Michael Duffy has spent more than a decade working with classical and contemporary music organisations including Spitalfields Music, Mahogany Opera Group and the London Sinfonietta. Most recently, he was Head of Programming for Cheltenham Music Festival, one of the UK’s oldest and highly regarded classical music festivals. As he settles into his new role as Benslow Music’s Chief Executive Officer, we caught up to discuss his career, his love of music and his vision for Benslow’s future.
Michael, thank you for taking the time to provide this special feature. Congratulations and best wishes in your role as CEO. Please tell us more about your background and what drew you to a career in the arts, particularly music.
Thank you – I’m excited to join Benslow Music!
Music has always been a part of my life. I grew up as a chorister and played the piano (a skill that has sadly got very rusty!), and went on to study music at university, where I was part of the college choir and other ensembles. So in many ways I think a career in the arts was inevitable for me. I’d considered the performing route but then got sucked into arts management during an internship after I’d finished studying and haven’t really looked back.
Your career includes working for the British Council, Spitalfields Music and Cheltenham Music Festival. What have you enjoyed most about working with such notable organisations?
So many things! In some ways, I’ve worked for an eclectic bunch of organisations and have seen them from different perspectives, but there are things that are common to all of them that I’ve really enjoyed. This has included working with artists to bring creative ideas to life, connecting people across the globe to develop ideas and skills, asking questions about the world around us through creative programmes, and connecting people with extraordinary musical experiences. There’s something about those moments when a piece of music or concert grips and transports you, possibly opening up your ears in a new way, and stays with you for a long time. I think it’s important that more people have moments like these, whether it’s listening at a concert or gig, or through playing or performing new music.
What drew you to work for Benslow Music, and what are you looking forward to most as the new CEO?
Benslow Music has an extraordinary legacy. Organisations that have this kind of heritage are very special, particularly when, like Benslow, there is still a live connection to their original purpose. I was excited about working with that and seeing how we as an organisation can continue to celebrate this while at the same time ensuring we’re able to meet the needs of operating in the 21st century. I’m also very much looking forward to being in a building that’s so full of music and the active community of music makers that come through our doors.
Benslow Music is very proud to provide inspirational lifelong learning for all ages through residential, day and online music courses. What are the biggest challenges music schools and music education institutions face?
Everyone should have access to music education. It’s really hard to overstate the benefits of actively engaging with music: improved cognition, social skills, critical thinking, empathy, the list goes on. I think the challenges come with trying to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access music education. As music (along with other arts subjects) has become less of a priority in schools this has become more acute, with young people losing out on its benefits, and also creating impacts on the pipeline of developing future musicians. That’s why somewhere like Benslow is brilliant, as we show that it’s never too late to immerse yourself in learning and benefitting from music.
As we approach our centenary, what is your vision for Benslow and what culture does the organisation need to succeed in the coming years?
Our 100th anniversary is such a fantastic milestone and I’m looking forward to celebrating the journey the organisation has been on from its beginnings as Mary Ibberson’s Rural Music School Association to where we are today and beyond. My hope is that we have an equally bright next hundred years. I’d like us to ensure that the Benslow spirit and our facilities are easily accessible to as wide a group of people as possible, that we respond to the opportunities of being an organisation in the 2020s, and that people continue to look to us for extraordinary music education experiences.