Last week’s concert project
I posted earlier last week about the schools concert project that I have been working on with the Academy musicians. The project was completed last week and was a great success. We tried to create an experience for the young people that would be memorable and highly engaging, and that invited them to participate in some way in the concert event. But equally importantly, I wanted this to be a project that the Academy musicians would benefit from, that they would find inspiring and enjoyable, and not a burden that felt far removed from their usual performance work at the Academy.
Here are some of the things that we got right, that I feel are significant. If we were to put together a template for successful children’s concerts, these would be included:
1. The Academy students felt a strong sense of ownership over the concert.
The whole idea for this concert was developed in consultation with three elected student body representatives, with decisions about repertoire and programming themes involving all the participating musicians. We considered how the timeframe for the project would best work (keeping it all in one week, and allowing individual practice time on each of the days where there would be project contact time required); preferred audience size; and ways of creating strong engagement with the music. They were involved in selecting repertoire, and were responsible for choosing the extracts of the pieces that they would perform in the concert. We had a meeting/rehearsal prior to undertaking the classroom visits to all the students attending the concert, and after discussing some general ideas, the students divided into teams of 2 or 3 and developed their own plans of what they’d like to include in their visits to the classrooms.
As part of their overall brief, I asked them to include points of reference about what the children could expect in the concert – what they would be invited to do as part of their participation. The Academy students included this in their plans, and through their descriptions also enhanced their own commitment to these ideals and the format we had devised.
2. The children attending all had a personal relationship with many of the musicians performing in the concert.
They knew their names, and had learned about the different instruments. They had had the opportunity to ask questions, and learn unusual bits of information from the Academy musicians. As different performers appeared in the performance space you could hear the children whispering their names to each other: “It’s Anna! It’s Chris!” and smiling at them in recognition.
3. The concert reflected the performance values that are characteristic of all ANAM’s concerts.
We configured the space in innovative ways that kept the children intrigued by where the music might come from next. The music we presented was diverse and often challenging, ranging from Haydn and Brahms, to contemporary works by Mary Finsterer and Andrew Ford. This was not a typical concert program for young children, but then, I am certain that children can be engaged by far more unflinching repertoire than is often offered to them. We had faith in this in the concert program we developed. Lastly, we invited the children to experience something of the life at ANAM, ushering them through working spaces on their way into and out of the concert venue, and drawing them into this world.
4. The children were active participants
In between the different numbers, the children were led by one of the musicians to make soundscapes using body percussion and other sounds. These were chosen to create a musical link to the next piece of repertoire. Some were particular effective, such as getting all the children to make incredibly quiet whistle sounds, over which the solo flute piece (Ether by Mary Finsterer, which starts with whistle tones on amplified flute) – and flautist – gradually emerged.
Here are some photos from the classroom visits, that give an idea of the different ways the Academy musicians built engagement and rapport with their young audience.