Trainee Music Leader Raye Harvey reflects on the last six months of her traineeship working on projects across the North of England...
Over the past six months I’ve been working as a Trainee Music Leader with Spitalfields Music and Orchestras Live and getting a wide range of experiences of different workshops all over the North of England. The trainee position has been a unique opportunity for me to observe and support different music leaders and be supported in the early stages of my own journey as a music leader. In this blog I’ll describe some highlights of my experiences since January, and some of the brilliant people I met along the way.
The first project I joined was Cumbria Calling in February, a project led by James Redwood and Alice Phelps. This was a creative project working with a group of young composers from Cumbria, and later performing with the Cumbria Youth Orchestra and members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was also an opportunity to perform live versions of pieces from the previous Share Sound project that had only been heard digitally before.
In the glorious setting of Sunbeams in Penrith, I first met James and Alice, and felt immediately welcomed into the community of music leaders. Working with James has been a whirlwind lesson in a high energy, endlessly creative style of workshop leading, and as well as giving me so many tips and practical activities to try out myself, I’ve been able to have many conversations about what it means to have the role of music leader, the responsibilities involved, reflections on my personal values and more. Alice is the previous Orchestras Live Trainee and it’s been so valuable for me to connect with and be mentored by her. As two freelance musicians and music leaders both based in Manchester, having her support and advice has shaped my own experience massively.
Before we met in person, we held a workshop over zoom to meet all the participants and introduce the project. It was interesting to note how the leaders allowed for creativity over zoom, through activities such as playing a drone and giving everyone time to be muted and either play a scale or completely improvise over it – a great way to show care for everyone’s abilities and musical identities. One advantage of zoom is that everyone could practice on mute, however it also meant that you couldn’t easily check in with people and support them. It also helped me to realise that my aims for a session can be as simple as ‘get to know each other’, rather than trying to do everything at once.
I was quite nervous going into this first project, and mainly intended to observe and make notes such as “Scaffolding?? Give binary choices if a group isn’t very forthcoming” and other such helpful tips for a nervous new music leader. However, I was quickly encouraged to lead small activities and my own breakout groups, being gently pushed out of my comfort zone to take on more responsibility. I borrowed various games from James and Alice and also got to watch the impressive process of Alice taking on the ‘composer’ role. It was fascinating to see how much flexibility and space they left in the workshop to just discuss creative concepts with the group, thereby allowing the young people to voice and try out musical ideas without any sense of pressure or urgency. The discussion ranged from how to musically describe deep emotions, to references to Shostakovich, Johnny Greenwood and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra cover of the Mandalorian. It made the room feel like a group of musicians who were all invested in the art, adults and young people alike. It was clear throughout this project that respect and creative ownership were at the core of the workshops.
By the second day, I had been gently nudged enough to lead my own version of a “trio around the room” exercise using the D Dorian mode, which we moved into a whole group free improv. It felt fun and challenging to discuss musical concepts like when to improvise loudly and when to leave space and blending sounds as an ensemble. The young composers also grew in confidence, commenting on each other’s playing, giving ideas and asking tough questions.
Another online session I observed was run by Cherry Forbes and Cecelia Bruggemeyer from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, delivering to early years children in North Yorkshire. It was interesting to see how they delivered to a classroom of children over zoom through methods like hand gestures and volunteers coming to the front to ‘conduct’. The musical activities were creative and based around different moods/characters and animals suggested by the participants. As the aim was to introduce orchestral music to young children, a lot of the songs were actually snippets of well-known classical pieces.
In March, I headed over to Bridlington to observe James working with Sinfonia Viva on School of BaROCK with Kings Mill Special School and Martongate Primary. The performance (including new music inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) was due to take place in 2020, had pivoted to a film during the pandemic but the new music had never been performed live. I attended a final day of rehearsals which revisited all the songs and pieces that had been created as well as the performance at Bridlington Spa. This project was so much fun to come into, and the students at Kings Mill helped me out with developing my Makaton signing skills as well as jamming on all sorts of percussion instruments! I haven’t previously worked much with SEND groups but everyone was incredibly welcoming and I was able to get stuck in and see how James tailored the activities to suit all participants’ needs and abilities. The sessions felt friendly and informal, and there was a beautiful moment when James gave everyone the chance to solo on THE big drum as he accompanied on the piano. The students loved this activity! One student, who was mostly non-verbal and had been less engaged during the session suddenly noticed that James was matching her rhythms on the piano, then burst into joyful laughter and started testing him out with different rhythms and speeds on the drum. It was a brilliant moment of musical connection to witness.
