Category Archives: Learning & Participation

Guest post: “an unforgettable experience” at PowerPlus

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PowerPlus is a unique composition project led by members of Ensemble 360 and Robin McEwan (Sheffield Music Hub) in partnership with Music in the Round.  It primarily focuses on pre-GCSE music students from secondary schools across Sheffield and their compositions.

Under the guidance of Robin McEwan, the students are asked to compose for a variety of ensembles as part of their assessment.  Throughout the year, workshops are held where the students are invited to have their work performed by members of Ensemble 360.  Here, they can talk to the players one-on-one and vice versa and get feedback from the musicians and Robin on their work.  Across the eight hours of performance, over fifty original pieces are recorded by a professional sound engineer so students can submit the performances as part of their composition portfolio and also use them for promotional work.  The workshops are held at the Upper Chapel, one of Music in the Round’s prestigious venues.  This building has great acoustics and is perfect for small ensembles.

I was lucky enough to attend a PowerPlus session for String Quartet and experience how significant this project is.  Preceding the compositions, the second movement of Ravel’s Quartet in F was played to demonstrate a variety of different textures that can be used when writing for this particular ensemble.

PowerPlus has been running for over a decade now and some schools have been involved since it began.  Robin says: “One great thing is the change from beginning to end. I look at the school and see it develop throughout the year and the impact of participation resonates back at the school.  The students pass it down the line to the years below them.”  When asked why he started this programme Robin replies with: “Lots of teachers are asked to teach composition but they themselves have no training.  I like to bring people up to a good standard of composing by embedding skills in both students and teachers.  The best thing to do is to teach high skills at the earliest possible time.”

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“Although there is less pressure for the Ensemble in these workshops, it doesn’t mean that they don’t struggle with the occasional piece!  However, the most important thing is that they get the chance to communicate and influence the students across the barrier.  The musicians are able to impart their knowledge to the people who are really listening at the level they need and you can feel the link between composer and player.  The Ensemble treats the students as equals which shows that they believe in them giving the composer the confidence to do things.”

Robin has been working with King Edward VII School for over 10 years and I spoke to three students from there about their experience with PowerPlus.

“It’s been an unforgettable experience; very entertaining and well-organised.”    Angus

“It’s been great, really enjoyable.  I feel really proud and the musicians made it sound better! I’m so impressed how much effort they put in.”    Ilya

 “After hearing it live there are a few things I would change but it made me proud and it was good to listen to it off a screen.”    Angus

In forthcoming years, schools will host PowerPlus concerts over the year making the students’ work even more accessible to their friends and family; the project itself will be fundamental to music-making in schools.

To me as a composition student at University, projects like these are enormously valuable and helpful. Hearing your work performed live by professional musicians is completely different to listening to it in a tiny room through a computer.  I have participated in things similar to this and it is a wonderful opportunity and privilege as not many students get the chance to do it.  Receiving feedback from the musicians is great as they can give advice on how to improve technique and playability, and it also gives the composer the option to ask questions and change things on the spot.

Elizabeth Lees was doing work experience in the MitR office. She is a composer and second-year music undergraduate in Liverpool. Follow her on Twitter

Guest post: Sofia on our ‘Listen Up’ conference

Yesterday an exciting event took place at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield called ‘Listen Up!’ 70 delegates: early-years staff, Key Stage 1 teachers, and music leaders & co-ordinators from across the region – along with others who find it of interest from across the country came to attend inspiring practical workshops, talks and engage with one another creating networking opportunities. Not only did the day include a talk with music education consultant, Sue Nicholls who gave the delegates creative and interesting ways to bring stories to life through music and the importance of music for children between the ages of 3 and 7, it also showcased two children’s concerts with Polly Ives narrating excellently and the very talented Ensemble 360. The concerts were called The Lion Who Wanted To Love and Giddy Goat, both very engaging for the 1,600 nursery and primary school children who attended throughout the day.

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My busy first day of work experience began with helping set up displays for Sheffield Music Hub, Out of the Ark – a musical resource company, Rhyme and Reason – a Sheffield based bookshop who specialise in musical books, ESCAL – the awardwinning Citywide Literacy Strategy ensuring that ‘Every Sheffield Child is Articulate and Literate’ and the SongBuds project which offers a music group for 0-7 year olds, weekly meetings, child-sized instruments, giant piano mats, live music and singalongs for kids. These displays were for the delegates to get more information and resources and ideas about how to interact with children through music.

My next task was to greet the delegates, some of whom had travelled all the way across the country to be there, and to give them their goody bags which included a kazoo, play-doh, and music resources for kids. Then after they wandered around the displays, they attended a talk in the Adelphi Suite whilst 800 children from primary schools around Sheffield from the ages of 3 to 7 arrived to watch the outstandingly animated performance of The Lion Who Wanted To Love by Polly Ives and Ensemble 360 which they were all singing and clapping along to and they all thoroughly enjoyed.

