LMN North West musician Jess Hall joined LMN in 2014 with her violin duo partner Anna Brigham, both graduates of the Royal Northern College of Music. This past year has been both an incredibly busy and inspiring one for Jess. Karen Irwin, LMN’s Strategic Director, caught up with her in between sessions.
How long have you and Anna been playing together? And how did you hear about LMN?
Anna and I started playing together about 3 years ago at the RNCM – she was doing a post-graduate year and I was finishing my BMus degree. We became friends right away, which led to playing together in informal fun chamber sessions. I’ve always been very interested in outreach work and using music as a tool to breaking communication barriers. After hearing about LMN from friends (who raved about it all the time!) I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with. My duo playing with Anna was also becoming an area of my musical life that I wanted to develop and it seemed like the obvious path to take together.
This is your second year on the scheme and you've recently finished a year-long LMN residency in a Pupil Referral Unit. Can you tell us briefly about the project and its highlights…
Anna and I have been running music sessions in a short stay primary centre in St Helen’s for children who can’t attend mainstream school. Despite initially feeling a little nervous about the project, we realised after our first visit that the children – many who hadn't had the best starts in life – could benefit enormously from music sessions, with the hope of lifting self esteem, building confidence, encouraging team work and developing leadership skills. One highlight was our end of 1st term "Pirate Party' when we brought a mini orchestra of friends in with us. Even the shyest kids had big grins on their faces, particularly when they heard the Tuba! From starting out very unsure about how we could engage 'difficult' kids, we managed to build a good relationship with pupils based on mutual respect and having fun through music which meant working with them was (on the whole) an absolute pleasure.
And in April this year you started as one of four LMN musicians in residence in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. Can you tell us a bit about your role and the impact has the project had on patients?
This project at Alder Hey has fast become the highlight of my musical week. I was a little unsure when I was assigned the Dewi Jones Unit, a long term in-patient unit for children with mental health conditions, mainly as it was different to how I first imagined the project as I would be seeing the same children every week. Therefore session material would have to stay new and exciting to keep the kids interested and stimulated. While I was seeing this as a challenge, it has actually been a wonderful opportunity to see the progression of the young people through the music, and also to hear about the positive impact it has had on other areas of their lives. For example, I was told that the sessions have really helped one patient with her integration back into school – which is the aim for all the children who pass through the unit. She has become very interested in developing her musical skills since starting our sessions together and will be able to access music lessons in her new school. This has given her something to look forward to and helped her accept the idea of moving on from the unit. The project has already done wonders for my own confidence as a music leader and enabled me to become very flexible with my workshops.
As if you weren’t busy enough, you've set up a new charity to support young people in Africa. How did that come about?
My links with Africa have developed through a family connection that is very close to my heart. Sadly we lost my Mum last year to cancer, and it had been a life long dream of hers to support disadvantaged children in a developing country. In her memory we started supporting a girl at an orphanage in Kenya through a wonderful charity called the 'Gathimba Edwards Foundation'. When they offered us the chance to visit her in March this year we couldn't say no! I saw this as a chance to set up some music sessions with schools in the area during our visit. The reactions of the kids were truly heart warming, and ultimately unforgettable. We were right off the tourist track in real rural Kenya, where the majority of people don't have enough food to eat, let alone other basic pleasures of life others might take for granted. When I witnessed the happiness that could be brought into their lives through the simple joy of music I became determined to make this a reality for them, and Music For Kenya was born!
My ultimate aspirations for the charity are to set up self-sustainable musical centres in rural Kenya that kids and adults alike can visit and explore the joy of music. This will involve the transfer of skills to teachers in Kenya to run the sessions and the provision of resources (music books, stands and instruments) that are necessary to provide fulfilling and educational access to music. In October, Anna and I will be visiting several schools, orphanages and Kenya's first children's hospital to lead music sessions, and map out a plan for developing week-long residencies in these locations in October 2016 when we plan to take 10 musicians to Kenya. Please visit us at www.musicforkenya.com for more information!
Finally, what plans have you got for the next year …
The key to a happy life at the moment seems to be trying to keep a balance! Freelance work is going really well – I am currently on trial for 4 orchestral positions. I am also really looking forward to continuing my LMN residency at Alder Hey Children's Hospital, private violin teaching and our charity's first official trip to Kenya in October!
Without my involvement with Live Music Now, Music For Kenya would not exist. Being involved with the scheme has given me confidence and passion in all areas of life and constantly reminds me what the whole point is! It has been wonderful to forge a link with Kenya's Children's Hospital through my involvement with Alder Hey Children's Hospital, and I look forward to using my experience gained at Alder Hey to help many children in Kenya through the joy of music.
I feel enormously privileged to have such a varied and stimulating career and much of this has been developed through my involvement with Live Music Now, and I can't thank you enough!