In the rehearsal with Martongate School I got to watch James use some great energy boosting creative warm ups and group building activities, which I’ve since started to use when I’m leading. Sophie Rosa, Leader and Artistic Director of Sinfonia Viva came in to demonstrate her parts in some of the pieces they’d written, and the children got to enjoy some beautiful violin playing before the evening concert. It was interesting to see the difference between this rehearsal stage of a creative project, and the early stages of Cumbria Calling; a totally different energy is needed as you’re focusing now on accuracy and performance skills rather than the creative process. The final performance was a huge success, and it was amazing to see all the different elements come together on one stage!
Alongside these projects with Orchestras Live, I attended several Skills Labs run by Spitalfields Music, as well as being partnered with other trainees to lead our own mini projects in Tower Hamlets in London. The whole experience has felt like a steady progression of developing knowledge and skills and increase in responsibility, supported the whole way by various mentors and both Spitalfields and Orchestras Live.
The last few projects I joined were equally spread across the country; in June I headed to Suffolk to see violinist, multi-instrumentalist, music leader, composer (and much more) Sarah Freestone leading a heritage project We Have To Move On with Houldsworth Valley Primary Academy and West Suffolk Youth Orchestra. I’m really glad that the traineeship connected me with Sarah, as she is someone whose career I hope mine will be similar to moving forward, that of a multi-faceted freelance musician, and we were able to talk a lot about balancing different kinds of work and how different roles can fulfil you in different ways.
With the primary school, Sarah had helped them create musical ideas based on the theme of ‘Home’, in response to archive material from Jewish refugees that had been discovered in the area. I found it interesting to observe this stage, where Sarah had arranged their ideas and was sharing the completed piece with them. I loved that the piece wasn’t made overly simple to meet their age range, it was experimental and abstract, incorporating their melodies with a soundscape of cello effects and many different styles and instrumental techniques. The students had been studying the violin this year, and Sarah taught them different musical ideas by ear – including extended techniques like col legno and tremolo! Something that I’ve been reflecting on in my own practice is letting go of the idea of perfection, i.e., not being stuck on an activity until I think it’s completely perfect and without mistakes. It was so helpful to observe this in Sarah’s leading!
It’s been informative to observe the different kind of creative orchestral projects happening all over the country, and that I now have an idea of the context of the work that I’m training to do.
Moving into July, we headed up to Carlisle to bring together the young composers, Cumbria Youth Orchestra and RPO musicians for the Cumbria Calling/Share Sound concert. I loved getting to see the culmination of this project and hear Alice’s arrangement played by the whole ensemble as well as other pieces the orchestra had been learning. Sadly, James was unable to join us in Carlisle, but Alice led the rehearsals along with all the other staff (too many to mention here but a brilliant team!), and I appreciated being able to support and step in where needed in rehearsals. The concert sounded brilliant, and it was an especially proud moment to hear the two pieces we’d created back in February, including our Dorian Jam which really allowed every participant to show their creative identities.
I finished my observations back in Manchester, by heading to a music café for people living with dementia and their families/carers, run by Manchester Camerata. I spent the morning jamming and getting to know all the friendly players and participants at Gorton Monastery, and it was a very positive, laid-back experience. I hope to go back as it was so interesting to see the way of working that Manchester Camerata has developed, holistically combining playing, socialising, and creating new music into a space that the participants clearly love to come to – I met one lady that had been attending for six years!
I think it’s fair to say that my confidence, knowledge and skills, and identity as a music leader have developed beyond recognition thanks to the wealth of experiences and support that I’ve had over the traineeship, and I’m so excited to see what the next few months hold as I continue to be supported by Orchestras Live.
Raye HarveyTrainee Music Leader