Music has a voice
by Lily Blows, former OFA Events and Marketing Assistant - December 2016
Music-making can mean many things to different people: for some, it can be a form of art that allows an individual freedom of expression; it may mean playing together in an ensemble to build friendships and provide a sense of belonging; and for others, it can be a way to escape the real world. Ultimately, music has a voice and no matter who we are or where we are from we can all enjoy and appreciate it.
Before I joined the team at Orchestras for All, I believed that music has the power to inspire and the ability to cross the boundaries of gender and class, culture and faith to level out differences and unite individuals. After my placement here, I am that even more confident that this is the case. When you see young musicians growing in confidence and passion from the work that OFA provide, you realise just how powerful music is. It may be an unconscious process and we might not be aware of how reliant we are on music. However, when you think about it, music surrounds us everywhere in life. Shops play music to entice us to buy their products, radios use music to define their image, religious groups use music as an act of worship, individuals listen to music to occupy their spare time…the list is endless.
Since music is so important to us, it is a shame that there seem to be so many barriers to music-making, particularly with ensemble playing; such as social-economic backgrounds, location or exclusivity. This is why it is so important to keep organisations such as OFA alive and is one of the reasons I am so pleased to have been able to work here. They are helping those who, for many reasons, and undeservingly do not have the same access to music as others. It is sad we live in a world where many young people miss out on opportunities they deserve. Therefore, providing assistance to those who need it most is crucial and if it comes from people as lovely and supporting as those who work for OFA, you couldn’t really ask for anything better.
If I could give advice to any young person who feels isolated or disheartened for not having the same access to music as others, it would be to not give up. There are people out there who want to help you. You may sometimes need to search a little bit harder than others to find this support, but it is there. And in the end, this will only make you stronger and more passionate as a person. I for one strongly believe that a musician with integrity and musical expression carries more respect than a technically flawless musician who lacks a sense of passion or their own expression.
I have loved my placement here and will really miss some of the special moments that have been created. A big thank you to Marianna and Stuart for putting up with me these last few months and to everybody else who has helped me develop on the way. I am off to Ghana now for a few months to work on using music as a therapeutic tool in order to give those who have started life at a disadvantage the opportunity to develop and grow as a young person. I hope, when I return, I can share my experiences with the team of OFA and come back to help at the residential courses to stay involved in all the great work they do in providing musical opportunities to young musicians.
Lily Blows is a third year music student at the University of Leeds and joined Orchestras for All as Events and Marketing Assistant from September to December 2016 as part of her year in industry. As a pianist and violinsit, Lily enjoys both solo and instrumental playing and has a strong interest in the benefits of music as a therapy.
Handing over the reins
by Kate Danielson, Orchestras for All trustee - September 2016
As I hand over the role of Chair to my fellow trustee Philip Whalley and return to the back benches as trustee, it seems like a good time to reflect on the past 3 years working alongside Marianna and her small band of dedicated staff members. I can say with all honesty that in my 30 years as an arts professional, I have rarely encountered such a combination of creative vision and entrepreneurial acumen in one person as I have seen in Marianna. It has been such a pleasure to help her to deliver her vision and support the team of Stuart, Anna and the extended family of extremely dedicated OFA tutors, volunteers and, of course, NOFA players.
As I see it, my role as Chair has divided into three main categories: a) creating and managing an effective Board of trustees, b) fundraising and c) getting pretty involved in the day to day running of the organisation. Whilst I think the first two areas are very much a part of any Chair’s brief, I think it is true to say that the third category whilst not desirable from a Governance point of view, is pretty inevitable in a young, under-resourced and punching-above-its-weight charity. The fact that there is so much overlap with what I do in my “paid” work is probably a further factor but I am proud to think that in future, because of our successes in a) and b), that my successor will be able to play a much more arms-length role leading the Board.
Successes in a) and b) have taken time and I can certainly attest to the fact that fundraising and also Board development take a long time to get right and to start seeing real, long-term rewards. But once they start to come good and you continue to invest time and passion, they keep on giving and there is a real two-way transfer of benefits. I do believe our funders and our trustees get as much out of the relationship as the charity gets in, in time and money donated.
