of myself as a vessel for the music. I want people to come away and think, ‘that music was astonishing’. I’m the means of getting Handel to the audience. If there’s something in the way of that communication, then I feel I’m not giving the audience the whole story.”

Her performances may be ethereal but everyday Manahan Thomas is much more grounded. She manages her anxiety through careful planning beforehand, allowing her to be “in the zone” on the day.

“I’m much more careful these days about the day itself,” she says. “For years, I just grabbed a dress and makeup and got in the car. Now I prepare the whole day meticulously. I know where my children are, what they are having for lunch, how I’m getting there, where I can get food and water, and what time I can eat.

“I’m trying to keep mental acuity. The high point of the day should be the singing and I like to clear my head for that moment. Of course, that’s not always possible – some days you are carrying a stomach bug or you’ve had four hours’ sleep or you can’t help thinking about the journey ahead of you.”

Manahan Thomas goes through “stages of shutdown”, switching off social media and meditating to disengage from negative thoughts. “Meditation has completely overhauled my whole well-being,” she says. “I have properly taken it on board and slowed down. That sense of slowing down time is invaluable when it comes to performing: you slow down time and you make the time yours.”

This kind of preparation, and the fact that Manahan Thomas is no stranger to big events, having sung at the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony, meant “there was nothing there to faze me” on the big day. She was able to focus on the couple and not be distracted by the grandeur of the occasion.

“I only had three minutes to sing,” she says. “It had to be for them. I had to clear everything else out of my head and think, ‘this is your moment, this piece means something for you and I’m going to make it mean something today’.”

Her performance in St George’s Chapel has given her the confidence to open up about her performance anxiety, but she admits it is difficult to speak out in an industry built on “the mystique of performing”. “I wish we as an industry were more open to talking about it,” she says.

Manahan Thomas attributes her anxiety in part to the fact that she never meant to be a singer. Although she has “always sung in choirs”, she was carving out a career as an academic, studying Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Clare College, Cambridge. She sang with the college choir for three years and, after she graduated, went to be an au pair. It was during this year that she was invited to sing with the Monteverdi Choir, so beginning her professional singing career.

“There’s no career path,” she says. “I’m not sure how much as singers we actually think, ‘I’m happy with my singing; I’m on the right trajectory’. Sometimes, you’re doing a job your heart isn’t in or you are loving a job but you’re not being paid. Being a singer is complicated.”

Choosing a career as a singer means not being able to switch off, as others might do when they leave the office. “I’m frequently having to explain to people the amount of preparation that goes into a concert – even if it’s a piece you have already sung. The preparation goes beyond the singing, too; you’ve got to prepare your travel, your dress, your makeup and your childcare.”

Add two children to the mix and a milestone birthday and “it’s a lot to juggle”. “I have an incredibly supportive husband,” she says of baritone Robert Davies, “but ‘I’m becoming aware that what we do is extraordinary”.

Elin Manahan Thomas is an ambassador for Sing Up, which aims to get children singing in schools by providing educational resources.  Website:


Article from:

Mind, Body & Soul July 5, 2018 Jo Horne

Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival workshops for primary schools in B&NES

Earlier this year primary schools across Bristol and South Gloucestershire took part in some really exciting workshops provided by Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival.
We are currently busy raising funds so that we may open this offer to schools in B&NES next year. We will be offering a range of educational workshops suitable for KS1 and KS2.

Please take a moment to look at our schools’ workshop video at

Performance Workshop for Schools

We will be in touch with schools in September with details of how your school can take part.

Enjoy the summer holidays!
Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

Bryanston Course 2018

Every year Bryanston is awaited with tremendous anticipation from both the pupils and tutors, and this year was certainly no disappointment. Nearly 100 students arrived to wonderful weather on the first Sunday of the Easter holidays and barely had time to unpack before the music making began.

The four day course kicked off with time to meet in small groups and get creative. Everyone joined in with everything from small jazz groups to a huge samba style ensemble performing.This was an invigorating start to four days of intense rehearsals of the five ensembles: Orchestra, Wind Band, String Ensemble, Concert Choir and Chamber Choir

In their free time pupils were free to enjoy Bryanston’s impressive sports facilities and explore the school’s beautiful grounds.

Four days of hard work and good fun were concluded with an evening meal with family and friends before a relaxed concert showcasing the ensembles’ efforts. Highlights included a medley of Abba songs with the audience joining in, Chilli Con Carne performed by the concert choir as well some impressive solo slots for some senior ensemble members.

Roll on next year!!

Faure Requiem Performance – Cantilena & Bath Philharmonia

Cantilena will be performing Faure’s Requiem on Saturday, 16 September at 7.30pm with Bath Philharmonia (conducted by Jason Thornton). The concert is in St Swithin’s Church, Bath and tickets are available from Bath Box Office (01225 463362 or

Primary School Workshops with Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival

Earlier this year primary schools across Bristol and South Gloucestershire took part in some really exciting workshops provided by Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival. They are currently busy raising funds so that they may open this offer to schools in B&NES next year.

They will be offering a range of educational workshops suitable for KS1 and KS2.

Take a moment to look at their school workshop video at

More details to follow in September…watch this space!

Musical Minis: Year 1 Music Project

The Music Service has been running an exciting new music project in 15 Infant and primary schools over the last few weeks.


The project offers schools an opportunity to work towards a celebratory concert featuring two new songs written by the Music Service. The specially written songs and resources focus on developing an understanding of all types of travel, from walking to hot air balloons and submarines, whilst carefully developing musical skills, primarily in pulse and pitch and instrumental skills in pitched and unpitched percussion.


As well as offering year one pupils the opportunity to develop the foundations of musical development and take part in performances, the project also aims to provide CPD for class teachers, providing them with all the lesson plans and resources needed to repeat the sessions with future year one classes as well as a free training session. Many settings are also keen to continue this music support into year 2 in the next academic year, enabling schools to enrich the musical development of their students from an early age, providing an excellent foundation for furthering their skills in key stage 2 and perhaps taking up an instrument.


A year one teacher whose class are taking part in the project stated this week ‘I wish I had had Musical Minis earlier in my career. I would have felt much less nervous of teaching music. I understand it now!’. A visiting teacher to Batheaston’s Musical Minis session was wowed by what the 5 and 6 year olds had achieved in only 8 sessions.


Although this project is a new initiative, the Music Service has increased delivery at key stage one over the past six years. There is now clear evidence to show that young instrumental players develop at a much faster pace as a result of this intervention. Pupils who have benefited from learning foundation skills in music at KS1 before starting to learn an instrument tend to progress more quickly with a greater depth of understanding than those who have not received quality music delivered from a young age.


The Music Service is passionate about developing musical skills at all levels and this project is the start of an expansion in delivery at key stage one. We’re very much looking forward to viewing the concerts in a few weeks time!