January 2020’s Ambassador of the Month: Gareth Churcher

To celebrate the New Year in Cornwall we’d like to welcome our brand new cultural ambassador, Gareth Churcher. Gareth is the Artistic Director for the Cornwall International Male Choral Festival (CIMCF) and Head of Service for Cornwall Music Service Trust. He is a talented musician, conductor and composer and a great ambassador for music in Cornwall. Read on to find out more about the amazing work that he does in Cornwall’s cultural sector.

Q1. Please tell us about yourself and the work you do in Cornwall to promote heritage and culture:

After deciding not to leave Cornwall to study beyond further education, I have firmly laid my routes in Cornwall. I have a wonderful wife and three beautiful (but very noisy musically active!) children and we live in a stunning spot at the top of Antron Hill. Every day when I look out at the spectacular view from our house, which includes Falmouth Bay, Pendennis Point and the granite outcrops of the surrounding landscape it acts as a reminder of the vibrant heritage and culture, past and present, that we are so lucky to experience in Cornwall.

As well as being Head of Service for Cornwall Music Service Trust, Artistic Director for the Cornwall International Male Choral Festival and holding various musical directorships, I am currently engaged in Ph. D. studies with Falmouth University. This practice-based research doctorate is a continuation of the Masters of Fine Art degree, also completed at Falmouth University, around site specific musical composition. Composing for specific place(s) and drawing out the very unique acoustic qualities presents a challenge. In addition, a really exciting element that accompanies this is the narrative that is drawn out from these very special sites, this is where music and performing arts can tell the history, present and potentially the future and make it far more engaging than any other platform.

Image – Phil Monckton

Projects completed so far which have related to this form of composition are:

All of the above performing arts projects have interesting insights into the sites that they were composed for but also work with the acoustics of the space.

I also believe that these projects that are very diverse and work with Brass Ensembles and Choirs, a true representation of Cornish heritage and culture, also achieve something further. Because of the challenges that are presented due to the site-specificity they require an engagement from the artists (these being the musicians from the choirs and bands) that is unprecedented. This in turn makes the whole rehearsal and performance element far more interesting and engaging, more than that of a ‘standard’ concert rehearsal and performance routine.

Site-specific performance

We live in a time where engagement and commitment to traditional western ensemble music making is in huge decline. I believe through new site-specific composition, historical contextualisation, diverse rehearsal/performance, positive artistic development and outcomes we can retain and promote our musical culture and heritage. This bold approach will engage and attract musicians to ensemble music making where they otherwise wouldn’t. In turn these people will start to experience the social and well-being benefits, alongside all of the educational benefits, that ensemble music making has to offer.

Q2. What is the Cornwall Music Service Trust and how does it support aspiring musicians in Cornwall?

Cornwall Music Service Trust (CMST) is a body of 120 inspirational Music Teachers, Therapists and Early Years Practitioners that reach out to all parts of Cornwall and beyond. Formed in 2015 with 72 members it has grown to be a leading music service in the UK. An incorporated body with charitable status it has attracted music education funding to Cornwall which otherwise would not have happened, allowing for this to be paid forward to aspiring young musicians from all backgrounds. CMST has been commissioned by the Musicians Union to produce national guidance on how to form a Music Service Trust so as to support many other Music Services that are facing similar challenges as it did in 2014. With a healthy turnover of £1.6 million it is a substantial employer in Cornwall.

The weekly delivery of music lessons in schools, colleges and educational establishments is supported by a network of ensembles offering routes of progression through to county and national level youth ensembles. Our Inclusion team work with children and young people with very challenging circumstances and understand that their development and route of progress maybe very different to the aforementioned. The Music Therapy team provide a life changing clinical provision which cannot be underestimated and our Early Years music specialists draw out the innate musicality of children from the ages of 0-5.

Cornwall Music Service Trust teachers photo

Q3. Why do you think high quality music education is so important?

Whether it be through a formal or non-formal approach high quality music provision is the bedrock for any aspiring musician. If we don’t nurture and support these creative minds at this crucial stage then the skills for their development will be undernourished. Each person’s developmental needs will be slightly different, having teachers that are adaptive to an ever-changing environment is key.

Q4. Tell us about the International Male Voice Choir Festival and why the male voice choir movement is so significant to Cornwall?

The Cornwall International Male Choral Festival (CIMCF) is literally one of a kind, there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. I have been privileged to participate as a musical director of two choirs, winning both respective categories, and for me it embodies community and community music making, The CIMCF is huge! It brings 60 choirs together from all over the world, adds in excessive of £1m to the Cornish economy but is run by very small team of volunteers. However, supporting all of this is a large community. The collective membership of Cornish Male Choirs, many individuals and partnership organisations make this wonderful festival happen every two years. Being Artistic Director for the festival has given me a far greater insight into the internal workings of CIMCF and I am overwhelmed with the support that people are willing to offer voluntarily. But why? A Cornish Male Choir has a very unique sound, so does a Male Choir from Wales, Yorkshire, Lancashire etc. Straight away there is a sense of identity, a sense of belonging to something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Cornish Male Choirs were born from industry. That industry has all but disappeared but our choirs haven’t. Ok, the average age has increased but there is light that a new generation of members are starting to come through. A choir still offers a sense of belonging and a Male Choir can be that place where men can come together sing, have fun but also maybe discuss the personal issues that they may be experiencing. Male Choirs are significant in Cornwall for reasons such as heritage, culture, the amazing beautiful and uplifting sound they create but underlying all of this is a social support network that has probably not really been acknowledged.

Cornwall International Male Voice Choir Festival

Q.5 What is the most unusual performance space you have been to in Cornwall and why?

Definitely Dean Quarry on the Lizard. You feel that you could be on the face of the Moon but with the sea right at your side. Vast open spaces that appear so austere but acoustically are warm and inviting.

Q.6 Where is the best place in Cornwall to eat food?

The Harbourside Restaurant, Greenbank Hotel, Falmouth. Excellent food and stunning views but that could be said for most places in Cornwall…..

Q.7 What is your favourite walk in Cornwall?

The coastal path from Pendennis Point to the Helford River.

Q.8 Name one, really different excursion?

Not in Cornwall but I cycled up the Sa Calobra in Majorca. It involved taking my wife’s side of the family by car to the foot of the climb which involved some pretty scary mountain roads that backed on to some steep cliff edges. My mother in law was not impressed!!!

Q.9 You have free tickets to a performance of your choice. Who would you take with you living or dead?

My Dad (still alive!) as he always gives a really honest account of the performance. After I played my first ever solo at a concert, I asked him what he thought of it and he replied, “OK, but you were flat all the way through”. That was a steep learning curve

Q.10 What is your new year’s resolution?

Enjoy more time with my wife and young family.

About Cornwall Music Service Trust

Our qualified and skilled staff offer high quality instrumental, vocal and curriculum tuition at all levels in a variety of educational settings; our teaching encompasses all styles and genres, and adopts an holistic approach.  We provide leadership in ensembles and workshops, and can deliver bespoke training.

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About Cornwall International Male Choral Festival

More than 60 male choirs participate in each Festival from across the world, the UK and, of course, Cornwall. In addition to concerts and other public singing activities, the Festival includes symposia, workshops, master classes and tuition sessions for directors and singers. It also features an educational programme involving local schools. It is organised with the aim of developing greater strength across the male voice movement in a spirit of musical friendship.

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Creative Kernow, based at Krowji, is the umbrella organisation for the following nine projects. Together we support the production, promotion and distribution of work by creative practitioners in Cornwall because we believe in creativity's transformative power and want more people to benefit from it.
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