As a young charity, OFA has been phenomenally successful in raising money, mainly from trusts and individual donors but it is a hungry beast and no sooner had we celebrated one success than we were on to our next challenge and ever higher targets. Trusts are traditionally geared towards a preference for funding projects rather than overheads, and new ones for the most part, so salaries and unsexy running costs are an habitual challenge to fund.
I am delighted to be handing over the reins as Chair at a time when, for the first time, we have achieved the holy grail for a small charity - both Marianna and Stuart’s salaries are funded for the next year by a very visionary trust. This will give the organisation valuable time to stop chasing short-term funding and start bedding down to create long-term financial sustainability and resilience. These words are used so often these days as almost to lose their meaning but you have only to work with an organisation such as OFA to see how incredibly important they are once you get past the first 100m dash. We are now looking forward to the next 5 – 10 years with more confidence than ever before, looking at how we can work with ever more young people and helping them to feel the power of music making with others.
Kate Danielson (@katebursaries) is Programme Director of the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries which is creating greater diversity in the arts workforce by kickstarting the careers of recent graduates from low income backgrounds. Kate is founder and director of Kate Danielson Associates and works with a wide range of organisations to create long-term stability. Previously she was Director of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Head of Development at Wigmore Hall. She is a trustee of Orchestras for All (previously Chair),a founding member of the Interim Culture Board for the city of Gloucester and was a trustee of the BBC Performing Arts Fund.
I came back, and kept coming back
by Caitlin Hogan, NOFA alumni and former OFA Events and Marketing Assistant - August 2016
When my university told me I had the opportunity to do a summer internship - that they would pay for - I immediately thought of Orchestras for All.
I knew that they were not only a charity who needed support, but one that I could learn a lot from. Ever since I met Marianna at Highbury Grove School where I was a reluctant and anxious violist, I’d felt the power of orchestral music-making. When I was invited to be a founder member of the National Orchestra for All, I was ecstatic but also nervous. Playing in a national ensemble, in a huge auditorium, with only four days of rehearsal beforehand?
It turns out, I could do it. And I came back, and kept coming back. NOFA became a keystone of my summer, and of my burgeoning love for all things orchestra. I began pushing myself to improve on the viola thanks to the confidence I’d gained from NOFA. That confidence definitely contributed to my ability to attend university in the US, thousands of miles from home where I knew no one at all. I have NOFA to thank for helping me be able to do that. So it only felt right that I came back and helped out.
The Summer Course was full of familiar faces, from orchestral tutors who I'd once been instructed by, to fellow players still in the orchestra. The welcome back was amazing - it felt like I'd never been away, but the standard of playing in the orchestra betrayed that it had been a few years of glorious improvement since I'd last been at the residential. It was great to be a part of the behind the scenes staff, and that my work, in a tiny way, made the participants have such a wonderful time.
Being on the other side of NOFA has been fascinating for several reasons; it opened my eyes to what OFA staff go through to provide the courses they do, and gave me a new level of appreciation for their abilities to keep calm in the midst of 90 excited youngsters. And again, OFA has helped me gain confidence; this time, in the world of spreadsheets, letter-folding and child crowd control.
I’ve had a fantastic time learning from the young people involved with OFA. They have an openness and warmth that is so essential for an organisation like them. I’ve always felt supported since my first interaction with OFA, and while I’m sad to be leaving, I know this isn’t the last we’ll see of each other.
Caitlin Hogan (@AstroCaitlin) was a student at Highbury Grove School and witnessed the inception of OFA through the school’s extracurricular music activities. Caitlin was a founding member of the National Orchestra for All in 2011, and since then has participated in every summer course and several smaller events. During her time in NOFA she was the viola section leader, and later a volunteer. She is currently a student at the University of Chicago in the USA, where she is studying Linguistics, and joined the team as OFA’s Events and Marketing Intern for summer 2016. In her spare time she enjoys playing the guitar and learning Japanese.
