Darlington Hippodrome Partnership

Following the extensive refurbishment of Darlington Hippodrome in 2017, we developed a new relationship with the venue to embed orchestral activity in their annual artistic programme.

What we wanted to achieve

Our vision in Darlington is to co-produce an annual concert series, where learning and participation activity is embedded to help build and broaden audiences whilst sharing skills and helping to develop the cultural infrastructure. We have been designing the orchestral presence in Darlington around an exciting mixture of British orchestras, each working with the community to engage children and young people in creative music-making, from family performances to large scale creative projects. Our curatorial role ensures there is artistic synergy between the programming of different orchestras.

Watch Song of the Skerne on YouTube.

What we did

The first project saw the Hallé working with local young musicians to compose a brass fanfare that they performed at the re-opening of the theatre and alongside Hallé Brass at the Hallé's concert.

The series continues to engage different groups of young people from schools across Darlington to co-create new music. This is inspired by music the orchestras perform and by the place that they live. Each orchestra brings their unique perspective to this creative work and participants are invited to perform their new music with the orchestra during the concert, showcasing the talent of Darlington’s young people.

During the pandemic, our committed partners enabled our Song of the Skerne project with Opera North and Discover Brightwater to move online, creating a new piece of music inspired by the local river Skerne. The final piece premiered as a specially created film in July 2021 accompanied by an exhibition at the Hippodrome, a schools broadcast by Durham Music Service and live premiere with Opera North and participants in November 2021.

The Darlington community have now created eight new pieces of music with visiting orchestras. The community performances continue to be a highlight of the orchestral programme showcasing local talent alongside our professional orchestras

A music leader conducting a semi circle of young musicians in rehearsal.

Rehearsals for the Sax Score project with music leader Michael Betteridge and Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Credit: Scott Akoz Photography

It has made me feel pride within myself and the school for being able to produce something as good as the Song of The Skerne.

~ Participant, Song of the Skerne 2021

Since 2017, creative projects have included:

  • Brass Fanfare and Glorious Guitars, with the Hallé
  • Music and Film, with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
  • Sax Score and Darlington Connections, with Royal Northern Sinfonia
  • Trees of Music and String Serenade, with London Mozart Players
  • Song of the Skerne, with Opera North

The community has worked with some of the country's foremost music leaders, and orchestras have enabled young musicians to work with international soloists, including Jess Gillam, and Craig Ogden. Darlington projects are also regularly supported by our Trainee Music Leaders.


Since the reopening of Darlington Hippodrome in 2017, our activity has included:

  • 8 new pieces of music including 2 films created and performed by the young people of Darlington
  • Over 3,600 people have attended orchestral performances
  • 268 people including 12 schools have been involved in collaborative composition projects
  • Song of the Skerne schools broadcast reached an estimated audience of 900 with the exhibitions profiling the project to over 8100 people.
  • Films from our Darlington projects have reached an online audience of over 1800.

Taking part in projects inspires and supports the development of creative skills, confidence and musicality. They demonstrate the power of playing with and hearing professional musicians in motivating and inspiring young people’s music making, contextualising their instrumental tuition and expanding their view of what they can achieve. 80% of participants involved in our 2020-21 project Song of the Skerne were ‘amazed by what they had achieved’.

This project built up the self-esteem of every student who was involved. Your team took some extremely reluctant learners and gave them the confidence to compose their own music, to create and express their own ideas. Students who were terrified of performing in front of people were given the self-belief to play in front of an audience and the smiles on their faces were a testament as to how much that experience has enriched their lives. I now have a group of budding musicians who are raring to go and looking for the next project. You have awoken their musical aspirations and given me a fantastic foundation to build upon.

~ Kristen Peacock, Teacher at Wyvern Academy

I really enjoyed meeting and working with the young people in Darlington and seeing their confidence grow throughout the rehearsal, enjoying music and working together. Projects that encourage and involve young musicians are essential to ensuring that young people have the opportunity to express creativity and experience music.

~ Jess Gillam, saxophonist


The Darlington Hippodrome orchestral series is produced by Orchestras Live in collaboration with Darlington Hippodrome, Durham & Darlington Music Hub and with support from Creative Darlington.

The project allowed students to experience and work with top class performers and soloists.  It gave them an understanding of other opportunities within the music industry, but most of all gave them the confidence to perform on stage in front of a large audience and be proud of their contribution.

~ Nick Trenholm, Music Teacher at Longfield Academy