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Meanwhile the delegates and I then attended a workshop ran by Sue Nicholls where we learned a Japanese song, a train song and about cuckoo cadences and call-and-response singsong conversations that children respond well to. This was a very interactive workshop where everyone was involved in some way whether they were shaking a maraca or joining in with the actions and making a ‘Crazy Creature’.

Then, after a short pause for lunch it was time for another 800 infants to arrive and watch the second concert of the day: Giddy Goat which I also managed to watch. All the children were engaged, having learned the songs prior to the performance – some of which were very catchy such as ‘Rock Rounders’. I enjoyed myself as much as the children and so did there teachers. The colourful projections and amazing musicians as well as a captivating story told by a great narrator made for a fabulous performance!

When I had said goodbye to all the children, helped to pack away music and help the various organisations to take down their displays, it was time to go home. It was an exhausting, yet truly amazing day!

Sofia, 16, is currently doing work experience in the MitR office

Marathon Money


Hello everyone.

My marathon attempt gathers pace. 15 miles on Sunday, 18 this coming Saturday. That’s the furthest I will run before the big day. You have to leave yourself a bit of a challenge!

The CRAZY hills of Sheffield can only count in my favour in Germany. I’m not complacent, but running on the flat will be a DREAM after the ups and downs of Sheffield’s Seven Hills.

Every penny that everyone gives will help to support the fantastic work of Music in the Community in bringing inspirational music to as many people as we can possibly manage.

You can donate now! Please follow this link and help put a spring in my step!

THANK YOU to you all! More updates to follow.

Fraser, Learning & Participation Manager

@frasermitr (click this to follow me on Twitter as the marathon approaches)

If you’d rather not pay until after the run, but would still like to promise an amount, that’s fine! Please click here to make your promise

In the running

My two great passions are music and running. Ingeniously, I’ve found the perfect way of combining the two: tackling a Marathon for Music in the Community! Thus I’ll be running the Cologne Marathon on 13 October this year. For me this will complete a trio of October runs, having previously completed Loch Ness (2009) and Amsterdam (2010).

Twenty-six miles of street-pounding. I might mention that this is about the same as Sheffield to Huddersfield (though Cologne has fewer hills – phew!). It’s also, of course, the distance that Pheidippides sprinted after the battle of Marathon back to Athens before he *collapsed and died*.

I’d love you all to run with me. If not literally (and you might just have missed the training boat now) then by donating generously and sending me on my way with a huge incentive to run well! Every pound we raise will help Music in the Community to continue and extend its wonderful work in sharing music, and a love of music, with people of all ages and backgrounds. So please give as generously as you can – remembering just how jolly far away Huddersfield is

How to pay? From 1 October you will be able to donate quickly and securely online via our website.. At any point from now on (even after race day) you may send a cheque (payable to The Lindsay Foundation) to MitR Marathon, Music in the Round, 4th Floor, Sheffield Central Library, Surrey Street, Sheffield S1 1XZ. Or you could bring cash to any of our autumn concerts. Whatever and however you give – THANK YOU! You’ll spur me on to run as fast as I possibly can!

Keep in touch!

More on Music in the Community and its work is only a click away.. In the lead-up to the big day I’ll be blogging about it here, and once I leave on the Friday you’ll be able to follow my progress and send general messages of encouragement on Twitter.. You’ll find it’s just like being there, only without the Bockwurst or trainers. Or the 26-mile run.

Fraser    @frasermitr

A carnival of animals!

It’s been all go in the office this week. As the summer morphs into the autumn, schools go back, holidays end, we start to kick on with our preparations for the autumn season. In my first little while as Learning & Participation maestro, with the rest of 2013 in prospect, I’ve had animals on the mind for much of the time: planning and photographing for our Giraffes Can’t Dance Music Box workshops, talking to Paul Rissmann about dog-and-cat duo Stan and Mabel and whether horses really can play bassoons, or deciding whether our budget will stretch to cow onesies for that all-important press photo.


That’s all been complemented, from the desk next to mine, by Polly, creative supremo and recently appointed Learning and Participation Creative Director, who (with the “travelling the world through music” theme of Stan and Mabel uppermost in mind) has been playing the Flower Duet from Lakmé and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries in recent days. By the way, I love the twist at the end of Stan and Mabel (anyone who isn’t yet familiar with Jason Chapman’s wonderful book should look away now to avoid a spoiler): not only do they form the only animal orchestra in the world – they form the best animal orchestra in the world!!


As with all our early-years commissions, with these two pieces we aim to open up classical music to the whole family through workshops, participation, engagement, learning, and FUN! A new strand for us this year is the focus on assisting the continuing development of teachers and facilitators, and offering them resources and ideas to support their work with children, through INSET sessions, the first of which takes place in Sheffield next month. More are planned elsewhere in 2014. And, in the name of making sure that maximum fun and fulfilment can be had at every turn, there will soon be a Stan and Mabel Participation Pack available for free on our website (by the end of the month), which will enable teachers, parents, children – everyone – to learn all the songs and games before coming to one of the concerts later in the year.

