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Jo Brand

                                                       GLASBURY ARTS

                                                 Y Celfyddydau yn Y Clas ar Wy



… and why she’s supporting the unique Harps in Schools project.


When comedian Jo Brand was growing up, schools provided free music tuition to every child and she was able to learn both piano and violin – “I started learning the piano when I was eight or nine and had a very sweet teacher, but when I moved to Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Girls, my new teacher wasn’t quite so nice – she would rap me on the knuckles with a steel ruler if my hands were out of position when playing scales!”

Jo’s violin journey came to an even more abrupt end when a well-intentioned teacher set up a ‘performance’ at her first assembly at a new school when she was just 12. “They only told me that morning and everyone sniggered and took the p**s out of me relentlessly. I did like the violin, but I was so angry that I gave it up as a sort of statement.”

Having given up the piano early on, she returned to it when she was nursing, but as her comedy career took off, the piano practice went by the wayside again … much to her regret.

“Bill Bailey is a good friend and we all used to go away for New Year and if there was a piano, he could play anything you wanted. I always wanted to have that talent.”

The opportunity to learn another instrument presented itself in 2007 when she was invited to take part in BBC One’s Play it Again, for which she learned to play the organ, culminating in a performance at the Royal Albert Hall of a section of Bach’s Fugue Toccata in D Minor … in front of an audience of 8,000!

All of which goes a long way to explaining why Jo has thrown her support behind a unique project taking place on the Welsh borders at a time when there is no longer an automatic provision of music lessons – meaning that only the better off can afford to pursue their musical interests.

Thanks to Glasbury Arts, a small community charity supported by Jo’s late mother Joyce, students at Gwernyfed High School have an opportunity to learn to play the harp … whatever their family’s income, and Jo has become a passionate supporter of the unique Harps in Schools project.

And one element of that support was taking part, alongside internationally renowned harpist Catrin Finch, in a short film, Harps in Schools, to help spread awareness of (and funds for) the initiative.

“I didn’t need much persuading,” says Jo. “I think that a great way to honour someone like my mum is to take up the cudgels she’s taken up in the past ­- in many ways, being involved with Harps in Schools is a kind of tribute to my mum and the kind of thing she thought was important.

“I think music tuition is in such a different dimension to everything else. Everyone can get something out of music. The discipline of practising a musical instrument is miles away from academic learning and gives students a chance to use their imaginations – makes them better people.”

“I think it (the harp) is a very particularly Welsh thing as well so to lose it would be very meaningful” but Glasbury’s project,” she adds, “could well show other organisations a way to reintroduce music tuition to schools in a sustainable way for everyone.

“It could be spread far and wide. For example if you’re up in Blackburn or Bolton where brass is beloved. But it doesn’t have to be niche. It can be anything, the flute, saxophone, piano. This could be the model for other places.

“Without projects like Harps in Schools we could end up with just 3% of students learning a musical instrument, and all from private schools.”

Visit GlasburyArts.co.uk to see Harps in Schools, featuring Jo Brand and Catrin Finch, and to add your support to the Harps in Schools project.

For further information, please contact John Fitzgerald – john.fitzgerald@glasburyarts.co.uk