Let the music heal
by Rose Abdo, former OFA Events and Marketing Assistant - May 2016
Let the music heal. I created this sentiment months ago to sum up the clarifying and mending nature of music.
Growing up, I noticed that music captivated me in numerous ways. It navigated me through troubling times and lifted me up in the happiest of moments. Without a doubt I, like many others, have a vast array of positive emotions connected to the sound and experience created in this art form.
I believe that art is a natural medicine for our mental, emotional, and physical health. The relief and comfort it offers led me to wonder: how does musical engagement influence young minds?
The OFA team's genuine love for music and their commitment to youth education has confirmed my belief that music is the universal language. This language encourages students to connect with their inner-self allowing for personal discovery. The educational opportunities available within NOFA ensembles transcend barriers and welcome all ability levels. OFA holds true to their mission by creating an environment that offers “music without boundaries”.
This mission is enacted by OFA's engagement with communities to ensure that students are receiving music education. Every step of the way, students are supported and encouraged to collaborate and excel together.
Interning for OFA was a pleasure. I was given the opportunity to witness the language of music as it engaged and connected an entire group of newly acquainted students. I couldn't help but notice the dedication and pure joy students experienced through their music exploration. I could feel the confidence in the room grow as the ensemble began to play.
Together, OFA participants created and joined a larger conversation. I feel fortunate to have assisted the programme participants while they discovered the universal language of music.
Rose Abdo took part in a three-month CAPA student placement with the OFA team as Events and Marketing Assistant from January-April 2016. Rose joined OFA from the US where she is in her third year of university studying Journalism and Business. At university, Rose helps with various school sponsored events such as: Student Union concerts, TEDx Talks, and administrative events for her college. In her spare time, Rose likes playing guitar and discovering new types of music.
In the Darkest Times and Places
by Andrew Hadley, CEO of Momentum World - January 2016
A city torn apart by war, or a young person struggling to make sense of the world, can be transfigured by music.
Few people will know the names Davide Martello, Vedran Smailović, or Ilse Weber. But their images (and sounds) are an inspiration to us all.
Millions of people around the world have watched and heard Davide playing the piano. It was he who turned up outside the Bataclan Theatre after the atrocity there, to play John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Cynics might say it was a publicity stunt but the presence of the media was the whole point. Here was a message of defiance, for the world to hear: the human spirit is stronger than your evil ideology can ever be, and music is what expresses it best. No surprise, perhaps, that the terrorists had chosen a concert as their target, but their ultimate failure is inherent in their very choice.
There are many striking images of Vedran playing the cello during the siege of Sarajevo. He played at funerals, in graveyards, in public places under fire, and most memorably in the ruins of the National Library. The Bosnian war was a horror that Europe never expected, and has still not recovered from. But again, it only took one man to make music stand as a powerful symbol of culture and a better world.
I do not know how good these musicians are (though Vedran is a respected performer and teacher, now living in the UK). The critics do not care. The music they played has moved and inspired us and given a voice to the human spirit, as all music does. But in the particular context this is not the point. What matters here is the musical act, not the quality of the performance.
The same is true of the National Orchestra for All. The act of music and what it represents is just as important for an individual as it is for a world. OFA works with young people who may or may not have found a musical talent, but who face situations in their education and their lives which are hard to deal with. Making music gives them self confidence, interpersonal skills, focus, sense of purpose. The hardest obstacle to overcome in life is yourself, and music is the most powerful means of doing this. We need this to be understood by education policy makers at every level.
Playing music is not a luxury but a human necessity, as shown by people like Davide or Vedran. This holds true even at the darkest hour. Even while people rebuild their homes and try to feed their families in the wake of conflict, they start playing music too – if they ever stopped.
And so to Ilse Weber. She was a nurse, poet and composer, imprisoned in Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp and eventually transported of her own free will to die at Auschwitz, together with the children in her care. Together with the more famous Alice Herz-Sommer and many others, she continued to write and play music even at the darkest depth that humanity has ever plumbed. (Some of this wonderful music can be heard on a 2007 recording by Anne-Sofie von Otter). This music, and this act of making music, stands for all time and all people. But it also gives us the ultimate reason why the work of organizations like OFA matters so much.
