Richard Frostick: Islington Music Centre maestro

Estimated reading time:9 minutes, 7 seconds

Everyone has a story. Since his first weeks as a trainee teacher at William Tyndale Primary School back in the 1980s, choral maestro and music educator Richard Frostick has been helping Islington teachers bring music into the classroom. High points include setting up Islington Music Centre and a British Council project reaching children in 17 countries. Interview by Nicola Baird

>>PLUS an invite to Martha’s Gig on 17 October 2015 to hear Islington Music Centre perform.

Richard Frostick, singing workshop leader and choral conductor: “I won’t leave Islington. I love it here. I’ve travelled a great deal and London is by a long way the greatest city in the world. Its cultural offer is one of the wonders of the world. I go to concerts at least once a week and I'm passionate about opera and the Proms.”

Richard Frostick, singing workshop leader and choral conductor: “I won’t leave Islington. I love it here. I’ve travelled a great deal and London is by a long way the greatest city in the world. Its cultural offer is one of the wonders of the world. I go to concerts at least once a week and I’m passionate about opera and the Proms.”

Richard Frostick is a highly skilled music teacher – after William Tyndale he taught at Islington Green School (now COLA), became a schools adviser and inspector and then set up the Islington Music Centre which runs every Saturday.

The concept was so successful that Richard recently opened a second music centre in Southwark. And now he’s building on these ideas with a British Council project called World Voice operating in 17 countries. “Over a million children worldwide are benefiting from the World Voice project, and many 1000s of teachers,” says Richard Frostick, World Voice Artistic Director, drinking black tea in his N1 home.

On the mantelpiece are gifts from World Voice participants including Argentine pottery and a mate cup, a plate from Jerusalem, Senegal lamp, a plate from Jordan and a Palestinian olive bowl. In the far left corner is an exquisite tile made from the same marble as the Taj Mahal.

On the mantelpiece are gifts from World Voice participants including Argentine pottery and a mate cup, a plate from Jerusalem, Senegal lamp, a plate from Jordan and a Palestinian olive bowl. In the far left corner is an exquisite tile made from the same marble as the Taj Mahal.

Richard’s just back from Palestine working with young people and their teachers, and it’s clear he’s delighted by the success of these singing workshops. During 2015 he’s also travelled to Jordan, Chile, Argentina, India and Nepal to help music become a bigger part of the world school curriculum.

World Voice is a British Council project to share teaching techniques in 17 countries. “Singing is an important area of experience in its own right and brings many benefits. It can also teach language and other areas of the curriculum enjoyably and more quickly,” says Richard Frostick, World Voice Artistic Director.

World Voice is a British Council project to share teaching techniques in 17 countries. “Singing is an important area of experience in its own right and brings many benefits. It can also teach language and other areas of the curriculum enjoyably and more quickly,” says Richard Frostick, World Voice Artistic Director.

Yet this busy schedule hasn’t stopped Richard from putting the same energy into the Islington Music Centre, which he set up back in 1992 – to give Islington’s young people the chance to sing and hone their choral and instrumental skills. To date it has been used by 10,000 Islington kids and has notched up six BBC Prom performances as well as public gigs at Sadler’s Wells and other famous venues.

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Love to sing
“I wanted to reach the kind of child who knew they were musical, but were not in schools where they were getting much music,” explains Richard. “I wanted somewhere for those children to go over the weekend and explore their aptitude that was independent of parental means.”

As the Music Adviser for Islington’s 65 schools Richard had a hunch it would be popular, but was overwhelmed when 600 young people applied for the first term, in 1992.  After auditions the centre started with 120 students at the Islington Sixth Form Centre in Annette Road. Later it moved to Barnsbury Road and then to its current home, Laycock School.

“I have a passion for classical music and have a very large CD collection. It’s recently got even bigger: my oldest school friend John has just died of cancer and he’s left me his entire collection (over 1,000 CDs). He was nuts about Joan Sutherland and I now have just about every recording she ever made. He left me a piano too. I’ve got a soundtrack in my head and have recently been singing Burt Bacharach songs – particularly Alfie and Walk on By. Or it could be a Richard Strauss song or a Bach chorale or something that one of the kids has introduced me to. I have very eclectic tastes. I love The Prodigy – fabulous performers – and Florence Welch – what a voice!”

“I have a passion for classical music and have a very large CD collection. It’s recently got even bigger: my oldest school friend John has just died of cancer and he’s left me his entire collection (over 1,000 CDs). He was nuts about [the soprano] Joan Sutherland and I now have just about every recording she ever made. He left me a piano too. I’ve got a soundtrack in my head and have recently been singing Burt Bacharach songs – particularly Alfie and Walk on By. Or it could be a Richard Strauss song or a Bach chorale or something that one of the kids has introduced me to. I have very eclectic tastes. I love The Prodigy – fabulous performers – and Florence Welch – what a voice!”

