Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme (BMILS) celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2022. The scheme, which started humbly with a letter to The Times newspaper in 1932, has blossomed into a well-respected organisation whose operation over the last 90 years has offered thousands of aspiring young artists the opportunity to borrow high quality instruments to enhance and further their musicianship.
Official opening of new BMILS facility
Coinciding with this momentous anniversary is the official opening of BMILS’ bespoke facility, the ‘Aston Building’, by Judith Weir CBE, Master of the Queen’s Music and Benslow Music President on 23 January 2022.
The Women behind the Loan Scheme
The brainchild of two pioneering and remarkable women; violinist, conductor, teacher and author, Editha Knocker, whose own pupil’s included Sidney Griller, Gerald Finzi, Basil Cameron and Sybil Eaton; and fellow violinist, forward-thinking music teacher and philanthropist Edith Croll.
Knocker and Croll’s letter, calling for “Good Violins lying Idle” to be repurposed for use by young musicians who could otherwise not afford superior instruments, was a ground-breaking egalitarian plan and was endorsed by leading music figures of the day including Sir Henry Wood, Sir Walford Davies and Samuel Courtauld.
The cultural impact of Benslow Music instrument Loan Scheme
Thousands of young artists have since benefitted from borrowing from the Scheme and this has had an impact on shaping British cultural life.
BMILS borrowers include in their ranks several BBC Young Musician of the Year finalists, an RPS award winner, a BBC Guardian Young Composer award winner, musicologists, teachers and conservatoire professors.
They perform as soloists and with orchestras and chamber ensembles throughout the UK and as far afield as Los Angeles and Mexico including: the Academy of Ancient Music, Barbican Trio, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Britten Symphonia, Camilli Quartet, Carducci Quartet, Chineke Orchestra, Dunedin Consort, Escala, Halle, Irish Chamber Orchestra, London Mozart Players, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Manchester Camerata, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Philharmonia, RTE National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra amongst others. BMILS Alumni even include a BBC Strictly Come Dancing professional!
Etta Dainty, Head of BMILS said “Having benefitted from a similar scheme as a student, I’m fully aware of how important affordable access to quality instruments can be – and consequently how a lack of access can potentially stop a life of music in its tracks. There should be no barrier to young people pursuing their musical dreams, and at BMILS we strive to make ourselves visible and available to potential borrowers from all backgrounds. By increased collaboration with institutions including national Music Hubs and schools, and charities such as Awards for Young Musicians we aim to help as many young musicians as possible. Seeing a young player’s face light up when they first try an instrument of significantly better quality than previously available to them is priceless! A whole new world of sound opens up, and it’s magical…”
The esteemed Professor Louis Carus was a staunch supporter and Patron of the Scheme, having himself been an early borrower in 1936; he in turn loaned back a French Leon Mougenot violin to the Scheme. In an interview given in 2009 he said "the first time I played it I knew immediately, instinctively, that I could achieve so much more easily what the music in front of me required…I was playing like I never had before…it marked the beginning of my career.”
Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme – Facts and Figures
- Available to UK resident students between the ages of 7 to 25 currently in full-time education and taking a course of musical instruction
- A current collection of over 1,600 musical items (instruments and bows)
- Collection comprises 50% items on loan to the scheme by private individuals, 50% donated items (now property of BMILS)
- Approximately a third of collection currently out on loan
- Over 475 current active borrowers
- Instruments include high quality violins, violas, cellos and double basses of all sizes, selected woodwind and brass, plus a small number of pedal harps
- Select senior borrowers currently studying in specialist conservatoires in Geneva, Moscow, Stockholm and Taiwan (by special permission)
- Borrowers pay an annual loan charge of 5% of the instrument and/or bow value capped at £400 (bursaries are also available)
- New bespoke facility the ‘Aston Building’ provides a monitored, secure environment for the instruments, try-out studio, workshop space for on-site luthier Marco Matathia as well as office and practice space
- BMILS is funded entirely by annual instrument loan charges and generous donations
Further 90th anniversary events are planned on 23 January, 10 April, 24 July and 10 December 2022.