MY STORY Nurturing the seedlings of song
Since 1996 Samling has nurtured the artistic development of exceptional young singers and piano accompanists at the start of their careers through its artist programme. Founded by Karon Wright, its artistic and executive director, and businessman Roger McKechnie the charity has embarked on a new era with a change of name.
How did Samling come about?
Samling began with the idea of bringing internationally renowned artists together with emerging young singers and pianists. The very first concert was held in a barn in the Lake District. Katarina Karnéus, who had just won Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, and the poet Tony Harrison gave a recital of songs and readings. Very soon after we held our first residential masterclass week with baritone Sir Thomas Allen and pianist Malcolm Martineau. Among others working with them that memorable week was soprano Lisa Milne and tenor Toby Spence, who now enjoy international careers. This formed the basis of what has become our artist programme. http://www.samling.org.uk
Where does the name come from?
Samling is an old Norse word that can mean gathering or collective, and bringing people together is very much what we are all about. In German “Sämling” translates as seedling which also seems very appropriate somehow as we are in the business of growing young talent. We now have over 300 Samling artists, many of whom appear on the major operatic and concert stages around the world.
What does Samling provide?
We offer young artists a bridge between the end of their studies just as they are entering the professional world and when, cut loose from the college or conservatoire environment, it can be a daunting and very tough time for them. Currently we provide two week-long residencies a year to 16 young artists selected by audition to study with some of the world’s greatest artists. Our leaders are people who have made it at the highest level and are able to pass on, in some cases, a lifetime’s experience of performing on both the operatic and concert platforms internationally. Sir John Tomlinson joins us this month for the first time to lead a week alongside pianist Joseph Middleton, a Samling artist from 2008, who is returning to teach on the very programme from which he once benefitted. I believe a great deal can be accomplished in a week if the environment is right and we provide a place of safety, seclusion and focus so that all they need to think about is the music. In any given week they will work with, for instance, an actor, a vocal coach, a movement specialist, a conductor, alongside international singers and pianists in individually tailored sessions.
Samling Artist Tim Morgan and Samling Academy Singers Emily Barnes and Rachel Bird. Copyright Mark Pinder.
How are you funded, what support do you have and is there financial help for students?
Samling has never received regular or statutory funding and nor do we have an endowment. We have been very fortunate to receive funding from trusts and foundations and many private individuals who recognise the value of what we offer. There is no charge for those who are selected by audition to take part in our artist programme as all their tuition and accommodation costs are covered by us. I’m not going to lie, though - it’s incredibly hard work, but we are still here after 22 years so we have to be doing something right!
How has Samling developed since 1996?
The most exciting development must surely be our academy, which has taken root here in the North East of England. There is no conservatoire between Manchester and Glasgow and for the past seven years we have been growing a culture for classical singing in the region. Our academy singers range in age from 14 to 21 and are either young people who are growing up here or who have chosen to come here to study at one of the universities. Following auditions we give places to 30 students each year who participate in vocal masterclasses, workshops in acting and movement and language coaching. About 25% of our academy singers go on to conservatoire as undergraduates and postgraduates. It costs just £60 a year to be in our academy, and we waive the entry fee if a student is unable to pay.
What is changing now?
After nearly 23 years we felt the time was right to bear a name that better reflects the work we do and our national and international reach. We wanted to keep Samling in our name as it is an important part of our story and so we have become Samling Institute for Young Artists. Not lightly conferred by Companies House, the word institute is only bestowed on organisations that have demonstrated "an established track record of operating at the highest level".
What is happening on November 21?
Samling also provides key performance opportunities throughout the year, including an annual showcase at London’s Wigmore Hall. On November 21 five Samling Artists from across the years will join pianist Christopher Glynn and actor Alex Jennings to present a programme of songs and poetry based on folklore.
Nationally, has the training provision for singers changed in the last 22 years?
I think the hardest thing for the many young singers and pianists emerging into the profession at the moment is that opportunities to learn their craft on the job are becoming more and more difficult to find. I am also deeply concerned about cuts in music provision in schools and with the number of teenagers taking music at GCSE and A level dropping dramatically, especially in the past few years. We all have to seek new ways in which to keep classical music alive and accessible in the minds of young people, and that’s why what we are doing with our academy is of vital importance.
How do you measure your success?
The common goal for both our Samling Artist Programme and Samling Academy is to enable the young artists we work with to flourish and fulfil their potential. One cannot necessarily measure this success, but both of our programmes have a strong track record. Whether this is demonstrated through international singing competitions, such as BBC Cardiff Singer of the World last year at which Catriona Morison and Louise Alder scooped the top prizes, or when one of our first academy singers, Rowan Pierce, came back to us as a Samling Artist on our professional programme, the opportunities and pathways we offer into the profession makes a real difference. There is also nothing more wonderful than seeing our Academy Singers take to heart the work we have been doing with them and be brave in performance. To be absolutely themselves and be truly present in the moment and communicate the words and the music to the audience means that they have trusted us.
How would you like Samling to develop?
One of the most crucial aspects in classical singing is having a strong number of good singing teachers, both within the school system and in individual teaching studios where vocal teachers work one-on-one with students. We have plans currently in development for how Samling Institute might play a part in supporting this. I’m also looking forward to our next Academy Opera following this summer’s production of Blow’s Venus and Adoniswith John Butt and the Dunedin Consort because it was brilliant!