Cardiff University student Emma Thorpe recently joined Orchestras Live on a placement as part of her ‘Business of Music’ course, where she observed our project The Wish with partners The Mix – Luton Music Service, Inspiring Music – Central Bedfordshire, Music for Bedford Borough and Milton Keynes Music Service. Read Emma’s reflections on the project below…
As a second-year music undergraduate, my days of school music lessons are still fresh in my memory. Due to living far from a city and my music teachers being restricted to a tight budget, we had to rely on recordings and videos to experience music rather than live performances. I felt at arms-length from the works we were studying, and it left me feeling bored and disinterested with orchestral music in general. Following my move to Cardiff for University, I found my love for it again through attending concerts and workshops, but I never will forget the preconceptions I had about orchestral music during my school years. Therefore, it has been refreshing for me to spend time on placement with Orchestras Live working on The Wish, which is aiming to change the way young people view orchestral music and encourage them to get involved by taking up an orchestral instrument. The project is giving primary school children the chance to learn about how an orchestra works and see them perform in an interactive and engaging concert specifically suited to their age range. The Wish is igniting a passion for orchestral music within primary school children in a new and exciting way, inspiring them to further their music education by showing them just how exciting it can be.
Before the concert, the schools involved in the project were visited by John K Miles or Claire Henry, the composer and presenter of The Wish respectively. I had the opportunity to shadow both John and Claire for a day, attending six schools across Milton Keynes and helping to deliver the workshops to the students. Visiting different schools and seeing the different standard of music education in each of them helped highlight for me just how important the project is in delivering music education in primary schools. Some schools had regular music lessons and specialist music teachers, but many of the others had little or no music input other than an occasional singing assembly, and the workshops with John and Claire were the first time they had been taught music theory and terminology. The workshops were designed so that they were accessible by children with no previous musical knowledge, but so that they were still engaging to children who were more advanced in their music education. The children in all six schools were very receptive to the workshops, and were enthusiastic to get involved with conducting, singing and dancing as they learned the songs and story for the show. Many of the teachers said that the online resources for the project were very useful, as it meant that the children had the chance learn the songs before the workshops and practice them afterwards as well.
I attended the concerts at the Grove Theatre in Dunstable on 30th April, and it was particularly interesting to see how the workshops tied into the performance. Some of the information from the workshops was repeated, consolidating the children’s knowledge of tonality, melody, pulse and tempo, but there was much more focus on talking about the instruments themselves. Each instrument was introduced individually, enabling the children to learn about each of them, hear the sounds that they make and understand what their role in the orchestra is. The orchestra, Sinfonia Verdi, was quite a diverse orchestra with both male and female performers which provided a good mixture of role models for the audience, although I did feel as though there were strides still to be made in terms of ethnic diversity. Young musicians from the area who had been identified by their local music hub played alongside the professional musicians, which not only gave them experience of playing with an orchestra but showed the younger children what they can achieve by taking their own instrumental lessons.
After the performance, I was able to speak to some of the children who had attended about their experience and what they enjoyed. When I asked what their favourite part of the performance had been, a large number replied, ‘All of it!’, which shows just how enjoyable the overall experience was for them. Many of the children liked singing along to the orchestra, and lots of them remembered the ‘Fix-it Song’ as it was sung four times through the concert. When asked which instrument they liked, most of the children responded that they liked flute or violin, but drums were also a popular choice and one said even she liked the ‘curly trumpet’, meaning the French horn. I also asked some of the students if the show had lived up to their expectations, and one student excitedly told me that it was completely different to how she expected it to be because she thought orchestral music was boring, but the show was not. The children were all very keen to talk to me and tell me about what they had learned which I found very heartening, as the show clearly had a positive impact on them.
As well as speaking to the children about what they thought of the project, I also had the opportunity to speak to staff members from Inspiring Music, the music hub for Central Bedfordshire. The staff were delighted to be involved in the project again this year and were eager to tell me about the impact that The Wish has had on music education in their area. They said that following the project last year they had seen a 103% increase in children taking instrumental lessons, and that they had to recruit more instrumental tutors to cope with the demand. I was informed that two special schools took part in the concert, and that one school had made the show more accessible to their students by printing out the lyrics to the songs accompanied by Makaton signs for each word. It would be interesting to see if, in the future, resources like these could be made available alongside the other online resources so that the concert can be accessed equally by the children attending from special schools. Furthermore, this would benefit SEN/D children in mainstream schools too who might not normally have access to such resources.
The project had a huge impact on the children attending and their thoughts about orchestral music. The excitement of the children to share what they had learned, coupled with the figures following the 2018 concerts, shows that the project is very successful in its aim to inspire children to take up orchestral instruments. As well as fulfilling this aim, The Wish is changing the preconceptions that the children have about orchestral music being boring and dull, instead showing them how wonderful it can sound and how exciting it can be. The project is also giving children the opportunity to learn about music and the orchestra, something that they may not normally get to learn in their everyday school life. It was a heart-warming experience for me to see the children thoroughly enjoying the music and being inspired to learn even more about it. The children involved spoke about the workshops and the concerts with enthusiasm showing just what an impact it has had on them and in the future of their music education too.
- Emma Thorpe