Our Cumbria Calling projects, developed with Cumbria Music Service and Manchester Camerata, have been taking place over the last three years and are a key example in action of our principle of putting participants at the heart of a project. Young participants take part in composition workshops over a six month period, working with professional musicians to create new ideas for a piece presented by them and performed by Cumbria County Youth Orchestra and Manchester Camerata to audiences of primary schools and the public.
Sustained presence and the avoidance of one-off, short term projects is key to the way we work, and can have the most long-lasting impact on those involved. Following the third consecutive year of Cumbria Calling, we wanted to reflect on the benefits we had seen so far.
Why Cumbria Calling?
The original concept of the project was to engage young people who weren't currently involved in their county ensembles. Cumbria Music Service had a hunch that there were many 'bedroom composers' that the hub wasn't reaching, particularly those in isolated and coastal areas of Cumbria, outside of the large towns like Kendal and Keswick. As a result, the project set out to recruit participants from places like Appleby-in-Westmorland, Kirkby Stephen, Workington, Whitehaven, Millom and Carlisle.
The idea, originated by Simon Yeo from Cumbria Music Service, was for a long-term project that would incrementally build and develop a young composer group in the county so that by the fourth year, which will take place in 2020, some young people would have been part of the project for four years.
The vision was also to change the County Youth Orchestra into a more creative ensemble by being involved in workshop activity throughout the project and trying out compositions by the young composers while still in the development stage.
Looking back at the first three years, we have noted the following outcomes:
- The long-term nature of the project, being neither a one-off composition project nor a short-term piece of activity - with participants engaged over months, or even years - has provided a clear route for musical development and progression in composition.
- Young composers have returned to the project year after year, learning and developing their skills. This has provided continuity for the project, and given the opportunity for young composers to work with others across the county. Those who have returned to the project have become mentors for the new participants.
- The County Youth Orchestra has workshopped all the new work by the young composers team at their rehearsals and fed back to the composers, often in the moment. This has been a hugely valuable experience for the composers, who have been able to hear the music they had composed live on numerous occasions and be able to make changes before the final performance. It's not often you can hear the music you are composing played by an orchestra before the first performance. The musicians in the youth orchestra have also become more interested in new music through this process.
- The quality of the professional musicians and composer involved in the project has been invaluable. Composer Andy Smith provided a flexible and approachable environment where young composers were treated as equals. His arranging skills helped to turn their ideas into full size orchestral works, and through the process the young composers learnt a great deal. The facilitation skills of the Manchester Camerata musicians meant that the young composers' voices were really heard.
- The social aspect of the project was an important factor. Participants came to the project from different schools, towns, villages and backgrounds. A residential weekend became a key feature in all projects and was where most of the music was composed and friendships made.
"Before I’d participated in Cumbria Calling I’d avoid sharing my ideas because I felt they probably weren’t good enough however Cumbria Calling has helped me to be more open with my ideas because we would go round the group each person sharing an idea. This was really beneficial for me and I found my ideas were taken taken into consideration and included and this has greatly increased my confidence."Young composer
Participants were engaged on an equal level, regardless of their existing musical interests. This included those who were on a more 'traditional' musical path, already playing orchestral instruments and taking part in ensembles, to those who were more independent musicians with a preference for different musical styles. Cumbria Calling was able to foster interest in composition and broaden the musical horizons of both.
"I am more of a fan of orchestral music and I wouldn’t mind writing another similar piece. However, I wouldn’t choose to listen to orchestral music myself."Young composer
Cumbria Calling has also provided a clear musical progression route for many participants. This has ranged for keeping participants engaged in their studies - one participant who was unsure whether to continue with education at all at the start of the project three years ago is now about to embark on higher education at Leeds College of Music - to broadening horizons and increasing knowledge about the range of musical career options.
"In the future I want to go to University and study music and then later do music therapy. Cumbria Calling has encouraged me to explore the wide range of careers in music. Whatever the future holds I know that music will play a major role."Young composer
The project has also developed composition talent in a number of the participants and been able to signpost further opportunities to continue in composition.
As a result of taking part in Cumbria Calling 2, young composer Paddy went on to become a Young Rushworth Composer with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and recently won the RSNO young composers competition with a piece for percussion, having developed skills in writing for percussion through his in depth work with Manchester Camerata musicians.
Young composer Will was a participant and then mentor in Cumbria Calling over two years and has just completed his first year studying composition at Birmingham Conservatoire.
You can find out more about the most recent project, Cumbria Calling 3, in the video below.