Sound Around

This large-scale strategic touring project aimed to generate inspirational opportunities for children and young people across England, particularly those with additional needs, and with little or no access to live concert experiences.

What we wanted to achieve

The project built upon two previous Orchestras Live initiatives: the highly successful First Time Live Youth tour which enabled young people to produce orchestral concerts for their peers, and a series of Relaxed concerts that provided an inclusive concert environment for young people with additional needs and their families.

The project aim was to create more opportunities for children and young people with additional needs to engage with live orchestral music by working alongside their peers in mainstream education to produce, programme and present concerts at venues and special schools.

Thank you for this amazing experience with the RPO … I have learned lots of new skills and gained more confidence. I am now sad that it has come to an end… I think that being in an orchestra is a clever and cool job.

~ Young Producer

What happened

Over two years, Sound Around visited six locations across the country: Carlisle, Doncaster, Lowestoft, Northampton, Reading and Sunderland.

In each area, music leader Tim Steiner and RPO musicians held workshops with a group of young producers who, over a period of months, planned, produced and presented a full-scale orchestral concert for local schools, performed by the RPO.

An octet of RPO musicians also toured to special schools in each location, breaking down barriers to experiencing and engaging with live orchestral music. Each residency culminated with a relaxed concert open to the public, especially welcoming families with children with additional needs to attend.

A full orchestra on stage performing to an audience of hundreds of school children, with a big screen overhead.

Sound Around schools concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Northampton in 2017.

Credit: Photocall Event Photography


Over two years, Sound Around reached:

  • 12,431 students from 300+ primary, secondary & special schools
  • 113 young producers aged 11-18 from mainstream and SEN/D settings
  • 1,382 families and young people with additional needs at Relaxed performances
  • 2,200+ SEN/D young people aged 4-18 and staff through RPO Octet tour.

A game-changing approach to live classical music performance…Sound Around allows the orchestra to explore and experiment with different forms of what a performance might be, how players interact, behave and even what they wear.

~ Sarah Bedell, Independent evaluator

Sound Around's legacy

The legacy of Sound Around continues to grow, encompassing participatory projects that build on the young producer model, inclusive projects that focus on families and children with additional needs, and further development of new styles of presentation, whether 'relaxed' or 'family friendly'.

Examples of how our Sound Around partners have developed since the project include work in Sunderland, where the initial project activity triggered the start of an ongoing relationship with the music hub and new conversations regarding co-curating orchestral activity in small and mid-scale venues. In Cumbria, the music education hub has, as a result of the Sound Around experience, established its own specialist music team to deliver music workshops in special schools.

Relaxed concerts have become more widespread with many orchestras developing relaxed concert formats. Orchestras Live is a 'critical friend' to the Royal Albert Hall and BBC Proms, feeding our experience into the planning process of the now annual Relaxed Prom.

Orchestras Live is continuing to absorb and analyse the impact of Sound Around in order to inform future planning, including:

  • The young producer role and its potential for young people, whether from mainstream or special education, to be immersed in a creative experience leading to skills acquisition through and beyond music, which have proved to be life changing.
  • Exploring the potential for new projects that build on Sound Around's success with young people, bringing professional musicians and Young Producers to work together on a creative project.
  • The impact of this style of working on musicians and the skills they need to be part of this work, building in more opportunities for CPD and training for orchestral musicians, music leader and emerging music leaders working on Orchestras Live projects.


Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Arts Council England, The Dome Doncaster, Doncaster Music Education Hub, Royal & Derngate Northampton, Northamptonshire Music & Performing Arts Trust, Empire Theatre Sunderland, Sunderland Music Hub, Suffolk County Council, Marina Theatre Lowestoft, Berkshire Maestros, The Hexagon Reading, Cumbria Music Education Hub, The Sands Centre Carlisle and local funders. This project was made possible through a Strategic Touring Grant awarded by Arts Council England.

Read the independent evaluation by Sarah Bedell: