One of the UK’s most popular, all-embracing music teaching centres is celebrating 25 years in Hammersmith & Fulham, continuing to inspire children just weeks old to teenagers.
Music House for Children was set up in 1994 – although founder Emma Hutchinson modestly attributes its continued success to the hard work of the teaching team around her.
It remains true to its mission statement, to weave music into every child’s life-learning process, working from several teaching rooms at 306 Uxbridge Road in Shepherds Bush, sandwiched between the Edwardian grandeur of the chandeliered Bush Hall and the buzzy Bush Hall Dining Rooms; three educational, performance and restaurant spaces thriving together.
“It seems hard to believe that 25 years has flown by,” said Emma from the upstairs offices of the not-for-profit business, where music from the lessons and rehearsals downstairs resonates all day through the stairwells, pipes and walls.
In that quarter century, she has provided work for 946 musicians, workshop leaders, early years experts and volunteers, and trained a further 1,145 teachers to spread the message via classes around the world.
More than 70,000 children have benefited from the musical experiences, lessons and workshops, with the youngsters’ skills showcased in 70 concerts at Bush Hall.
Music House for Children’s beneficiaries include young children with additional needs, children from pupil referral units and young people from vulnerable backgrounds.
The vision for her school began to unfold when Emma, now 56, left school. She trained at Dartington College of Arts and Trinity College of Music, later touring with a commedia dell’arte theatre company, before teaching in Hong Kong and London.
“I had a motorbike,” she recalled. “I’d whizz from house to house, teaching piano and music to toddlers, and devising new movement and music programmes for children as young as three months' old.”
She built the training programme based on practical experience, and the modules used today are almost exactly the same; creating a multi-sensory musical journey for children that also helps develop language, reading and multi-tasking skills, while enhancing confidence and creativity.
“The dream was to establish a real, charitable school for musical experiences, learning, training and performance that was accessible to all,” she said.
With husband Charlie Raworth by her side, the early ‘guinea pigs’ included her three sons – now grown up, and all gifted musically.
Six years after Music House for Children began, Emma and Charlie secretly purchased Bush Hall – a down-at-heel former dance hall which had, at various times, been a soup kitchen, bingo centre and snooker palace.
“We saved up for a year with help from friends, families, loans and credit cards… and like a rocket we took off! Twenty-five years on, here we are, through all life’s bumps, clifftops and tightrope moments, with a beautiful concert space, musical storytelling workshops, shows, early-years training, newborn, baby and toddler music, group instrumental lessons and music appreciation for those with additional needs."
The most visible public side of the business is Bush Hall, the popular, world-renowned platform for transatlantic, international and homegrown artists and bands.
A tour of the building reveals piano lessons in one room and percussion experiments in another, while the Bush Hall stage was being used by Sally Pilkington, Rhodri Davies, Dawn Bothwell and Richard Dawson – the members of Hen Ogledd (Welsh for Old North), an intriguing electric harp-based group – for soundchecks and rehearsing ahead of a live show.
Emma has also produced a series of illustrated music books, featuring the drawings of artist Charlotte Cleveland, with whom she has worked for more than a decade, and whose murals decorate the walls of Music House.
Bush Hall Dining Rooms
A symbiotic relationship also exists with the next-door Bush Hall Dining Rooms – a breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant where families, children and teaching staff regularly gather for tea. The restaurant links to Bush Hall by giving discounts to concert goers.
Three full-time Music House for Children staff keep the show on the road ‘all with incredible support, commitment, skill and dedication’ while celeb backers Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Bill Bailey and Adam Ockelford take a hands-on approach to being patrons.
After 25 years, the Music House’s new students include babies and newborns of parents who themselves were taught by Emma and her staff.
“A 21-year-old came here on a work placement recently, and it turned out she’d come to me as a baby in Notting Hill,” said Emma.
Husband of 22 years Charlie – who now focuses on running the events and music at Bush Hall, as well as handling the business side of Music House, well remembers the formative days. “Emma was doing early years music and group tuition in church halls, but it needed a hub, and so she started gathering together teachers who could work as Music House,” he said.
“She has a very natural gift; a real rapport with children. We’re always meeting adults in their 20s and 30s who come up and say that Music House made music appealing to them.”
Emma and Charlie live ‘above the shop’ – but also regularly escape to rural Devon, where Emma finds inspiration to write music and adapt traditional songs for her teaching programmes.
“Babies and young children learn by looking, listening and feeling,” said Emma. “It is their curiosity and inquiring natures that lead to an awakening.”
How have things changed over a quarter of a century? “I think the need to justify your existence increases as you get older,” said Emma, whose future projects include developing online music teaching course (“for people who live in the outback”).
“But the mission remains the same; inclusive teaching… and never turning anyone away, whatever their circumstances.”
Music has helped a generation of children become confident, communicative and creative characters. “Our aim for the next 25 years?” asked Emma. “To carry on!”
Music House for Children is located at 306 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush. For more details, visit the Music House for Children website.
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