Artistic Director and Orlando Consort member Angus Smith, reflects on the Mantra concert in Sheffield

An Open Letter

Six years ago I started out on the process of devising a project for my group, the Orlando Consort, that was very different from anything that we had attempted before. This was not to be a standard presentation of a concert of medieval and renaissance music, even though it was from that glorious repertoire that the idea stemmed. It was more than that. This was to be the telling of a story of a remarkable musical encounter that took place some 500 years ago and relating it to the modern world.

Last week the project, ‘Mantra’, was presented at Sheffield Cathedral. In the concert we told (and sang) of how Portuguese missionaries went to India – specifically to Goa – and invited local musicians to make music with them in the newly-built churches. Accounts survive of the joyous sounds that were created by ‘the instruments of the land’ and the voices of all present. From that starting point we transported the music to the present, incorporating elements of Bhangra and Bollywood. For our Sheffield version we were joined by our regular partners, Kuljit Bhamra (tabla), Jonathan Mayer (sitar) and singer Shahid Khan, and by students from Fir Vale School, Tapton School, and an invited choir of local adult singers. It is no exaggeration to say even after having done more than 25 performances of this project all around the world, this was the most inspiring performance that I and my colleagues in the Consort have yet experienced.

Yes, it was an excellent and spirited rendition of the music by all involved, and it was wonderful to introduce people of all ages to our western and eastern musical traditions. But there were so many other moments within the Consort’s visit to Sheffield that, when combined, served to capture so perfectly all the elements of what we had aspired to achieve when we set out six years ago. They are too numerous to mention all of them here but I would like to share a few of them. The pupils of Fir Vale School being so tolerant of my attempt to speak Punjabi texts, the girl from Tapton School who stood up in the concert to dance on stage with Shahid, and the energy and exuberance of our adult volunteer choir – the usual image of formal and restrained British choirs seemed a million miles away at that moment!

But if there was a single episode that encapsulated ‘the whole’, it would be Shahid speaking to the pupils shortly before the concert, having been encouraged by Kuljit to tell them what the project means to him. Shahid is a Muslim who was brought up in Brentford, West London, and he has had a very formal and traditional classical training in Indian music. He spoke movingly of how he has come to value the opportunity to work with and learn from musicians from other traditions, and of how he has been able to observe at first-hand how musical respect carries over into all areas of life. Suffice to say that for these words and, of course, for his singing and dancing, Shahid is now something of a hero for these Fir Vale and Tapton students.

It has been wonderful to have had the support of our adult participants, Sheffield Cathedral, the schools (especially the staff) and, crucially, the parents in presenting this work. And I will also admit to feeling proud that I am part of two organisations, the Orlando Consort and Music in the Round, that share my views of the universality of music and which allow me present work that I feel is not only enjoyable for audiences but which is also hugely important for the message contained within. This is, therefore, my thank you letter to every single person who has made this possible.

Angus Smith

Ensemble 360’s Juliette Bausor on taking Stan & Mabel to Wigmore Hall!

I’m travelling down to London today in anticipation of four children’s performances of Stan and Mabel at the Wigmore Hall, with Ensemble 360 and Polly Ives.

It’s really ewigmorexciting to be bringing Stan and Mabel to the Wigmore, following successful performances in Sheffield, around South Yorkshire, and across the UK in the last 12 months. The Wigmore Hall is a particularly special place to play, not just because of its wonderful acoustic and beautiful appearance, but also because you really can sense the spirit of every amazing chamber musician that has ever played there, and indeed stand in awe surrounded by photos of some of the greatest musicians of all time backstage in the green room. The Education and Family Concerts that the ensemble have previously given at the Wigmore have been extremely well received, full of beaming, enthusiastic children and their parents, so I am very much looking forward to the next couple of days!

The children’s works that Paul Rissmann has composed for Polly and Ensemble 360 have all been absolutely fantastic and Stan and Mabel really is no exception. The story is particularly fitting with its musical theme, the main characters (a dog and a cat) travelling to a music competition at La Scala, Milan and creating an animal-playing orchestra from friends they meet on their journey there.

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Paul always manages to compose very catchy, easy to learn songs which grab both children’s and adults’ attention and imagination. His pieces are also great fun for the group to play: not only are they are extremely well written for all the individual instruments but they are often also quite intricate and tricky in places which keeps it interesting! Polly Ives is absolutely brilliant at presenting the concerts, with a natural, infectious enthusiasm which the children adore – and the group really enjoy getting involved, throwing ourselves into the song and actions!

