Share Sound Music Leaders Ishani O’Connor and Rosie Bergonzi reflect on their project experiences and the creativity of the young people they worked with...
Ishani O’Connor, Learning and Participation Manager for the Chineke! Foundation speaks to Chineke! Orchestra percussionist, Rosie Bergonzi who was an Associate Music Leader on the Share Sound project with Lincolnshire Music Service and Orchestras Live. Rosie and Ishani helped devise and plan the workshops alongside Artistic Director James Redwood and the music service staff.
What resulted were two excellent recordings made by young people in Lincolnshire alongside the Chineke! Orchestra musicians; firstly of the Dance movement from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Othello Suite (a Black British composer championed by Chineke!, and who the students learned about for the first time) and the new co-created composition called First Light.
Ishani O’Connor (IO): When embarking on this Share Sound partnership project, as a Chineke! Orchestra musician and an Associate Music Leader on the project, what were your expectations initially of the creative workshops and what did you set out to achieve?
Rosie Bergonzi (RB): I was interested to see how it would transition online. I’ve done a lot of workshops for Chineke! in various places but always in person, so I was looking forward to seeing how we were going to manage to get this massive number of musicians working and playing together. Also, how we were going to be able to take their ideas and create something that was maybe a little bit new for them, working in maybe a more collaborative way than they were used to in their standard orchestra rehearsals. So, I had a lot of trepidation, a lot of wondering how it was all going to work, but I was excited to see it happen.
IO: You’re right, that sense of collaboration had to start from the very beginning, especially all the admin and the organisation that it takes to get everybody collaborating in that way and how we used Zoom to do that. It was a lot more organisation than I’d expected, but also for the young people. There were 110 young people on this project and they may never have collaborated before and I think it’s encouraged them to do so now with their peers, which I think was a really great outcome.
Was there anything you were worried about when starting this journey and how do you think we overcame those issues? Are there benefits to working online in this way?
RB: The biggest issue is there’s no energy, there’s no vibe in the room. I was worried initially about how we’d be able to read how the young people were feeling and understand how best to help them. Obviously in person you can look at them, read their cues, you can hear them, you understand how to make that session run, but online you don’t get any of that feedback so I was certainly nervous about how we could make everyone feel included. How to hear people’s voice when we literally can’t hear their voice because they’re muted is a huge challenge.
IO: And I think it helps all of us to develop our communication skills even more because we can’t rely on those human instincts because we’re not in the room.
RB: Certainly. Now that I’m back to working offline I can definitely feel the skills and tricks that I’ve needed to pick up working on Zoom have helped me to become a stronger leader because I’m not just swayed by the loudest voice in the room.
So, we were attempting to create the feeling of playing in an ensemble for young people, without being in a room together because of Covid and while we were all sitting at home at our computer screens. Do you think we were successful at this?
RB: I think some of the things that are so powerful about playing in an ensemble have nothing to do with music, they’re to do with the teamwork. They’re to do with the creativity, following a leader and working together for a common goal, and I think that understanding those parts of playing together, we could replicate those. I think it’s never going to be the same as sitting next to your mate who’s playing the same instrument as you, but to try and replicate some of those amazing creative, collaborative moments online is fun.
IO: I think I really underestimated the socialising aspect of being part of an ensemble. We tried to recreate that online and it was a tall order in some senses, especially with a group that size, but some of the feedback we got was that they really did feel part of an orchestra. It’s as much about giving them the feeling of being part of a community and a friendly welcoming group as it is about playing music together. It’s not just the act of sitting down in an orchestra next to your desk partner and playing, it’s also how you feed off their energy and how you talk to them in the break. It’s all of those things that make an ensemble.
In general, connecting online has been very important to people this year, and music has shown that those connections can be strengthened because of this common motivation to make something sound really beautiful and like we’re all part of something.
RB: I imagine for the young people that social aspect in some ways is enhanced because it’s not often that a young person in Lincolnshire, say, would be linked up with young people from five other music hubs. And I’m sure if they were watching the final live stream they did have that sense of community coming together.
IO: And for musicians it’s that sense of having a network of people who share your interests and share your obsession, really. I think it’s great to introduce that to young people early in their lives so they understand that they have a lifelong network once they join an orchestra or an ensemble.
What have you enjoyed the most in taking part in the project? Was it what you were expecting?
RB: I really enjoyed the Composition Committee moments because that was an idea I’d had in conversation with James as to how to really bring the young people’s voices into the composition process. It was so nice to see that come into fruition with all of these really engaged young people suggesting their ideas and being quite discerning in the way they were guiding the music as well. Anytime we were all together and leading workshop games and adapting them to Zoom – when it went well, that was a treat.
IO: I really enjoyed planning, which is not normally the sort of thing I would say, but I did actually really enjoy the collaboration of the planning because in a sense we were all starting from the same point, because we had no idea how it was going to go.
RB: Oh definitely, we always pretend that all of this workshopping is only for the young people, but actually it’s just as thrilling for us to hear the ideas that we’ve all worked on together. I think it doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s always so nice to see the seed of an idea grow and blossom, but to remember the exact moment, the exact person who suggested ‘oh, what if it goes…’ and they sing a little thing, and that suddenly comes through into a full symphonic score, it’s amazing.
How has this experience developed your own practice as a professional musician and as a music leader?
RB: It was nice to have a framework to develop my Zoom leadership skills. I hope it’s something the sector really takes forward because we’ve reached people in places that may never have been able to come to an in-person session. And especially for me in my little bedroom in London, I’ve been able to reach people literally all around the world on Zoom.
IO: It shows it’s completely possible to develop it quickly and to deliver something that’s very useful and that will be future-proof, and we can go on and work this way.
Share Sound could be seen as a model way of working but with lots of flexibility built in. I was really struck with the Digital Finale with all the different groups that had created music together and the huge range of music and styles and approaches just in those six music hubs.
Do you have any other final reflections?
RB: It was just lovely to see the final production, and to see what the other five hubs had created as well. Often the other projects I do are a lot smaller, shorter in scope so it was really nice to be with the same people throughout a whole year and really see that change. One of the kids at the end of the project said: ‘Well done Rosie, I can see you’ve been practising the Handpan, you’ve got so much better’ and I think that is the kind of interaction you don’t get until you feel comfortable with someone. So even though it might feel like we can’t go as deep because we’re online, we clearly had forged some quite meaningful connections.
Ishani O'ConnorLearning and Participation Manager, Chineke! Foundation
Rosie BergonziShare Sound Associate Music Leader and Chineke! Orchestra percussionist