Andrew Hadley (@AndrewHadley1) is CEO of Momentum World, an education and training organisation which develops young people’s employability through international projects. He previously worked for the British Council in many different parts of the world, including Ethiopia, China, Greece and Macedonia. He is an expert in intercultural relations, and a passionate believer in the importance of music and performing arts in education and society. He is a Fellow of the RSA. Andrew was educated at Lancing College and Christ Church, Oxford where he read Classics. His interests include languages, music, and astronomy.
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The social effect of music
by Alexa Petre, Associate at PwC - December 2015
Music is sometimes the glue that brings us all together. There have been many debates around the social benefits of music and how it can be used to create communities.
We all listen to music in one way or another. Maybe by practicing an instrument, or by going out to dance, or maybe only by using sounds as background to our work. But music is not always a solitary experience, sometimes it can be the glue that brings us together.
There have been many debates around the social benefits of music and how it can be used to create communities. We can all agree that there are artists who create global cultures, who bring millions of people together and break record after record. But thinking at a much smaller scale, let’s look at a local band who plays in your favourite pub every Thursday. For some people that is the social event of the week, the place where they meet their friends whilst enjoying a nice tune. And even on a more local scale, thinking about people picking up an instrument and practicing with their family. It is amazing when you realise how music helps us connect to each other, how we can relate on a much deeper note. There are several studies that connect music with the basic functions of the brain and recommend music as an alternative therapy for anxiety, depression and even autism. That should makes us all think that music is not only a sequence of vibrations in a certain rhythm, but a universal remedy for all sorts of problems. And it has been there since immemorial times, present in all cultures in different shapes.
Furthermore, it is scientifically proven that music makes us more open to socialising and creating relationships. Think about being in a bar with your friends where there is no music on. Complete silence makes us slightly uncomfortable whilst music provides a pleasant background to our day-to-day life. Have you ever wished you had a soundtrack to a certain experience, like in a movie? I surely have. It is interesting to analyse what is the cause of this social impact. One might say lyrics play a huge part in it, as depending on which mood we are we might get certain feelings from different songs, an important reason why there are so many love songs in the music charts. Others argue it is all about the rhythm and notes and that would explain the magical effect of classical music and how after so many years after their creation, pieces like “Ode to Joy” or “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” are still considered masterpieces. In the end, it is probably about all of the above, as we are all different in our own way and listen to music that resonates with parts of us.
All in all, music helps us overcome our troubles, makes us more friendly and open to making new friends. And for all these reasons OFA’s mission is so important, because they bring young people together not only to learn a new skill and develop a new hobby, but also to create friendships and a community where they will always be welcomed and appreciated. Just think about being able to rehearse on your instrument together with your best friends, whilst preparing for a concert in a venue like Alexandra Palace!
So turn on the carols, bring your dear ones together and enjoy Christmas, because what would this time of year be without “Jingle Bell Rock” in the background? Happy holidays!
Alexa is a young professional working in management consulting at one of the Big 4. She is passionate about music, she played piano for few years in high school and is trying now to pick it up again. She is also learning how to play the guitar. She loves reading and going to the theatre and is trying to support the arts in every way she can.
What happens when music and social work collide?
by Susannah Simons, OFA Trustee - November 2015
Becoming a trustee is not something to be undertaken lightly but it is a way of supporting the causes close to your heart.
What happens when music and social work collide?
Perhaps not the question the trustees of most arts organisations would ask themselves but it is an issue that the trustees of OFA have to consider – the balance between making great music and developing the social skills of the young people involved. It is also one of the reasons I became a trustee of OFA – that and the possibility of helping a relatively new organisation grow into something more sustainable and able to deliver over the long term.
Being a trustee should never be an easy option – the recent developments at Kids Company have served to highlight the need for real engagement with the charity’s activities and sometimes uncomfortable scrutiny of the finances and the work of the staff.
