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[Graphic: band instruments and equipment]

Hitting the right note

Students who live in halls of residence often choose to do so because of the ready-made social life it provides. But a warden and team of sub-wardens at the University of Leicester felt that this had become rather limited, centering round parties and events such as karaoke and disco, and the bar... 

So they decided to widen their students’ horizons and were delighted – if slightly bemused – at the level of success which their initiative achieved.

In Leicester studying for a PhD in medical research statistics, Cosetta Minelli is a Sub-Assistant Warden at Gilbert Murray and Villiers Halls – and a bass guitarist. She explained what she, her fellow Senior Sub-Warden Rana El-Rachkidy and Warden Jim Shaw had set out to do, displaying an energy and commitment that leaves you feeling sure her days must contain more than 24 hours.

“We started last year from nothing. Jim wanted to inject hall life with the vigour and energy and cultural experiences he remembered from his own student days, and we had this idea of offering students active participation in music and dance.

“Starting with rock and popular music, we organised tuition on guitar, drums and keyboard. I have a friends, Kev, with a recording studio, who teaches music with other colleagues to people in prison and young people in disadvantaged environments. They had never taught university students, but they were very keen. They were a ready-made team and so it made it easy to organise. They came twice a week and each class of three students had one hour’s tuition.

“We had to allocate one room in the hall to the music classes and so we sacrificed our Senior Common Room, equipping it with instruments and amplifiers. It was soon used not just for tuition, but by people who could already play, and in no time they started forming bands. So we had to start a booking sheet for the week. Students were allowed to book the room for one hour, three times per week. Then the room became so much in demand we had to change that to just twice a week.”

Forty-five students took up music tuition, becoming firm friends by the end of the year. One band was already in existence at the start, but soon four others formed, and then the beginners began to play together.

At the end of the year
Cosetta organised a performance in which the majority of the students took part. This included a competition, with the winning group receiving six hours’ free time in the recording studio. 

[Photo: band members performing]
The performance became something of a ‘family affair’, with Cosetta on bass, Jim’s wife on drums, and Danny, Jonny, Will and Jimmy, other Sub-Wardens in the Hall, making up the rest of the band. Jim’s 13-year-old son James and his band Nocturnal also performed that evening. [Photo: audience]: HALL OR NOTHING: Band competition for six hours' free recording time in a studio attracted an appreciative audience 

“Even people who were very shy took part,” Cosetta said, “And it was so much fun that even if they never perform publicly again, I think they will remember that evening for the rest of their lives. In fact the whole project proved much more than just learning an instrument or attending a course. It became a social event. Students would book the room to play music and their friends came along to listen.

“In the whole year
nothing at all got stolen. We were prepared to be very disciplined; it could be so easy to pick up a lead or a small piece of kit and slip it in your pocket, but no one ever did.”

While Cosetta was in charge of the music tuition, Rana - a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Division of Dermatology - organised dance groups, working with Miguel who runs a Salsa club in Leicester. 

This year Rana has dramatically increased the numbers in the Salsa groups, as she explained: “On the first night I gave a short speech explaining the Salsa workshop. I told the girls that Miguel is fantastic and invited all the gentlemen to sign up for Salsa, because it is such a stylish dance when the man is the leader.

“Obviously this strategy worked, and I now have 101 boys and girls signed up. What was amazing was the big participation of the guys. We have held our first session, with 80 people taking part , and it was a great success. Some of the students asked me if they can bring still more people along because it is such great fun. 

“A group of Sub-Wardens helped me, making 30 litres of Sangria as a welcome to the world of Salsa. As the session ended you could see that students were managing to shake their hips, move their hands, get closer to each other and – most importantly – they had a big smile on their faces. That was the most rewarding thing for all this effort.”

To boost her Salsa students’ confidence, Rana plans to organise nights out to Salsa clubs, and she, too, aims to put on a performance at Easter.

“We want to organise a truly Latin American evening,” she explained. “We will provide all the dance costumes for this and the hall will be suitably decked out.”

Cosetta and Jim, too, have more ambitious plans for this academic year’s activities, following last year’s huge success. They would like tohave extended the range of activities to include classical music and drama, depending on what is feasible and what their network of sub-wardens feel would fire the students’ enthusiasm. The organisation of music activities has received a lot of help from the JCR, in particular James Gray, who is Music Rep, and Dave Channell, who is the President of JCR. 

They are also engaging ‘Beats Working’, a husband and wife duo who already run highly successful classes at the University’s Richard Attenborough Centre, teaching traditional drumming from West Africa. 

Up to now these activities have been funded out of the hall of residence budget, with students starting this year having to contribute by paying one pound an hour. but However, as success leads to growth and diversification, Cosetta admits they will need to find outside funding. As part of this, they hope that students will be prepared to pay for tuition – if only £1.50 an hour.

Jim Shaw has another plan which he hopes will come to fruition. “I would like to ask those students who enjoy the music tuition to team up with a local children’s home and ‘cascade down’ their learning experience so that the young people in the home get chance to enjoy this experience, too,” he explained. “I would suggest that students give up some time on Sunday afternoons to teach guitar and drums, so that these children benefit too. I’m also looking for some capital funding to provide instruments for the children’s homes.

“Although the national average is 50%, only 6% of children from residential homes ever get to university, and I feel this could provide a unique opportunity for them, not just to get this kind of musical experience, but to find out that university students aren’t aliens from Mars.”

Further information on this year’s programme of music, dance and drama at Gilbert Murray and Villiers Halls is available from Cosetta Minelli, email, or Rana El-Rachkidy, email, or Jim Shaw, email, 0116 252 2511.

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Last updated: 2 December 2003 15:40
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