Merton Music Foundation returns to Royal Albert Hall

Merton Music Foundation returns to Royal Albert Hall

In March, Merton Music Foundation will be taking local pupils to perform at the Royal Albert Hall…

Words: Ellie Holmes Main image (c) Rebecca Cresta

Merton Music Foundation has been delivering music to thousands of young people through instrumental lessons as well as bands, choirs, ensembles and special projects for over 30 years. Since Covid they’ve expanded their operation even further with an Early Years music programme at Wimbledon College and DJ/ Music production classes at Soundwave in Mitcham. But it hasn’t been an easy journey for the local charity and much of its success is down to the passion and commitment of students, parents, schools and the wider MMF community.

(c) Rebecca Cresta

Elisabeth Wigley is Chief Executive and Soo Bishop is the Creative and Projects Director. Elisabeth says: “Singing and instrumental lessons have been at the core of MMF since the beginning and a big part of our focus is on providing individual and small group lessons in schools and at our Music Centres. It is a great joy to hear children play and see the progress that they make, no matter what stage of their musical journey they’re at.”

“We encourage all children learning an instrument to join an ensemble. Playing with other musicians can really help accelerate progression as well as increase their enjoyment of learning an instrument. It’s fun, sociable and rewarding and opens doors to performance opportunities that they wouldn’t usually get playing on their own. Even after a couple of terms of lessons, most children are ready to join a band: that’s where the fun really starts!”


Before the pandemic, every two years MMF would take 1,500 Merton children, including school choirs and all the ensembles from their flagship Music Centre in South Wimbledon, to perform at the Royal Albert Hall and they’re excited to be returning on 11 March, with the theme of Change is Coming.

Soo says: “The energy that 1,500 young singers and instrumentalists bring to that iconic venue is something else and no matter how many times we, as staff, have performed there, it’s still a magical feeling when we first set foot into the auditorium on concert day. Just imagine being a child and walking into that hall for the first time and looking up.”

It is Soo’s job to support musical development and she is excited about other projects in the pipeline for 2024. “Another venture we are proud of is SingFest which involves local choirs of all ages coming together to celebrate the joy of singing. We also have a unique relationship with New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, which is the home of US jazz education, and every year they send a group of musicians to lead concerts for local schools and run workshops for our young jazz lovers.”


As well as individual lessons, MMF offers schools whole-class music programmes to get children started on their musical journey where all the children, their teachers and teaching assistants learn together. Elisabeth says: “We strongly believe that music is not just a ‘nice-to have’, it is fundamental for the healthy development of children. From birth, children enjoy engaging with sounds, songs and rhythms and it is a significant part of early learning.”

It is this emphasis and value that is placed on music that has inspired the Mini Musicians Project, which MMF is launching in 2024 in partnership with the London Borough of Merton and the University of Roehampton. As Elisabeth explains: “We have spoken at length to primary school teachers about the extent that the pandemic disrupted the social and academic development of their pupils. Of course, it impacted children of all ages, but we believe that a music programme, designed especially for the early years of primary schooling will help bridge the gap for those children.”

To sum it up, Elisabeth echoes the MMF ethos of ‘Music is for life’. “Music truly is for life and for everyone. Just by visiting our website or social media pages, you’ll get a glimpse of some of the journeys that our young people embark on. Of course, there’s no better way to experience that than live and in-person. If you join us at our Royal Albert Hall concert, I promise that you’ll leave inspired.”