Minutes of the 4th Annual General Meeting held on 22 February 2015 at 1300 in the Brighton Dome Founders Room
Present: Janet Benson, Mike Benson, David Botibol, Sandra Botibol, Mary Budleigh, Gwyneth Corum, Michael Corum, Chris Darwin, Charles Goldie, Jennifer Goldie, David Harrison, Muriel Hart, Geoffrey Hatcher, John Hird, John McKean, Mary McKean (Chair), Christine Moon, Paul Moore, Annabel Pagel, Andrew Polmear, Margaret Polmear, Guy Richardson, Helen Simpson, Ian Stephens, John Stephens, Teresa Stephens, Charlotte Tyler, Graham Tyler, Liz Waring
Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Dome and Festival, Hannah Williams Walton, also of Brighton Dome and Festival, and James Simister were present as observers
Apologies: John Bosowski, Helen Clement, Roger Clement, Kate Darwin, Rena Feld, Arthur Oppenheimer, Maggie Stephens
1 Chair’s welcome
The Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting and introduced the other members of the outgoing committee who were present – John McKean, Christine Moon (Treasurer), Margaret Polmear (Secretary) and Guy Richardson.
2 To receive the minutes of the third Annual General Meeting held on 23 February 2014
The minutes were accepted as a true record of the meeting.
Proposed: Geoffrey Hatcher
Seconded: Mike Benson
3 To receive the Annual Report of the Committee of Strings Attached
The report was received.
Proposed: Liz Waring
Seconded: John Hird
4 To receive the audited financial accounts for the year ended 31 December 2014
The audited financial accounts for the year ended 31 December 2014 were received.
Proposed: Paul Moore
Seconded: Chris Darwin
It was noted that, despite the loss made on the Cavaleri concert, the balance at the end of 2014 was higher than that at the end of 2013. Without the generous sponsorship of the concert, the year-end balance would have been very much lower than the previous year.
5 To agree the annual subscription rate for 2015/16
It was reported that Strings Attached currently has 40 fewer members than it had last year, partly because of the change in the membership year agreed at last year’s AGM and partly, no doubt, as a result of there no longer being a discount on ticket prices for members of Strings Attached. It was noted that the current membership fee does not cover even the cost of refreshments at the AGM and that some of those who completed the annual survey (see 7 below) indicated they would be willing to pay a higher membership fee but that the committee had nevertheless thought it best not to raise it at this point.
It was therefore proposed, and unanimously agreed, that the annual subscription for the year 1 August 2015 to 31 July 2016 should remain unchanged at £10 (£5 for students).
It was suggested that more members might be retained if payment of subscriptions could be made as a direct debit but pointed out that this method is either unavailable or prohibitively costly for organisations as small as Strings Attached.
Another suggestion made was that membership forms be handed out to everyone leaving coffee concerts.
6 To appoint members to the committee
The Chair reported that all members of the outgoing committee were willing to serve for a further year with the exception of Rena Feld and John McKean. Rena, it was noted, has undertaken the task of Membership Secretary and John has been responsible for graphic design and related issues, a task he will continue to undertake outside the committee. Both were warmly thanked for their contribution.
It was noted that Christine Moon and Margaret Polmear between them would take on the duties of Membership Secretary for which they too were thanked.
Helen Simpson was nominated by Guy Richardson and seconded by John McKean as a new member of the committee.
The appointment of Helen Simpson and those committee members willing to continue to serve was unanimously agreed.
The Chair stressed that further new committee members would be welcome and urged anyone interested in joining to contact her.
She also thanked those who undertook work for Strings Attached outside the committee as follows:
- Chris Darwin for his outstanding programme notes and also for managing the calendar of events and forum for amateur musicians on the Strings Attached website
- David Botibol for managing the Strings Attached website with such efficiency
- Andrew Polmear for his concert reviews which are posted on the Strings Attached website
7 To consider the results of the January 2015 survey of Friends
The Chair reported that the main outcomes of the most recent survey, which have already been shared with Andrew Comben and his colleagues, were as follows:
- The vast majority of respondents think the length of concerts about right.
- Most are content with the current concert arrangements, including the interval and opportunity to meet the performers after the concert.
- Most feel that the current mix of string quartets and other ensembles is about right.
- 60% of respondents would like to hear pre-classical music on an occasional basis only and 11% not at all whereas 66% would like to hear one or more 20th or 21st century pieces at most concerts and only 3% would like none of this kind of music.
