To say Martin Cropper comes from a musical family is something of an understatement.
His great-grandfather was leader of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and his great-uncle was principal viola player in the BBC Philharmonic for thirty-five years. His father, well-known Sheffield violinist Peter Cropper, founded the Lindsay Quartet and Sheffield’s Music In The Round - the largest promoter of chamber music outside London - and his mother is the violin teacher, Nina Martin.
“Until the age of five, I thought everyone played the violin,” he laughs.
After taking lessons with his mother as a child, and being awarded a scholarship to study with Howard Davis at the Royal Academy of Music, Martin then turned his focus to teaching and nurturing the next generation of talent in his hometown of Sheffield. Today, he is musical director of Sheffield Music Academy, the music school his dad Peter was charged with launching in the city ten years ago.
“It was the Arts Council that identified Sheffield as an area that would benefit from a centre for advanced training in music,” explains Martin, aged 39.
“They approached my dad and he was tasked with setting it up.”
Peter teamed up with John Grundy, who he appointed musical director, and together they set about growing their centre for excellence.
And a lot has changed in ten years. When Sheffield Music Academy first opened its doors in 2006, they had just 13 students and a handful of staff. The aim was clear; to gather the city’s young people who showed potential in music in one place, to inspire and educate them, to grow Sheffield as a centre for excellence training.
A decade on and it’s clear this goal has been met. The Academy has gained a reputation as a thriving and vibrant music school offering an outstanding and stimulating programme to more than 100 students in the region.
The dedicated Saturday morning school is based at Birkdale School and offers more than 70 classes throughout the day, including individual tuition, chamber groups, choir, theory, composition and musicianship. Timetables are individually tailored to each student and as a charity, the Academy is predominantly supported by the Department for Education, which enables it to offer 75 bursary places to eligible students.
“One of the greatest things we’ve achieved in the last ten years is that we’ve put Sheffield on the map in terms of advanced training,” explains Martin.
“We have great links with key staff at the Royal Northern College of Music and have had amazing visiting lecturers from all over the world. Our students have gone on to win music scholarships at some of the biggest universities, like Oxford and Cambridge, and others are enjoy satisfying careers in the profession.” And Martin says that, for a child, learning an instrument offers so much more than simply learning to play.
“For a young person learning to play an instrument, the transferable skills are invaluable - learning to work on your own, to focus and concentrate, working to constantly improve, the dedication of daily practice in order to develop something over time. It’s the same as being an athlete in that respect,” says Martin, who has also been Head of Strings at Oakham School in Rutland for the past 12 years.
“It’s wonderful to be able to bring so many like-minded people together in one place to make music and share their passion.”
As well as their many local performances - at Sheffield City Hall, the Octagon, and a number of smaller venues in the region - the Academy hosts an informal lunchtime concert every Saturday for students who have pieces to perform.
And the Academy’s students, all aged eight to 19, are currently busy preparing for a very special date in their diaries - a concert at Sheffield Cathedral to celebrate the Academy’s ten year anniversary.
Nearly 100 current students will be joined by alumni, staff, a professional orchestra and soloists and a number of community choirs for ‘Haydn’s Creation’ on Saturday July 16, which will kick-start a year of festivity.
Sadly Peter won’t be there to see it, having passed away in 2014, but Martin says he’s certain his dad would be proud of how far the Academy has come.
“Dad would be delighted, and I’m extremely proud to lead the Academy into their second decade supporting and nurturing young talent. The concert will give us a chance to gather music-lovers together to help us celebrate a fantastic milestone.”