Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
Fulham is synonymous with many things – Barbours, Alice bands, weekend barbecues at the White Horse –but what it isn’t known for is its music. Yet every Saturday, rain or shine, almost two hundred children troop across Parsons Green to sing in choirs, play guitars and blow on oboes, trumpets and bassoons. Most, though not quite all, are French.
This plucky, little-known Saturday music school, which was founded in 2008, is the work of two dynamic Frenchwomen, Eleanor Carton de Wiart and Raphaëlle Poujol. Spotting a gap in the French education system, which is notorious for its neglect of music and the arts generally, the pair decided to fill it. They started small – in rented classrooms in South Kensington. Word quickly spread and soon demand was high enough to set up an all-day Saturday music school. They found two buildings they could rent at Lady Margaret School in Parsons Green and called their initiative, which is run as a charity, Music’all.
Fabienne, the school’s treasurer, reckons that 70 per cent of the children are French. The remaining 30 per cent include British, German, Spanish, American and Italian children, many of whom are the product of dual nationality parents. ‘It’s turned out to be filling a gap that’s not just French,’ says Xavier, Music’all’s chairman.
Yet the school feels French. Perhaps it’s the fact that the children, all of whom are suspiciously well dressed, arrive with a polite bonjour (and no tantrums), or the moreish quality of the croissants (sourced from French food delivery company Chanteroy), or the fact that many mothers wear lipstick and silk scarves tied jauntily at the neck (fathers can often be glimpsed hunched over laptops in a separate sealed off room or tinkering moodily on pianos). Classes, however, are held in English. ‘It’s always abc and not do re mi,’ says Fabienne.
The children are taught by a roster of 28 professional musicians. Music’all provides one-to-one classes but the emphasis is on making music communally in a happy, buzzy atmosphere, rather than simply mastering an instrument alone. Four-year-olds kick off with an hour of ‘First Musical Steps’ before moving on to more ambitious classes in which they sing in junior choirs, choose musical instruments and learn to play them. ‘It’s a structured environment but it’s unpressurised,’ says Fabienne. ‘It’s all about making music together, either vocal or instrumental.’
In the main theatre I watch thirty children aged from six to eleven belt out songs from the Lion King. A woman in beads and a red jumper is playing the piano, while the singing teacher is standing in the middle of the stage waving her arms. The children, dressed in a mix of party dresses, Breton tops and Gap t-shirts, show not even the faintest hint of mutiny. ‘OK, I want the sopranos over here and the altos over there,’ says the teacher, beaming encouragingly. ‘Ellie! Michael! Zac! François! Stella! Victoire! stand on the other side. Now Thomas! Stand between Ignacio and Paul!’
Louisa, a British mother who works in arts administration, found the school on Google and has just registered her five-year-old daughter, Kitty, for a second term. She sings in an impromptu parents’ jazz group upstairs (three fathers accompany her on the trumpet, piano and electronic guitar), while Kitty does an hour of music and rhythm with other children her age. ‘I love the fact that Music’all remains a hidden gem,’ says Louisa. ‘If the word was out on Mumsnet the helicopter mums would be all over it like a rash.’
Music’all operates from 9am-4pm every Saturday at Lady Margaret School, Parsons Green, SW6. Classes start at £20 a week for ‘first musical steps’ for four to six year olds (see the website for a breakdown of prices). The next open day (for September enrolment) is on May 17. Concerts in which all the children take part are performed twice a year – in June and at Christmas (for more information contact Music’all on 0759 069 1265 or email firstname.lastname@example.org).