Roger Medwell MBE, DL is a former engineer and captain of industry, now helping to steer Armonico Consort in its concert and charitable missions. Our Relationship Manager, Patrons and Sponsors, Eva Williams chatted to him to find out why he’s passionate about Armonico’s work and how the charity is able to take advantage of his many years of experience and undiminished zest for life.
Q: How and when did you get involved with Armonico Consort’s work?
Around 14 years ago, I was involved with the Coventry Cathedral Development Trust. Here I met Michael Mogan (who was involved with Armonico Consort’s work) and David Burbidge (Chair of this Trust and also an Armonico Consort Patron). They invited me to a concert and ever since my love of music has grown; the quality of singing at Armonico Consort performances is just superb.
Q: Which aspects of our work appeals to you most?
I enjoy different genres of music but especially classical voices: tenor, bass and countertenor; the countertenor is my favourite. When I hear William Towers’ voice at Armonico’s concerts it’s just incredible and simply unrivalled. I also like the fun elements of Armonico Consort – they don’t take themselves too seriously.
I really believe in singing, especially in the morning which takes me back to my junior school assemblies in Essex, a hundred children singing hymns with such gusto… it set you up for the day and even today I love singing in the mornings. One of my fondest memories is of my welsh headmaster, “Taffy Taylor”, singing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and his wife (also a teacher) playing on the piano. And for those children in my school who needed help with reading, singing hymns was a great way to motivate them as hymns were easy to remember and not too difficult to read.
The appeal of Armonico Consort’s lies in its charitable mission; to train teachers to be choir leaders – leaving a legacy in the school – and to develop school choirs… reaching 300 choirs is a fantastic achievement.
Q: Why did you become Armonico Consort’s President?
In 2006, when I was CEO of NP Aerospace Ltd, I came across Broad Heath Primary School in Foleshill, Coventry – then the poorest ward of the City with 48 different languages spoken at home. The staff at NP Aerospace volunteered at the school and the school children came to our premises to sing at our company Christmas lunch for our pensioners. The songs made both the pensioners and the staff feel good and lifted their spirits. I was fascinated to see children from all backgrounds and religions singing Christmas carols and thoroughly enjoying themselves; they may have come from the poorest ward but they were rich from a cultural perspective.
This experience has stuck with me and when I learnt how Armonico Consort targets the poorest areas, inspiring children to sing and tapping this resource for talent through its outreach work I knew I wanted to get more involved; their outreach work is like surveying for gold – if you don’t get out into the community you’ll never find it. Then in 2017, Sir John Egan, Armonico Consort’s President and former Chairman of Jaguar Cars, was stepping down and I was asked if I would take on the role of Armonico Consort President; of course, I said yes!
I firmly believe we need to reach deprived areas not just in Coventry but across the country and if Armonico Consort doesn’t who will. Its work with school children and its recently launched Scholars’ scheme is needed at a time when singing in schools is diminishing and other pressures on teachers mean they don’t have time for music. In my experience, teachers welcome this outside support from Armonico Consort.
Q: You’re a captain of industry and an engineer – how have these skills come in useful in your role as President?
Although I’ve never learnt to play a musical instrument or to sing, what I can provide is support and consistency to Christopher Monks (Founder and Artistic Director), the staff team and use any contacts to try and develop the fundraising; outreach is key to fundraising.
Christopher comes up with ideas and I’m able to see the logistical issues of achieving the objectives; I can see challenges and suggest solutions…but I would never tell Christopher how to play the harpsichord, although I could repair it – I know a thing or two about ‘bearers’!
Q: What’s the most memorable of our concerts you’ve attended and why?
Bach Mass in B Minor at St Mary’s Church in Warwick is uppermost in mind. The blend of ancient instruments provided an incredible background to the singing; brass, woodwind, harpsichord. It was joyous to watch because of its complexity and to see Christopher bringing together a range of voices, instruments and scholars. It hit a new level of precision and timing!
Q: Our 2019 Bike Adventure – at the age of 77 what possessed you to take on a 200-mile challenge like this?
I’ve always been an endurance person – be it physical or practical. In 1981, when I was promoted to General Manager of National Plastics Limited, Coventry (part of the Courtaulds Group), the economy was experiencing a downturn and they were closing mills but I kept going and by 2010 my team had turned the company around; from 120 staff to 450 and with sales up from £1.2million to £200million. Team ethic and commitment are important. People can change things and it is this mantra that led me to take on the bike challenge. It was a real adventure and I revelled in being part of it; the team spirit, new friendships, singing and cycling alongside Armonico professionals and scholars, drinking wines with Oz Clarke, and seeing some of the most beautiful countryside along the way. Above all it was enormous fun and I’m up for another bike challenge this year!
Q: What is your vision for Armonico Consort in the foreseeable future?
I would like to see Armonico Consort go from strength to strength and of course that means raising more funds so that more free workshops and singing lessons can be provided for children living in deprived areas. With Warwickshire being close to my heart, I would like to see us holding more concerts and doing more outreach work with schools in Nuneaton, Bedworth and Rugby.
Armonico Consort celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2021, and I urge all of our patrons and supporters to get even more involved – the programme is in the pipeline and will go public later this year.
There’s more information on the many ways in which you can support Armonico Consort’s performance and education work (AC Academy) on our Get Involved page.