- There was much praise for Chris Darwin’s programme notes.
- On a less positive note, a significant number of respondents asked for more raked seating to be provided and some mentioned the temperature in the Corn Exchange on cold days, the standard of the free coffee provided to Friends and the queue to obtain the coffee.
One member present who had been unable to complete the questionnaire asked whether it was possible to prevent those attending coffee concerts from reserving seats, particularly the few raked seats, by placing scarves and the like on them and then retreating to the Foyer Bar for coffee. It was felt that this was unrealistic. It was, however, agreed to look into whether appropriate seating for wheelchair users and others with special needs and their carers could be reserved. It was also agreed that the committee would consider whether Strings Attached might ask those who arrive early to reserve seats only for themselves and not for friends they expect to arrive later.
Another member asked for confirmation that the programme notes are made available in advance to those performing. It was confirmed that they are.
The Chair thanked Andrew Comben and his colleagues for their cooperation in addressing, as far as possible, the issues raised each year by the survey. It is clear from the most recent survey, she said, that the coffee concerts are much loved.
Andrew Comben said that the advocacy role of Strings Attached was vital and that the survey results were a valuable tool in terms of both which ensembles to invite to perform at the coffee concerts and what to ask them to play. He also said that the programme notes are attracting a whole different audience and thanked Chris Darwin on behalf of Brighton Dome and Festival for this fantastic contribution.
The full survey results can be found on the Strings Attached website.
8 To reflect on the future of Strings Attached
The Chair said that the committee had recently been reflecting on the future of Strings Attached since it has achieved what it set out to do, namely ensure the future financial viability of the Sunday morning coffee concerts which had originated in the Old Market in Hove. Against this background and a shrinking membership, as noted above, the question of whether Strings Attached is still needed had been raised. The committee’s view is that it is and that it can be useful in the following areas:
- Maintaining a dialogue with Brighton Dome and Festival on behalf of the members of Strings Attached
- Attracting a younger audience to the coffee concerts through the Cavatina scheme which, with the help of Brighton Dome and Festival, it is hoped to advertise more widely prior to the 2015/16 season; in this context it was noted that the numbers taking advantage of the Cavatina scheme has increased as the 2014/15 season has progressed
- Possible collaboration with other groups on a series of summer concerts; one member suggested promoting good local amateur musicians
- Supporting Brighton Dome and Festival in its plans to make the Corn Exchange an even better venue than it already is for chamber music
With regard to this last point, Andrew Comben explained that the vision is for the Corn Exchange to revert visually largely to what it had looked like when it had been a riding school. The venue would be acoustically soundproof with proper equipment space, including a specialist storage facility for a grand piano, under the floor and better facilities for performers. As a result, a greater variety of concerts would be possible, including concerts needing a grand piano. It is hoped that work across the Dome’s estate will start in the autumn of 2016 and is likely to take approximately eighteen months with the Corn Exchange being out of action for about six months. Other venues are already being sought for events that would have taken place in the Corn Exchange during this time.
The Chair explained that a top class piano has been offered to Brighton Dome and Festival and wondered whether one role for Strings Attached would be to work with other groups in the city who might benefit from a grand piano on site, such as the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, to raise the significant funds needed to provide the specialist storage facility. There was guarded interest in this idea and the following suggestions were put forward:
- Donate a percentage of the Strings Attached membership fee towards the storage facility
- Include on the Strings Attached membership form the possibility of donating specifically towards the storage facility
- Include an item on the Strings Attached website about donating or bequeathing money towards such a project
It was pointed out that some will remember the piano fund set up at the Old Market that came to nothing and that for this reason alone it would be sensible to manage any fund set up to further the aims of Brighton Dome and Festival on a trust basis.
One member asked that consideration be given to having a fortepiano available as well as a grand piano.
Returning to the issue of collaborative concerts with other groups, it was suggested that the following could be approached:
- Nicholas Yonge Society
- Lewes Chamber Music Festival
- Brighton Fringe
It was noted that Strings Attached already collaborates with BREMF on a number of levels, including a joint coffee concert these past two years to coincide with the dates of the Brighton Early Music Festival. A joint concert with the Nicholas Yonge Society in the new Attenborough Centre on the University of Sussex campus has also been raised.
The Chair encouraged those with other ideas about the future of Strings Attached, whether positive or negative, to get in touch with her.
9 Any further issues for consideration
The dates for the 2015/16 season of coffee concerts were announced as follows: