Tuesday, November 15, 2011

June Emerson's mail order music company celebrates 40 years

June Emerson and June Emerson Wind Music
are featured in the Gazette & Herald newspaper

June Emerson Wind Music in the Gazette & Herald, Wednesday 9th November

Below is an excerpt from the article on the Gazette & Herald Website:

NATALYA WILSON speaks to a Ryedale artist and musician whose global mail order company, which started as a small concern in her front room, is celebrating 40 years of success.

June Emerson, foreground, and team at the office near Ampleforth, from left, Barbara Jones, Stewart Thorp, Sarah Ware, Jeremy Durant, Rachel Emerson, John Toll and Graham Jeff.
CHILDREN wielding strange-shaped cases containing weird and wonderful instruments at the school gates is hardly an unusual sight, as primary and secondary pupils alike are encouraged to learn an instrument and join their school’s band or orchestra.

Yet rewind several decades and this would have been a much more unusual sight, as peripatetic music teachers weren’t such an available resource in schools and the sheet music that they taught was even scarcer.

This was just the opportunity entrepreneur June Emerson needed when she decided to set up her music publishing and distribution business 40 years ago.

June, herself a bassoonist and teacher, saw this gap in the market and leapt on it, setting up June Emerson Wind Music in 1971.

June Emerson with her bassoon outside her mail order office near Ampleforth

“This was just at the time when teaching of wind instruments in schools was beginning to take off in the UK,” says June.

“Many of my friends, who were also teachers, were finding it difficult to get music for their pupils and that’s what made me start up the business.”

June decided to start this mail order music business specifically for wind players and, with a starting capital of just £11.23 and a great deal of enthusiasm, having developed a love of handling printed music when librarian of the Edinburgh Rehearsal Orchestra (now The Rehearsal Orchestra), she blew away any doubts and entered into it with a sense of adventure that she has applied to other areas of her life ever since.

Starting with music for teaching and branching out into music for professional players, the range grew and now June estimates that she has approximately 40,000 different titles on the shelves of her business, based at Windmill Farm, near Ampleforth.

“I don’t know of any other businesses that do what we do – it’s very specific,” says June, pointing out that they sell printed music for brass, woodwind and ‘those that lie somewhere in between’, such as the harmonica.

As such they order their music from more than 1,000 different publishers worldwide and often send out as many as 100 to 200 orders a day all over the world.

June found out early on that they not only needed to buy in music, but that there was a need to self-publish, especially music suitable to be taught to children in schools.

“We approached some composers to write good but simple music that was worthwhile and possible to play, and that’s how the publishing arm started,” says June. “Now, many exam boards feature our music on their syllabus.”

They have since published 600 different pieces.

June’s business supplies music to individuals and orchestras worldwide, teachers and schools, and has some famous and eminent customers, too.

“Perhaps the Sultan of Oman is the most famous of our customers – he has not only a library of music but also his own orchestra, and we always receive his orders on special headed paper – it’s lovely,” she says.

Other well-known clients include flautist James Galway, the British Library and the BBC, but, at the other extreme, June and her team also number many amateur musicians as some of their most treasured clientele.

“We often get puzzled mothers ring up saying that their child has come home carrying a black case but it needs a book to make it work, so our skilled team, some of whom are players themselves, can talk them through what they need and want,” she says.

June says that many customers have become friends, adding that the company does not have to advertise, relying instead on word of mouth to spread the ‘music’.

Although June stepped down from being so active in the company six or seven years ago, it is still in the hands of the Emerson family, with daughter Rachel being a partner and running the business.

June with her daughter Rachel

June also says that many of the staff are like family, with some having been there for 25 and 30 years.

“It’s a good mixture of musicians and nonmusicians, with a wide range of skills and abilities,” says June. “It’s a very relaxed and happy place.”

June says the success of her business is that they have always stuck to what they are good at, and can do things well in depth, which she believes is more valuable to their customers.

Since passing the business to Rachel, June, who, at 74, doesn’t believe in retirement, has been busy with many other projects. She has taken up painting again and is currently showing her work in a solo exhibition, Oh Wake Up You Flying Bird, at Helmsley Arts Centre – her third there – and is heavily involved in Kirkbymoorside Environment Group.

June with one of her paintings, in the exhibition at Helmsley Art Gallery

“Running the business was so precise. You had to get everything so right the whole time, so my painting means that I can just break loose and turn the brain off – it’s lovely,” she says. “I go into the studio without any idea and come out at the end of it having done something which is as much of a surprise to me as anything else – it’s a complete contrast and exciting and cathartic and I love it.”

Oh Wake Up You Flying Bird runs until November 25. Join June for Sunday Views on Sunday, 1pm-3pm, and on Sunday, November 20, 11am-3pm

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