Vilma Weaver awarded 2020 Lady Hilary Groves Prize

Making Music is delighted to announce that Vilma Weaver, Musical Director and Conductor of Coventry’s Ashira Singers, has been awarded the Lady Hilary Groves Prize

The prestigious prize is presented annually to an individual from a Making Music member group who has had a significant impact on their group’s success or made an outstanding contribution to community music.

The Ashira Singers bring together people of mixed musical backgrounds, including members with disabilities. The group also features a number of flautists, accordionists and handbell players, with complimentary concert tickets and any donations put towards a chosen charity.

"She has masterminded many special events and her passion and sheer zest for life never fail to excite both choir and audience" – Pauline Bond and Terry Wilcox, Ashira Singers

Making Music Vice Chair Clare Birks, who judged the prize with Chair Dorothy Wilson, said: “Vilma thoroughly deserves this award for her extraordinary commitment to Coventry’s music scene over 50 years. Much of her community work has been done voluntarily, making her achievements in uniting musical performance and adventure all the more impressive." 

Pauline Bond, Treasurer and Administrator of Ashira Singers, and Terry Wilcox, founding member of Tapestry Singers and Ashira Singers, agreed wholeheartedly: “We’ve lost count of how many people Vilma has introduced to music and we are so grateful for her sense of humour and dedication. She has masterminded many special events and her passion and sheer zest for life never fail to excite both choir and audience. Members may arrive for a rehearsal looking stressed and sad, so it is wonderful to hear comments like this when they leave: ‘Vilma has waved her magic wand again. Singing in the choir makes the world a better place.’”

Vilma leads Tapestry Singers through 'In a Starlit Sky', composed by Kay Farrer and Justin Bissell

In 1985, Vilma joined the Community Education Team in southeast Coventry, an area where many families lived on the poverty line, suffering from illiteracy, innumeracy, and high crime rates. Vilma used her musical skills to direct multiple church choirs and teach guitar lessons across the city. She successfully inspired her pupils to accept leadership roles in their own music groups, including professional pianist and vocalist Bella Martin-Williams.

During this time, Vilma received a grant from Children in Need, which she used to commission a set of steelpans. Through teaching steelpan lessons and subsequently forming several percussion groups, Vilma soon found herself involved in local carnivals and fetes, creating lifelong musical memories for young and old. While with the Education Team, Vilma also began a Community Music Project, for which she arranged concert trips to London, Birmingham and Warwick. Given that many participants had never seen a live production or even left the city of Coventry, nationwide travel quickly became a real eye-opener.

Through teaching steelpan lessons and subsequently forming several percussion groups, Vilma soon found herself involved in local carnivals and fetes, creating lifelong musical memories for young and old

Vilma led four-night residential stays for children and adults every spring, comprising daily performing arts workshops that culminated in a final evening gala concert. The experience of being away from home and living in a communal environment was life-changing for many participants.

Following a strategic change in Community Education provision, Vilma later joined the Coventry Performing Arts Service. Together with Dame Evelyn Glennie, she organised percussion workshops for the Performing Arts Service Team and Coventry Youth Orchestra, eventually staging a concert that raised £1,000 for Helen Hospice House.

Vilma retired in 2009, but immediately formed Tapestry Singers, a choir which had a mixed membership of 80 members and sung a huge variety of pieces. During the ten years they were performing they raised over £40,000 for local charities.

In 2011, Vilma was asked by Coventry U3A to form a new choir, providing another platform for many people who had never sung before. After five successful years, the choir separated amicably from Coventry U3A and sought a different name, before settling on Ashira Singers.

The choir made the decision while learning a challenging song called ‘When You Believe’, which contained a section in Hebrew. After looking up the meaning of Ashira, which translates roughly as ‘I/we will sing’, the choir took on a new identity. It now has 60 members and focuses mainly on three- or four-part pieces, having performed in several concerts hosted by The City of Coventry Male Voice Choir, in churches, community halls and a retirement village. So far, under the baton of Vilma, the Ashira Singers have raised over £1,000 for local charities.

Find out more about the Lady Hilary Groves Prize, including previous winners.