This is Trustees' Week when the work of trustees will be celebrated and opportunities highlighted – and I would urge others to get involved but be prepared to ask the hard questions. Only then can you sit back and listen to the music.
Susannah Simons is Director Arts at Canvas and is also a trustee of The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Youth Dance England. Susannah has been an OFA trustee since May 2014.
Creating Musical Routes
by Kate Wareham, former OFA Executive Director - September 2015
Orchestras for All welcomes Sarah Derbyshire’s recent report “Musical Routes: A landscape for music education”.
Her thorough and informative report neatly brings together the core sources of research in this area with her own survey of professional music organisations, music services and hubs and representatives of music organisations.
Derbyshire’s report focuses on these challenges in three categories, social, ethnic and geographic noting that there are contributing factors within each category that reduce the opportunity for the UK’s young people to participate. It concludes that access is unevenly delivered and that despite the implementation of the 2012 National Plan for Music Education, we still have a long way to go as a sector to make access to opportunities to learn and play together for children and young people truly equal.
How working in a PRU made me love music again
by Rebecca Malin, Teacher, Manchester Primary Pupil Referral Service - August 2015
An insight into how teaching musical concepts has helped develop listening and engagement in a primary pupil referral unit (PRU).
In January, I accepted a new job which renewed and refreshed my passion for music and belief that music is a gift which can unlock feelings and emotions. Director of an orchestra, perhaps? No. I proudly work as a teacher in a pupil referral unit for primary school children either at risk of, or, permanently excluded from mainstream education. A former secondary Head of Music, who would weep with joy when the GCSE and A level groups arrived after a morning of rhythmic noise from year seven, it's to my complete surprise I've ended up in a primary classroom. Leaving my mainstream post after redundancy was difficult to say the least, and I spent two years working in the charity sector and exploring career options. Part of me wanted another secondary role, but when the opportunity came to work in a PRU the work I'd undertaken with The Children's Society rung in my ears. For every child a childhood…
A day in the life of a PRU is, to say the least, honest. There are no false intentions. If the children are angry they may kick, punch or swear. (There is a certain irony that I type this blog post with a broken finger!) When they're happy and engaged, they excel and shine. Faced with a class of six in January who were antagonising, not listening, interrupting and shouting out was a perfect storm of conflict. Day one left me scratching my head. How on earth can I get the children to learn if they can't listen? Hallelujah, one might say. If I was conducting a choir who were not singing in time, how could I expect them to sing in harmony? The first half term involved many hours of learning to listen, in a circle, performing basic rhythm games. Suddenly, the competitive element of playing "naughty clap" forced them to listen to avoid being caught out. "I clap this rhythm, you tap it back. I tap it, you clap it" became an irresistible challenge. Before Easter, we were able to perform three part rhythm cycles, with all three of the teaching assistants also swept up in concentration. These games were only delivered in 15 minute bursts, usually before maths or after PE, to focus their energy. The knock on effect was shown in their ability to listen to one another, to wait their turn, and become used to responding to non-verbal cues. Just as a conductor would raise their hand to quiten the string section , class three, on a good day, would perform addition and subtraction in unison, responding by putting down their pens and watching when faced with a raised hand. Levels increased. Engagement across subjects is present. Yes, we have our "PRU days", where things don't work, but tomorrow is always another day.
One fractious Monday afternoon, when there had been an unfortunate incident with a pair of scissors, they were invited to close their eyes whilst I played Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals. "What animal is this?" A little girl stood up and began to glide around the room, elegant, proud, her arms out stretched, her head held high, tiptoeing carefully and gently. She was The Swan. The boys, who can be incredibly impatient with the young lady, smiled, nodded and agreed.
Another session, Debussy's Reverie, a boy who by nature will be defensive and reluctant to share his ideas had his eyes closed and declared, without prompt, "this feels like water, Miss. I can hear it trickling". That moment, the pride I felt was equal to, if not greater than the year of 100 % A*-C in GCSE music. Music makes us feel. It can relax, excite and entertain us.
