Our first Spitalfields Music Trainee Music Leader, Alice Phelps, has been continuing to garner experience working with a range of orchestras on Orchestras Live projects. The programme is a fantastic opportunity to develop practice first-hand whilst receiving mentoring from an experienced industry professional. The traineeship forms part of our commitment to developing a diverse talent pipeline for the sector. By basing it in the North of England we aim to increase the pool of creative leadership expertise available to work with orchestras in the region.
Alice’s second blog gives some fascinating insights from recent project placements in Durham, Cumbria and Darlington...
It is hard to believe we are only eight weeks into 2020, as already my year has been crammed with exciting and varied projects thanks to Orchestras Live. I have met some outstanding singers and instrumentalists from three different orchestras, witnessed some truly inspiring music facilitation, and worked with great teachers and young people from Cumbria and County Durham. Now that the storm of activity (if not the weather) is subsiding a little, it’s time for me to look back over the last couple of months.
In the second week of January I returned to Darlington for “Glorious Guitars”, a project directed by Steve Pickett from Hallé Education which brought together fifteen young guitarists from local secondary schools, three players from the Hallé orchestra and Durham Music Service's guitar teacher Shaun Henderson. “Glorious Guitars”, like the “Serenade” project I supported in the autumn term, would culminate in a performance at the Darlington Hippodrome, before the Hallé showcased an evening of Spanish music. The premise of the project was to create a composition inspired by one of the pieces in the Hallé’s programme, Rodrigo’s hugely popular ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’. The concerto would be performed by the internationally acclaimed classical guitarist, Craig Ogden. When not touring the world, Craig is also a passionate educator, committed to encouraging the musical development of young guitarists.
Although the premise of the “Glorious Guitars” and “Serenade” projects were similar, I was fascinated to see how different approaches to facilitation can shape the participants' creative engagement in distinctive ways. While the London Mozart Players brought in Sarah Freestone, a freelance music leader, to run the sessions for "Serenade", the Hallé encourage their own players to lead the workshops. By putting orchestral players at the helm, the young musicians develop a much closer link with the orchestra over the course of the project. To provide a framework and springboard for the collaborative composition, Steve Pickett had arranged the main themes and motifs from the first movement of the Rodrigo concerto into a score with parts for three guitars, double bass (for me!) and the Hallé players on violin, cello and French horn. Whereas Sarah encouraged the string orchestra to create all their own music by ear, using abstract ideas and scales as a starting point.
I was delighted to be given the opportunity to lead the morning workshop on the second day of the project. Sometimes compromises have to be made when it comes to the scheduling of workshop dates, and there was no question that the timing of "Glorious Guitars" was less than ideal! With more more than a month (and Christmas!) between the two main workshop days, it’s not surprising that the young musicians struggled to retain much of what they had worked on in early December. As such, much of the morning fell to revisiting and revising their notated parts. It was quite a challenging morning, with the arrival of three young string players unexpectedly added into the mix, and I was keen to keep everyone engaged as we worked on the separate parts. However, responding to unexpected circumstances is a key skill in music-leading, so I was happy to give it my best shot!
On the second day of workshops, we were told that Craig Ogden wanted to join us for our performance. He joined us for our final rehearsal on the afternoon before the concert, and charmed everyone with his kindness and enthusiasm for our music making. He pointed out that young guitarists rarely have an opportunity to play together, and this project gave them a rare chance to develop their ensemble skills, such as listening, blending and keeping in time. A highlight of the project for me was watching Craig give an impromptu performance of an Argentinian tango to our young guitar ensemble, who were absolutely enthralled by his prodigious skill. Definitely an inspiring experience for the students and music teachers alike!
The same week as the “Glorious Guitars” project saw me traversing winding country lanes in the thrashing wind and rain to reach Bendrigg Lodge in Cumbria, where Manchester Camerata players had teamed up with composer Laura Bowler, sound artist Dan Fox and Cumbria Music Service, to host a residential weekend as part of a long term, multi-faceted music project celebrating the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth. As I still have several sessions for this project to attend before its final concert at the end of April, I’m going to hold off until the final installment of this blog to share my experiences of it. Suffice to say for now that Cumbria is surely one of the most beautiful counties in England! It is hardly surprising that Wordsworth drew so much poetic inspiration from its landscape.
My most recent project with Orchestras Live, co-produced with Durham Music Service, came together in Consett, County Durham, in the final week of January. “The Moon Hares” was a vast community opera featuring music from Purcell’s opera Dioclesian, new music by James Redwood (who also led the project) and libretto and direction from Hazel Gould. Three local primary schools and a secondary school, combined with the Northern Spirit Singers and students from Durham University joined the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) and a cast of professional singers, playing a key role in the narrative of the story. Although I was with the project for its final week, “The Moon Hares” started to come together as far back as November last year, with students taking part in workshops led by James Redwood and Cherry Forbes (OAE Education Director), devising sections of the opera themselves, and in some cases playing an instrument for the very first time!
The scale of this project was truly staggering, with over a hundred participants of all ages, representing a real cross-section of the local community. I felt very fortunate to spend such concentrated time with James, Hazel, Cherry and the OAE players Adrian and Hetty who supported in the final workshops. The team were very encouraging and supportive, taking care to ensure I got as much as I could from the project by inviting me to extra rehearsals and concerts taking place that week, and introducing me to other workshop leaders from the OAE.
In the days leading up to the two performances at the Consett Empire, I supported James in the secondary school workshops, as they refined the instrumental music they had written for several scenes in the opera. Watching James lead a session is to bear witness to an extraordinary energetic force. It was great to see the rapport he developed with the students and staff, and my notebook was soon filled with new ideas for songs, warm ups and refocusing activities. Again, very little of the devised music was notated, and the sung choruses were learnt by ear, which had a transformative effect on the young people’s performances. Having the OAE members supporting the sessions added a lovely dimension to the workshops, as they had an opportunity to demonstrate their baroque violin and trumpet and discuss how the instruments have changed over the centuries.
“The Moon Hares” project was a unique experience to me, in that the community music groups were wholly integrated into the show, sharing the stage with the OAE and the singers for the entire performance. There was an electric energy that ran through the two performances, and even with minimal staging and props the magic of Hazel Gould’s story shone through. It’s an experience I will remember for a long time.
The projects I have worked on through this traineeship have varied immensely, however there is one particular feature that links them all in my mind. The music service teachers I have encountered through each project have blown me away with their warmth, skill, enthusiasm and commitment to the young people under their tutorage. It’s been a huge pleasure to visit these communities and see how they are building an environment where music is thriving, despite nationwide budget cuts to arts education. I feel more strongly than ever that these projects play an important role in building communities and fostering the next generation of creative talent, no matter what part of the country they grow up in.