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ROH Bridge: Planning for A Bright Future

The Royal Opera House Bridge project works to connect young people with great art and culture, breaking down the stereotypes of inaccessibility and nurturing networks and innovation. The issue of culture, music and learning is vital to the future of education. In previous blogs we’ve looked at the value of exposing children to classical music and explored the ways in which opera companies can avoid alienating young audiences. We’ve also covered organisations such as Future Talent which provide opportunities for young musicians to develop their careers.

This month, instead of publishing our usual guest blog, we decided to showcase the Royal Opera House Bridge Conference which took place on 17th June 2016.

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The conference, entitled A Place For Culture, which took place in the beautiful setting of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, explored how we can secure the place of cultural learning in schools and communities.

Key discussion points included:

  • How does where children live affect their cultural opportunities?
  • How can schools make space for cultural learning in a crowded curriculum?
  • How does local culture contribute to placemaking?
  • How can schools and cultural organizations work together to stimulate learning around Heritage and British values?
  • Have you taken your place in the cultural life of your community?

oldpalacesunny-300x199Attendees included cultural organisations, schools, Arts Council England, Grant giving bodies, local authorities and cultural trusts, freelance arts practitioners and Music Hubs.

The day was divided into keynote speakers, workshops and performances. Speakers included Althea Efunshile CBE, Deputy Chief Executive of Arts Council England with provocations from Deborah Annetts, CEO of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, Jonathan Simons, Head of Education at Think Tank Policy Exchange and Andrea Stark, Director of Foundation for FutureLondon. The 3 provocations asked delegates to think about the current cultural, political and economic landscapes and where cultural education fits.

Key messages were to understand the environment you are working in, and a reminder that there is never a perfect time to launch projects.

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Gary Clarke, Independent Choreographer and Artistic Director and Tom Andrews, Founder of People United talked with Althea Efunshile about their experiences of arts and culture with many inspired by Gary’s story. Gary came from a working class background in a Yorkshire village and is now one of Britain’s leading dance experts. Read more about his work in this interview.

Workshops covered topics such as Our Place: Building pride, aspiration and attainment through heritage, Rules for Rural – developing a shared manifesto, Place-marking: A strategic approach to working with communities and their schools, British values? Exploring a creative approach to the mandate for schools, The Cultural Governor – championing arts and culture through effective leadership in schools and Leading Cultural Learning – nurturing teachers as cultural champions.

A team from Hull showcased the work they are doing as City of Culture…

There were performances throughout the day from students from the University of Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire Music Service and the Pénte Ensemble from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Countess Anne choirThe afternoon kicked off with a performance by the choir from local school, Countess Anne Primary School to remind delegates of why access to arts and culture is so important. Many of the children had taken part in the Hertfordshire Music Service Gala concert at the Royal Albert Hall earlier in the year.

You can read more about what people said about the day here… https://storify.com/ROHBridge/royal-opera-house-bridge.

To find out more about the cultural learning across the Royal Opera House Bridge region visit http://www.roh.org.uk/learning/royal-opera-house-bridge/spotlight where leaders share what they have learned, explore the varied challenges in cultural learning and showcase innovation.

 

A Focus on Listening

In a recent interview by The Scotsman, world-renowned violinist, Nicola Benedetti, passionately criticised the suggestion that children should not be exposed to classical music.

580px-Nicky_BenedettiBenedetti is a great advocate of music education. In 2010, she became Sistema Scotland’s official musical ‘Big Sister’ for the Big Noise project, as well as creating The Benedetti Sessions, giving hundreds of aspiring young string players the opportunity to rehearse, undertake and observe masterclasses, culminating in a performance with the violinist.

She is an also an ambassador for the BBC 10 Pieces project, an initiative for schools led by BBC Learning and the BBC Performing Groups, focusing on classical music and creativity. The project centres on 20 pieces; 10 for primary and 10 for secondary school ages; covering the spectrum of western classical music from the Baroque period to contemporary works, with a heavy weighting towards 20th Century music.

Benedetti argued that since, if children were given the option either to play a video game or study mathematics, the majority would choose the video game, deciding against teaching them to listen to classical symphonies because they don’t seem interested or it is considered difficult is a nonsense. MWC’s Maria Thomas explains why this is a subject close to her own heart.