September sees me taking subject leadership for music, teaching it across the school. I hope to bring them a wealth of experience of live music, history and also deliver the somewhat dreaded "British values" through how music shapes us culturally. As we are in Manchester, it would be rude not to acknowledge the impact of our very own Liam Gallagher.
Rebecca Malin (@rebemal) is a clarinettist, Shostakovich fan, former Secondary Head of Music and charity sector employee-turned Primary PRU teacher.
Reduce music teacher isolation and improve music teaching
by Anna Williams, Modulo Programme Coordinator - June 2015
Cuts to school music budgets and squeezed curriculum time are making classroom music teachers feel increasingly isolated. Practice sharing opportunities can change this.
“We run a choir for Year 7 and 8, a Friday jam session and try to keep the wind band going when coursework deadlines aren’t looming” is Nicky’s* reply when I ask her about the ensemble music opportunities on offer at the state secondary school where she is head of music. How many music staff does she have? “I have some fantastic peris [visiting instrumental teachers], but since my colleague was made redundant last year, it’s just me employed full time”.
This situation is not unique to Nicky’s school. With the ISM reporting that GCSE music take-up has dropped from 60,000 to 43,000 pupils between 2007 and 2014, and state school leadership focusing their resources on the league table-affecting EBACC subjects, perhaps it is no surprise that the size and scale of the state school music department is dwindling.
It is not that the challenges facing school music education have gone unacknowledged. A 2013 Ofsted report noted the varying quality of school music teaching, and identified the low expectations of senior leaders as one of the barriers to raising standards. Local area Music Hubs, appointed by the government to champion high quality music education for all, have been challenged to get alongside schools in practical ways in order to support high quality and consistent music provision.
While it is clear that lack of staff and budget are issues facing many state classroom music teachers, evidence of the benefits of music making continues to stack up. A recent independent report on Scotland’s Sistema programme, which aims to “use music making to foster confidence, teamwork, pride and aspiration” in deprived areas, has found benefits of participation in the programme range from improved school attendance and improved confidence, pride and self-esteem, to greater community cohesion and medium and long-term economic gains. It also, vitally, “offers respite and protection to the most vulnerable”.
Perhaps there is an alternative way to ensure that these highly necessary outcomes of music education are sustained. OFA recently conducted a survey asking secondary music teachers what could help them to be more effective. Respondents most frequently noted that more support from senior leadership, practical continuing professional development such as conducting training, a focus on cultivating student leadership and independence, and higher level knowledge and skill outcomes in primary music education would help them to mobilise their department both within and beyond lesson time. None of these involve significant investment.
Projects such as Musical Futures, an approach to musical learning which has developed through teacher-led research, encourages sharing of practice both online and through networking days amongst teachers who would otherwise find themselves isolated. OFA’s own Modulo Programme equips teachers to set up small instrumental ensembles then connect with other schools to form large-scale orchestras. The Ark Schools academy chain offers students at all 31 of its schools the opportunity to take part in cross-school ensembles. Enabling sharing of practice in this way helps teachers like Nicky to provide a meaningful music education to students in the face of limited resources.
The future of music education is not going to be found in a magically acquired multi-million pound budget. Instead, it is about connecting, equipping, inspiring and empowering music teachers at the coalface in order to develop their practice as teachers and musicians.
Anna Williams (@annaspananna) taught secondary music for three years. She now coordinates OFA’s Modulo Programme and teaches music at an east London primary school. She loves singing, playing the ukulele and breakfast foods.
Arrange of Abilities
by Danyal Dhondy, OFA Composer-in-Residence - April 2015
Over half of primary school children learn a musical instrument, but the Associated Board's statistics show that 70% of them will stop having lessons by the time they're 17.
There are many reasons for the sharp decline: the required time commitment is substantial, and music often can't compete with the pressures of schoolwork and a teenage social life. Cost is a major factor for many families. And, let's admit, classical music will never confer much kudos when compared to more fashionable or less wholesome pursuits.