Places Richard Frostick likes in Islington

  • “I love the road I live in. I know just about everyone and like to keep up with what’s going on – it takes me a long time to get down Culford Road.”
  • My nook in my garden is my favourite place in the world – you can be hidden, surrounded by foliage and greenery; hear the birds sing and be looked at by foxes. I’m so lucky to be in central London and have that.”
  • Union Chapel has one of the most beautiful interiors – it’s exquisitely proportioned and has a sense of peace. It’s a world class beauty.
  • 20150918_142124“I meet my mates at Euphorium on 202 Upper Street, near the fish shop. I always have black tea.”
  • “I love the Almeida – the last play I saw was the Merchant of Venice. It was great.”
  • “The upper part of Essex Road has got a happy-go-lucky feel. It has the atmosphere of a slightly naughty uncle who you go and see to get a clandestine whisky when you’re 15. It’s such a contrast to Upper Street where every second place is somewhere to eat and can be – let’s be honest – a bit pretentious. Essex Road has interesting shops like Steve Hatt (88-90 Essex Road) and the wonderful Hanway Print, 102-106 Essex Road. Lots of the local businesses have been there a long time.”

20150908_112220Love to sing
“Singing and music help you to make sense of your experience,’ says Richard – as his own career shows. He was born in London and then adopted. His adoptive father was in the RAF so the family lived in Malaysia until he was five. When they moved back to the UK they moved around a lot.

“Both my mother and father would play the piano. I had a good boy treble voice and did lots of solos. When my voice changed I luckily hung on to my voice and had plenty of opportunities to practice and sing. I was at a very academic school and I did have to work hard (he studied piano and singing at the Royal Academy of Music and later did an MA in Music Education, mentored by Professor Keith Swanick). But I had a happy childhood – it inculcated into me a strong conviction that pupils should have an entitlement to music provision –  and I think that gave me empathy with the young people in Islington. We welcome all children and young people into our music centres, regardless of their ability to pay. All they need is enthusiasm and an aptitude for singing.

Saturday home of Islington Music Centre, which beings its 24th year this September (2015). “We love being here,” says Richard Frostick who set up the centre and is helped by Terry Hogan and others. The model has been copied in Southwark too, which has had 500 students since it opened in 2011.

Saturday home of Islington Music Centre, which beings its 24th year this September (2015). “We love being here,” says Richard Frostick who set up the centre and is helped by Terry Hogan and others. The model has been copied in Southwark too, which has had 500 students since it opened in 2011.

So what happens at Islington Music Centre?
“We always warm the voice up in a professional way and then we learn a range of songs, of all genres and from around the world. What continues to astonish me is the sincerity of their musical response – it makes for a profound bond,” explains Richard.

“When they leave the music centre it’s painful. They may have been there from the age of six and are now 18 and young adults. It’s difficult for them to leave and many feel very sad. I tell them to try and transform the sadness into something positive and forward-looking. You now have a love of music that is going to make your life infinitely more fulfilling and enjoyable. It can accompany you through your life.”

It’s not just the kids who appreciate what the Islington Music Centre can do.

1Martha’s Gig
Two years ago 16-year-old Martha Bradbury died after a battle against depression. Her friends from Islington Music Centre sang at her funeral. On Saturday 17 October 2015 the choir will sing again and all Islington Faces readers are invited. Martha’s Gig is a chance to enjoy music, poetry and laughter and to raise money in Martha’s memory for the Islington Music Centre and YoungMinds Trust.

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Martha Bradbury.

“Martha loved to sing. Even when she was at her most troubled her family said she’d still make an effort to come to Islington Music Centre,” says Richard who remembers her well and is working closely with her parents Adam and Charlotte.

“The Martha money is intended to fund the Islington Music Centre’s way of working with young people that is unusual, inclusive and works,” he explains. “We want to share this with younger generations of music teachers so it can keep going for years. Good teachers are always teaching themselves out of their jobs – not that I’m going anywhere for for a very long time!”

Richard Frostick’s passion for sharing music has inspired many people in Islington – and now around the world – so if you’d like to hear the Music Centre performing come to Martha’s Gig on Saturday 17 October. The evening of poetry, song and laughter also features the people’s poet laureate John Hegley, original comedy from the brilliant Dan Antopolski, the goose-bump-inducing young voices of The Music Centre and a cappella delights from Three Little Birds. Tickets from: https://marthasgig.eventbrite.co.uk

2Over to you
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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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