Should we be encouraging young people to listen to whole symphonies or even whole operas? Interestingly, neither the primary nor the secondary 10 Pieces include a full symphony, concerto or other complete large-scale work. Individual movements are included, but not full works. Perhaps the chosen pieces are meant as an introduction to classical music, allowing listeners to explore the rest of the works themselves, or maybe, as the proposed lesson plans suggest, the individual movements are designed as a starting point for inspiration for creativity, I don’t know.

Learning to concentrate on listening to a whole symphony or opera is not an easy task, particularly when the work is new to you. I often enjoy listening to works I have studied more than those that I am discovering for the first time. I am more familiar with the themes, the structure, the instrumentation and how the material is developed.

HHCMF14s-37I was lucky enough to have been brought up as a regular concert and opera-goer, being encouraged to learn about the pieces before attending performances and having the chance to listen to recordings before hearing the live performance. Even so, when I hear a new piece, I can imagine how daunting or incomprehensible the idea of listening to a symphony must be, particularly for someone who has not had that opportunity. With no one to make recommendations of what to listen to or explain things about the music such as what to listen out for and the context that the composer was working in, where do you start?

So maybe the single movement decision by the BBC makes sense. Research suggests that with increasing access to new technology, young people are not able to concentrate for long periods, and the popularity of the single movement performance has been popularised by the huge success of Classic FM. However, when I worked at the Royal Opera House one of my favourite memories is of hearing the rapturous applause and cheering following a schools performance of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

I believe it comes down to what we feel is important. Getting the young to listen to any classical music will open their ears to music, art and experiences that are new to them, and will develop other skills such as listening, analytical thinking and concentration.

Research has shown that listening to music can help the brain, but that research also highlighted that familiarity with the music was important.

Another question worth considering is where the responsibility should lie in getting young people to listen to classical music. Should it be done in the home, at school or both?

For parents who have not experience of classical music, the idea of introducing their children to a symphony orchestra concert or recital is completely alien. Trying to research music can be challenging; programme notes, both online and in concert programmes can vary from excellent to incomprehensible, or be aimed at the very knowledgeable.

In schools it is increasingly difficult to introduce classical music into the classroom. Many primary schools do not have music specialists and both primary and secondary schools have music specialists who do not have a Classical music background. It was widely researched as long ago as 1997 that many primary school teachers feel negatively towards introducing classical music in their teaching as they lack confidence in their own knowledge of the subject.

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I don’t have the answers. I’m just glad that the BBC 10 Pieces is making access to Classical Music easier for young people, and that other fantastic outreach projects by organisations such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Warwick University and the Sage are reaching out to their local communities and offering them the chance to explore Classical Music both with families and schools.

It was wonderful to share this enthusiasm for introducing young people to Classical Music and the wider arts at the brilliant Ahead For Culture conference, run by the ROHBridge Project, on 12th June at the Royal Opera House. The morning was hosted by Kirsty Wark who shared her early experiences of the Arts, and featured many inspiring speakers. Sir Anthony Seldon stressed the importance of introducing young people to the Arts in ways that help them to understand and engage with their experiences, Nii Sackey highlighted the fact that young people have their own answers about how they want to engage with the Arts, and Susan Coles gave a motivational call to action encouraging us all to push for the Arts to continue to be a key part of every young person’s education.

The afternoon sessions of workshops got everyone talking and sharing their experiences, before a fabulous performance by Next Generation Youth Theatre. The day was rounded off with an emotional reminder from Camila Batmanghelidhj CBE, founder of Kids Company, (who MWC are proud to work with) of some of the challenges today’s young people bring to their Arts experiences, and how experiences need to adapt to the needs of each young person.

It was a truly inspiring day and will lead to some exciting new projects and partnerships for MWC. Watch this space for more news!

The Music Workshop Company is in the process of developing resource packs for schools, designed to introduce and expand on many aspects of music. We would value your input. If there is a specific topic or aspect of music that you would like us to cover, or if we can make our resources more helpful in any way, please contact us via the website with your ideas and requests, or email info@music-workshop.co.uk.

We also run tailor-made inset workshops, integrating music into teacher training. Meeting with professional musicians who can explain music in an approachable way will give you exciting ideas to develop, and can be a great boost in confidence in the classroom. There is no great mystery to music. Just as you can teach a child to look at a beautiful painting and appreciate it without yourself being able to either paint it or explain how it was painted, it is possible to learn how to introduce children to music and the skills needed to listen to it.

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