But perhaps a more obvious reason that adolescents lose interest is that they become bored by the limitations of the music they are given to play – those dry technical exercises and patronising kiddy-songs that make up a big chunk of the repertoire if you haven't already made it to Grade 5. It's hard to keep the interest of a teenager whose emotional maturity has leapt well ahead of their technical ability, who might be ready for Tchaikovsky and Beethoven if only they would do their scales and learn to play in 4th position.
So the idea, big and ambitious as usual from Marianna, was to break this barrier by commissioning a series of arrangements for OFA's National Orchestra for All and Modulo programme. Not 'kids' pieces', but proper, serious orchestral works, adapted to the abilities of whoever takes part.
My role is to advise on which pieces might be suitable and then work on the arrangement. It might involve adding five percussionists and a quartet of saxophones to a piece of Sibelius, or making sure a Britten arrangement will work even if the Modulo group contains just guitars and keyboards.
There will always be a broad mix of abilities within the National Orchestra for All, so it's important to give the more advanced players something to challenge them, while also fitting in the absolute beginners – they might get to play the same rhythms as everyone else, but just on one note – or perhaps there's a horn part in the original which translates to an easy one on the clarinet.
The key part of my job is to make things easier wherever possible – whether it's bringing high notes down an octave, simplifying complex passagework, or even changing the key signature to remove a few flats.
Mentioning that last point to a certain type of musical purist will often lead to gasps of incredulity ('Beethoven would turn in his grave' etc) but in all honesty, I think we sometimes approach great music from the past with too much reverence. Shaping music to the abilities of players has been a staple requirement of composers and arrangers throughout history.
The proof of the pudding is in the rehearsal, and it was truly awe-inspiring to watch a group workshop Beethoven 5 recently, coached by the excellent musicians of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. The piece is notoriously fiendish, even for adult orchestras – those first few bars are deceptively tricky to get together, the one-in-a-bar minim beat doesn't give you much help keeping time, and there is some really awkward passage-work in the strings, full of A flats and string crossings.
Despite using every trick I could think of to make the piece easier, I was still apprehensive on my way to the workshop. But the committed, focussed and passionate young players did themselves proud, a day of hard work culminating in a performance that really captured the spirit and quality of the piece. I'm looking forward to hearing it again in July, when it receives its first public performance.
It goes to show that young people are often capable of extraordinary things, if they're given the opportunity and some of the obstacles are removed. I wonder how many teenagers might stick with their instrument if they were more often given the chance to play truly inspirational music.
Danyal Dhondy (@DanyalDhondy) is a composer, arranger and violist from South London. He has worked extensively in theatre and opera, for companies such as TARA Arts and OperaUpClose, and has a long-standing relationship with Kensington Chamber Orchestra. Danyal is founder and chair of Lucid Arts and Music, which has produced new works of theatre and opera at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival, The Yard Theatre, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Bharat Rang Mahotsav Festival. He was nominated for an Arts Foundation Award in Opera Composition in 2010, and contributed to Sam Lee's Mercury-nominated album in 2012.
1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 55, 90, 100, 200, 550, 1000, 25,000
by Kate Wareham, former OFA Executive Director - March 2015
In 2015 OFA will celebrate the beginning of our fifth year of National Orchestra for All membership when ninety young people – chosen for their dedication and commitment to music in challenging circumstances – will come together for four days of music making at Leeds University. From the young people who have been with us since the beginning in 2011 and for those coming for the very first time there will be an exciting programme including a collaboration with the Leeds Piano Competition and music composed by young people from NOFA, Junior Department of the Royal Academy of Music, National Youth Jazz Collective, the East London Arts and Music Academy (ELAM) and Kuumba Youth Music.
For me, 2015 is equally exciting. After seven years at The Children’s Society and a few more at the Tearfund and the National Autistic Society, I have moved to combine my experience in children’s and community charities with my love of music. As the incoming Executive Director I’m rather grateful for the support of the wonderful Esmee Fairbairn Foundation who have funded this role.
I’m a mathematician by training and so my first thought was to describe my first six weeks numbers. So, no, the stream of numbers I’ve chosen for a title is not an unusual version of the fibbonaci series. Each one represents an element of my experience so far.
