L'Ecole Koenig is delighted to welcome our new director of the Music School, Russell Hepplewhite, who will assume his new position over the summer. Hepplewhite is a composer noted for the success of his operas and for his empathetic writing of children’s voices.
He is an alumnus of the Chetham’s School and the Royal College of Music. Additionally, he has been commissioned for multiple stage works for young people including shows such as Laika the Spacedog, Silver Electra, and Shackleton’s Cat, all widely performed to critical acclaim.
Laika the Spacedog was awarded the prize for Best Production at Budapest’s Armel Opera Festival, with performances at Avignon Opera, Fribourg Opera, and at Le Reflet in Vevey, Switzerland.
We sat down with him to learn more about his work and how he will use his talents with our students at L'Ecole Koenig.
How old were you when you first became involved in music?
When I was 5, I began Kodaly classes with a local music teacher and then at 6 I began piano lessons, so music has been in my life from quite a young age.
How has music changed and inspired your life?
It was the focus of my childhood, and it's been my career so it's totally ingrained in who I actually am. I don't think it would be possible to separate me from music! It's also taken me all over the world, and introduced me to wonderful people.
Why is music important to a child’s education?
There are copious amounts of scientific evidence to show the all-encompassing benefits of regular access to music education - we know it increases cognitive ability; memory function; emotional reasoning as examples. But, the strongest benefit for a child is the gift of something completely life-changing. Music will stay with them forever - a lifelong interest, something that gives joy, support, and constant fascination.
What tools and ideas will you be bringing to the school’s music program?
I actually want to hear the ideas of the teachers and I want to put the teachers themselves at the heart of all future developments. I'll be doing a lot of listening and learning myself, but mainly things will be about communication.
Why are you excited to work with L'Ecole Koenig?
It's a wonderful and incredibly happy place. L'Ecole Koenig is underpinned by the years of research and findings of our founder Joan, and this filters down to directly impact the way that things are taught. Everything becomes about being as creative and inspiring as possible therefore.
You have been described as "One of the brightest young talents to emerge in recent years." by the Evening Standard, can you talk about some of the things and people that helped you along the way?
There are too many things and people to mention them all, but I would say that I've been lucky to have some brilliant teachers over the years. I also think that parental/guardian support is key, and despite nobody in my family being a musician except me, my parents were always encouraging and took great interest in my music-making. I look back and see how vital that was to my musical development.
Explain how you might compose a new piece of work?
Almost all my works are to be sung so I start by working out what the words mean, finding their natural rhythm, and thinking about what I want to musically convey. Then I play with chords, harmonies, rhythms. I’ve studied composition with many teachers before, and so I do have certain methods I apply as well, but by and large, it’s about having fun and writing music that I like to hear. I’m really no different from a child discovering music for the first time because every day there are new musical adventures to go on and exciting things to find!
Talk about your past work and some of your compositions you are most proud of.
The pieces I'm most proud of are the ones that I composed to be performed for children to watch and listen to. English Touring Opera commissioned several operas and these have had success in European opera houses, as well as the UK.
What do you hope to introduce or change about the music program at L'Ecole Koenig?
L'Ecole Koenig is incredibly special, full of wonderful and caring teachers. There are two key areas I want to develop - the first is about expanding what we already offer. We have to reach more young people, so I will be looking at ways to do this. Secondly, I want us to go beyond our base in the 15th, so I will be looking at options to take our work to other parts of Paris too, connecting us with children from diverse backgrounds. Music has to be for every child, and that will be our key message for the future.
What is the key to teaching music to children?
Remembering that every child is an individual and learns in a different way and at a different pace. Learners will go through patches where they find things easy and then at other times they might struggle, but patience, reassurance, and encouragement are always the best way forward.