As a serious hard-working journalist, I put down my tea, leaned to my left, and asked Polly for a suitable quote about all this. She told me: “Everyone can take part in music. With our world-class musicians, there’s an emphasis on quality, and our commissions from Paul enable children and their families to be part of something that’s really inspiring and accessible.” Regarding INSET sessions, she says that “the emphasis is very much on helping and supporting parents and teachers so that it becomes something they can all share in with their children.”


So we look forward to October, when the wonderful Ensemble 360 return to enliven and inspire us in the Crucible Studio and elsewhere with warm, world-class music-making – and, if all goes to plan, to don the occasional bovine suit in the name of fun…


Learning & Participation Manager    @frasermitr

Transformations film published!


Following on from my post a couple of weeks ago about Transformations in schools, and a couple of long late nights later, here’s the finished film!

What do you think?

Something new, something old and something…Christmassy Sheffield Autumn Series 2013

I was going to write about our Autumn Series highlights but I’m finding it impossible to choose so here’s a bit about everything…

Let’s start with our wonderful Ensemble 360 who is playing, as ever, both pillars of the repertoire from the likes of Brahms, Dvorak and Mendelssohn as well as embracing other composers that always demand to be heard. I’m personally very much looking forward to their first concert of the season which marks Lutoslawski’s 100th birthday and Wagner’s 200th birthday – if you don’t know Lutoslawski’s Dance Preludes you should definitely check it out!

We’re excited to be joined by Sheffield-based acclaimed author Marina Lewycka to explore why music is such a compelling international language. Born in a refugee camp in Germany, she moved to England at a young age. Her first novel, the unusually titled A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian became a hit in 2005 and three more books have followed since.


Continuing with the Sheffield-based talent; we’re incredibly privileged that Peter Hill has chosen Sheffield to give the world premiere of a newly discovered Messiaen work which he has completed from its incomplete original manuscript. This is ground-breaking work and Peter has kindly agreed to share more about his process in a lecture earlier in the season. Look out for more in the music press and listen out to BBC Radio 3 (who will be recording the concert) in the lead up to the premiere.


Then, moving away from the local genius, we move overseas to Beethoven. Whilst Tim embarks on the homeward journey with the fifth out of eight concerts in his magnificent Beethoven Piano Sonata series, the Elias Quartet take the maiden voyage in a six-concert series of Beethoven String Quartets – well, you can never have too much Beethoven. We’re delighted to welcome them back to what we’ll always see as their home.

Working in partnership with the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet competition, we’re looking forward to welcoming their 2012 winners, the Arcadia String Quartet, to Sheffield. This will be part of their first ever UK tour and one of their short pieces will be MitR’s first introduction to the music of Adrian Pop, a composer from the Arcadia’s home country of Romania.

And that takes us to Christmas (well, there are only 158 shopping days left to go!) and The City Musick launch us head-first into the festivities with traditional Christmas songs and instrumental music from the 17th to 19th centuries.


And all that without even mentioning the incredible Music in the Community work that’s happening as part of the series; Stan and Mabel schools and family concerts, Music Box children’s workshops, Lads, Dads and Grandads vocal workshop and a string masterclass. But more about those anon.

A transforming experience!


We’re coming towards the conclusion of a new schools project, Transformations. Working in partnership with the Showroom Cinema here in Sheffield, it’s based on the concert of the same name that took place back in May at our Festival, a centrepiece of which was the commissioned film by Katie Goodwin that went alongside Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid. The new project similarly sought to combine film and music, challenging the children to come up with their own creative responses to the ideas of changing and reflecting.


Over four weeks, the project leaders (more of whom shortly) worked with sixty Year 3 pupils at Watercliffe Meadow Primary School, in north-west Sheffield, on producing new pieces of film, artwork, and music. We chose two of the movements, Phaeton and Narcissus, on which to base our activities. Amongst other things, we
▪ created colourful portraits that mirrored emotions, feelings, moods…
▪ composed and recorded music that reflected, raced, transformed…
▪ invented and filmed songs and actions that we knew would tell the stories visually, and
▪ (especially popular) used Scalextric to come up with appropriate sound effects!

Now begins the task of editing it all into a brand-new film! (I’m anticipating a few late nights coming up…) Excitingly, the finished work will be shown at the Showroom’s children’s film festival Showcomotion later this month, and we’ll be posting it online as well. Watch this space. And we hope to roll the project out to other schools as part of the touring programme that begins this autumn.


What a great collaboration! Polly and I were really pleased that so many people were involved: Polly and myself, Katie Goodwin and Adrian Wilson, Emma-Jayne Russell, teachers from Watercliffe Meadow Judi Cliff, Alexandra Holland and Claire Bradley – and of course nearly sixty sparky, inventive creative artists of the future!

by Fraser, Education & Outreach Assistant [ @frasermitr ]