We were delighted, back in October, to receive an invitation from Louise Lansdown, Head of Strings at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, inviting our viola players to attend the second Cecil Aronowitz Viola Competition and Festival. It was a rare opportunity and very exciting for our violists to get together with others from around the West Midlands and to really explore the wonderful sounds of this rich, expressive instrument.

The SIPS Education Music and Arts’ students who went along, that Sunday in November, to the lovely new Conservatoire building, all play in our orchestras. Some, in Mini Maestros, are just starting out on their musical journey and others are already highly valued members of Training Strings and Youth Orchestra.

The focus of the workshop was ensemble playing and the group started the day with ice-breaking warm-ups led by the entertaining Ross Cohen of the Absolute Zero Viola Quartet – designed to raise a smile, while at the same time preparing the students for a morning’s playing. They worked in pairs, taking turns to be the ‘conductor’ and ‘orchestra’, some discovering directing skills they didn’t know they had! There was time before the break to learn a 4 part Galliard ready for a performance at the end of the morning.

During the second half of the morning all the students worked in small groups to create their own pieces based on a different animal. It was lovely to watch how the pieces evolved and to see how much all the students gained in confidence as the session went on, both in their playing and creativity, and in their interaction with others. Performances at the end of the morning were great to see and it was obvious to everyone how much the students had enjoyed the experience.

Those involved in the afternoon workshop had the added experience of listening to some of the amazing playing from the participants in Round Two of the Cecil Aronowitz Competition itself, as well as sitting in on some masterclasses led by the highly acclaimed viola player, Martin Outram.


All in all, it was an inspirational day to remember and we thank Rebecca Stubbs, Mini Maestros teacher, for suggesting we take part, and Louise Lansdown for inviting us!

Louise Lawrie, Team Leader