I think these education projects are pretty unique, compared to similar events I have taken part in elsewhere. The project starts way before the performances, with Polly and members of the group going into schools to teach them the songs. By the time the children arrive at a schools’ concert performance it is fantastic to hear them all singing along and showing us the masks or puppets or videos they have been inspired to create in response. It’s wonderful to see children being introduced, involved and excited by classical music like this!!

Juliette is Ensemble 360’s flautist – you can find her website at www.juliettebausor.com 

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Ensemble 360 Summer Stories – Adrian Wilson

Adrian Wilson, oboist of Ensemble 360, has just been appointed principal oboe of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra – on which we all congratulate him! Here Adrian gives us an insight into his summer as he prepares to take up his new position

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Without doubt the highlight of my year so far is the birth of my gorgeous son Theo. He was born in the early hours on the day before my birthday and he is giving us the most amazing and precious times imaginable.

Musically it has been a very busy year with the Ensemble and with guesting in a variety of orchestras. I feel very lucky! Being offered the Principal oboe job in the Royal Scottish National Orchestra has to be a highlight! Earlier in the year I performed Schubert and Brahms with them, conducted by my old teacher and big inspiration Douglas Boyd. There’s also been more Schubert with Andrew Manze and the RLPO, a visit to China with the RPO, a TS Eliot-inspired project with Psappha (Manchester’s contemporary-music group), the first concert at CAST with the Ensemble, and of course Music in the Round’s very own May Festival.

And a couple of weeks ago we performed a couple of Paul Rissmann’s children’s pieces in a packed-out Crucible Theatre – a great day! For me it’s always a pleasure to perform to young children, especially with such well crafted and performed music! Children love a good a story, and when it is supported with up-close live music you can see from their faces what an exciting experience it makes. This feedback is immediate and unbridled so as performers we receive it honestly and directly.

Settling in Sheffield was a no-brainer: my wife was brought up here, and it’s a very friendly city with easy access to the beautiful Peak District. Geographically it is very well placed for getting to most of the other artistic hubs in this country. At the moment I’m in the middle of 4 weeks in the Buxton Festival with the Northern Chamber Orchestra, performing (amongst other things) operas by Gluck, Dvorak and Rossini.

After that, the new adventure begins: I’ll move with my family straight up to Glasgow to begin the Edinburgh Festival with the Royal Scottish National Symphony Orchestra – so no holiday for me this year! It is a very exciting opportunity to join a great orchestra and to continue playing all the great repertoire that it offers an oboe player! Glasgow is a very vibrant city with a great cultural scene that also gives easy access to glorious countryside – in fact, it is very similar to Sheffield in these respects! Fear not: I will definitely be back to Sheffield when I can to perform with Ensemble 360 and of course to see the in-laws!

Theo

Thanks also to Emily Moss for her help with this article

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

Guest post: Jack Hardwick

Jack, 17, is a student at Greenhead College and has spent the last week working in the Music in the Round office.

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As well as all the hard work, I also spent some time making a Crazy Creature.

I’d just like to start this off with a note of thanks. Thanks to everyone here at Music in the Round for this week. It’s been absolutely amazing. I’ve been welcomed so readily and I am very sad that it has to end so soon.

The main thing I’ve gained this week is insight; insight into the behind-the-scenes working of a music business. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve long been under the impression that working in music is all concerts, touring and practicing. I now see that this is not the case and for that I am eternally grateful.

Also concerning the scope of this business, I’ve seen the merits of teaching music. Until this week I had been completely set on performance, but now, not so much. Teaching now seems like an amazing alternative to 24/7 performance and it something I would very much like to participate more in going forward from now. Educating minds in the ins and outs of music appears incredibly hence rewarding I can’t wait to get involved in it. The life of a music teacher – a balance of teaching and performing – sounds like a great job to me.

So what have I experienced this week that makes this the case, I hear you wonder? The short answer to that is there is no short answer. Sorry about that. The long answer, however, is that it is a combination of things. Primarily among them is seeing the feedback from teachers and students who participated in various projects and programmes. Teaching seems like such an amazing experience for all involved, and the opportunity you are given to change someone’s life really is a privilege. In few professions can one have such a profound impact on the life of others, and combining this with music looks just fantastic.

So to reiterate what I have already said, for no purpose other than to say it again because it’s so completely true, I want to give a huge thank you to everyone at Music in the Round for such a wonderful week and for revolutionizing my view of the music business.

Jack Hardwick