Our Chair, Tony Stoller, explains the importance of orchestras to regional regeneration and the huge benefits access to music brings to both individuals and communities.
Orchestras Live believes that everyone should have access to high-quality orchestral music, in whatever parts of the country they live and whatever communities they come from. Part of our mission is to ensure that such music sounds out everywhere, not least in what may be thought of as ‘culturally underserved’ areas; underserved at the moment perhaps, but certainly not undeserving.
We are well aware of the abundance (some would say over-abundance) of music available in London and strong provision in some of the other major cultural centres in England e.g. Manchester and Birmingham. We strive to ensure that the rest of the country isn’t left out, working with partners, local authorities, educators, music hubs, promoters and orchestras in the remotest of rural areas to some of the most deprived urban centres. And it is not enough just to have such music, it needs also to be high quality, both to promote its artistic value and to make sure that nobody is being short-changed, wherever they live and whatever their backgrounds.
Orchestral music can have a positive effect in bringing communities together, across age and social barriers, promoting inclusivity as well as having a real impact on individual well-being. It offers the opportunity to inspire and increase social mobility for children and young people as well as providing healing for the elderly or excluded.
Our Hear and Now project with the Philharmonia Orchestra, an award-winning, intergenerational community project does just this. It brings together old and young, helping to support local people living with dementia in the Queens Park community in Bedford, to feel less isolated.
There are over 850,000 people in the UK with dementia and this figure is set to soar to 2 million by 2050 (Alzheimer's Society). Research shows that interaction with music can significantly improve and support the mood, alertness and engagement of people with dementia, as well as reducing the use of medication. The NHS is now increasingly considering social prescribing including arts projects, as a more holistic, long-term and community focused way to support better quality of life outcomes for people who are ill.
To date over 700 people have taken part in Hear and Now; joining together in creative music workshops centred around memory and emotions. The inter-generational aspect is one of the most important aspects. Everyone is inspired by complementary energies and perspectives of the diverse ages; older people are excited by youthful exuberance, and younger people develop a new sense of responsibility and care for the older participants. The impact is plain to see, as described by Sarah Russell, CEO of the Tibbs Dementia Foundation:
"The ethos of the Hear and Now project, that a small idea can grow into something wonderfully creative, dynamic, bigger than the sum of its parts through sharing, acknowledging and celebrating talents and diversity as a supportive, encouraging community that’s working together towards a shared goal, reflects and has shaped the ethos and philosophy that is Tibbs Dementia Foundation and has led to our successes and the level of support we are able to offer people across Bedford as a true dementia friendly community."
It’s not just individual wellbeing that is supported by participation in the arts. Many parts of England are facing significant social change and challenge. Regeneration is not only about bricks and mortar, but also about quality of life. Music can help towns and localities to adapt to changing economic circumstances, developing a healthy and positive pride about the places we live in. A recent report commissioned by Arts Council England shows that more than two thirds of local people believe that arts and cultural events are important for fostering community wellbeing, both individual and collective.
Our recent work in Darlington in the North East, to support the reopening of the town’s Hippodrome (in 2017) and the development of an annual programme featuring visiting orchestras, is a good example of the importance and impact music can have on civic pride and the opportunity to work collaboratively with other arts organisations to maximise impact.
In the last two years, we have facilitated visits from three professional orchestras: the Hallé, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Royal Northern Sinfonia involving concerts for children and families, workshops for aspiring young composers, as well as more traditional concerts. Over 1,700 people have attended a performance so far.
"It has been a fantastic opportunity to work with Orchestras Live since 2015 to enhance access to and engagement with classical music in Darlington. Orchestras Live has been a key driver in this work, and as a result of their efforts and the work of other parties including Darlington Hippodrome, Durham Music Trust and Theatre Hullabaloo, children from many schools in the borough have been offered new opportunities to explore and enjoy music."Stephen Wiper, Creative Darlington Manager, Darlington Borough Council
At Orchestras Live, we continually seek out opportunities for new and established orchestras to work collaboratively with other arts organisations as part of a wider cultural regeneration strategy, both in deprived areas and also in those parts of England where the opportunity exists to do more and to do better – and that, of course, is everywhere.