Subject: Music & Education
Dates: 1999 – 2015
Providing creative education for deprived children of Calcutta.
The Mathieson Music School was founded in memory of the late Father Theodore Mathieson, who joined the Anglican Brotherhood of the Epiphany and devoted his entire life to an orphanage run by the Oxford Mission in Calcutta. His enthusiasm for music – he was a keen amateur cellist – resulted in several of the boys developing careers in the musical world, both in India and abroad. One such student was Anup Kumar Biswas, who, after coming to England at the age of 16 to complete his studies, has established himself as an international cellist and composer. Eager to continue the strong musical tradition after his death, Father Mathieson approached Anup and together they planned the founding of the Mathieson Music School to serve the children of Calcutta’s poorest families. The school was founded on February 7, 1994, shortly after Father Mathieson’s death, and the Mathieson Music Trust, a registered charity to support the school, later the same year.
Anup has a love of both Indian and Western classical music and was determined that both should be a core part of the curriculum. Many of the children come from destitute and emotionally disturbed backgrounds; music is not only a means by which they can express themselves but also a key to opening a world of education. On a vocational level, the flourishing Indian film industry, military establishments, and the hotel and entertainment sectors all have a strong demand for musicians trained in Western music. The school is a Christian institution but is open to children from all religious backgrounds, with general education running alongside the musical tuition. Remarkably, the school also provides accommodation, full board, clothing and medical care for the children. At first the school was situated within the compound of the Oxford Mission, but after a fund-raising tour of the UK, during which thirty of the children played over a hundred concerts, in venues ranging from village halls to Westminster Abbey, three acres of verdant countryside not far from the city was purchased and the first purpose-built accommodation constructed.
Sadly, on September 11, 2001, the school was invaded by an angry mob who vandalised the buildings. As a result the school was closed for a year. Such an event demonstrates the difficulties experienced from time to time in development work, particularly when working in as challenging an area as cultural exchange. A rumour had been spread locally that the school was endowed with limitless funds, causing resentment and envy in a deprived area that itself desperately requires more educational resources. The comings and goings of Westerners, mostly voluntary teachers and gap year students, added to the feeling of “them and us”, a sentiment that was encouraged by religious fundamentalists who opposed both the tolerance and Christian teaching of the school. Eventually, with the assistance of the Minister for Minority Affairs, Mohammed Salim, the misunderstandings were resolved and the authorities were able to guarantee the safety of the school.
Project & ACE
In 1999, ACE funded the completion of a new dormitory, providing accommodation for forty girls together with a large room doubling as chapel and rehearsal space.
The young performers of the Mathieson Music School returned to the UK in 2000 and their concert tour included a performance at Great St Mary’s Church in Cambridge, sponsored by ACE. Anup himself gave a recital at the Royal Overseas League, London, in November of that year, in a concert organised by ACE which raised over £1,000 for the school. A further grant in 2001 enabled the construction of a boys’ dormitory. Anup Kumar Biswas has been an inveterate fund-raiser for the school and in 2006 he embarked on another UK fund-raising tour, this time accompanied by friends including Donald Boothman, baritone, and Clifton Noble on the piano. In June, we were delighted to invite the group to a musical garden party at ACE’s headquarters in Babraham, during which almost £2,000 was raised for the school.
In 2009 another initiative was developed by ACE bringing Anup to Cambridgeshire to run workshops around local primary schools. Five schools were identified and Anup visited each one to introduce the children to the music and culture of India. They then devised performances incorporating their previous Western music experiences and what Anup had introduced them to. Proceeds from the events were collected and donated to the Mathieson Music Trust.