Opportunities for young people to play music
We know at OFA, as do all music education academics, that performing music is incredibly beneficial to child development, whether it’s motor skills, language or confidence. Add playing as an ensemble into the mix and we can contribute the development of team-work, social skills and listening amongst many more.
However, many young people are not given this opportunity – or have the opportunity for a while only for it to be taken away when they change school or funding runs out. We’ve estimated the cost of one child learning an instrument as a beginner for one year at a £1000. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and academics at the Centre for Research in Social Policy in Loughborough University concluded in a 2014 study that a family of four would need a minimum of £40,000 household income to maintain a decent, but far from luxurious, standard of living. The £2000 a year needed for both children to learn an instrument is a chunky 5% of that annual budget and for the 40% of families living on £37,000 or less, this expense becomes increasingly prohibitive. It is hardly surprising therefore that the ABRSM’s research has shown that whilst 82% of children play an instrument, only 55% have lessons. The reasons given for not having or stopping lessons are often changing school, not owning instruments, no opportunity at school or the cost being too expensive.
The 90 young people in our National Orchestra for All face a range of challenges from financials ones as I’ve described, to caring responsibilities or their own health conditions which prevent them from participating in local opportunities. Many are simply isolated from local support in music. For me, one of the most inspiring things of my first few weeks has been meeting some of the 90 young people who participate in our National Orchestra for All and hundreds more in our Modulos, hearing their stories and reading their nominations from teachers. Each one full of creativity, grit and promise.
How should one best get to know our three programmes – the National Orchestra for All, a UK wide network of Modulos and our Conductors for Change training for music leaders? Listen to them.
In January (one week before I started) I attended the wonderful Musical Chairs where trepidatious adults were sponsored to learn or re-learn an instrument and play along side OFA young people. Thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of these wonderful musicians, we raised over £25,000 from the event.
Experiencing the cacophony of sound at the two London and Birmingham Regional Modulo Meets was fantastic. I followed their development through the day as they experienced being immersed in the sounds and size of a symphony orchestra for the first time, and I heard sterling performances given at the end of the day.
I’m looking forward to the national Modulo Meet in June when all of our Modulos across the country come together – although I’m hoping we won’t repeat our warm up of “Hey Romeo, no, not Juliet, she is a capulet, get off that balconette” (which you can sing to the Montagues and Capulets theme in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet) – it has been stuck in my head for a full two weeks now.
One of the perks of my job in the last few weeks has been sitting in on the beginning of the Conductors for Change conducting workshop with our artistic patron, Sian Edwards – former English National Opera music director, fellow of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She was so inspiring I wanted to go and set up my own modulo. In this vein it is really pleasing that we can announce that we intend to open up Conductors for Change from our current recipients of Teach First teachers to the general public for the first time in September. Watch this space.
At all these events a trusty band of 100 music stands, quietly propping up music, helped it all to happen. From this week on, you’ll be able to sponsor one of these music stands for £10 a month. We’ll put your name on it and update you on the music stand’s travels throughout the year and the young people that play from them. We’re also asking people to sponsor sections and principals or even join the Baton Circle. I’m thinking I might just sponsor the flutes – as a flautist it seems only good and proper.
A few weeks ago we totted up the number of staff and volunteers whose hard work enables OFA to happen. It came to a whopping 65. For me this has definitely been a highlight – getting to know and enjoying working with three passionate staff members (Anna, Stuart and Marianna) and meeting the wonderfully talented, articulate and engaging orchestral tutors, modulo leaders, trustees, pastoral tutors and volunteers. Not to forget our great PhD student Lina, measuring the impact of our programmes. It is these people, not to mention our wonderful supporters (and 550 twitter followers) who we owe OFA’s existence to.
So, at the end of a busy two months, here’s to another set of numbers as the year passes – most importantly to more young people able to access music making opportunities, in spite of the challenges they face.
Kate Wareham (@KeetjeEllis) is OFA's former Executive Director
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Orchestras for All is registered with the Charity Commission in England and Wales
Charity Registration Number 1150438