Take OFF!

Summer 2016 – Neil Valentine, BSO Associate

This year I have been engaged in Take Off. A project that aims to support the creation and development of ensembles in schools. The BSO knows that ensemble playing is one of music’s great joys. and that playing music with other people is where the action truly is.

You can do more together than you can alone. You can build cathedrals of sound and create brand new worlds or inhabit wonderfully rich and diverse landscapes.

As an orchestral musician for as long as I can remember, I know this truly and deeply and being part of Take Off has been a joy. To help bring young people together to start this journey is just great.

This term has been particularly rewarding for me. I have been supporting two brand new school orchestras, at Bishop of Winchester Academy and Longfleet C of E Primary. The age ranges are totally different, the instrumental standards are totally different, but they are both doing great things.

And this is not to do with much I have done. It is down to the hard work and focus of the young people, their desire to make music together, and mostly to the vision and hard work of the two music teachers I have been working with. Brittany Soriano, Head of Music at Bishop of Winchester and Kate Wright, Music coordinator and teacher at Longfleet.

In their own way they have made it work. At Longfleet the children meet weekly, and have been learning music within their instrumental grasp. The key here has been the choice of repertoire and the structure of the sessions. The repertoire is achievable so it is fun to play and the sessions are predictable in their format so the members of the orchestra can direct their efforts and focus with confidence and energy.

She has chosen some lovely short pieces that are just perfect for the group. They are 30-45 seconds long , which to the BSO players and readers may seem very short, but to a 7 year old who can just about play 3 notes on a clarinet it is plenty. This allows them to learn a new piece every week, which creates momentum and a real sense of achievement and self belief.

At Bishop of Winchester we had a rocky start after choosing perhaps the wrong music. But Ms Soriano has now found the RIGHT music. Hans Zimmer’s score from Man of Steel. It is rhythmic, powerful, emotional and the superman story of feeling separate from society and unsure how you fit in just sums up the experience we have all had as a teenager. This music doesn’t dumb it down. It revels in it, glories in it and is very powerful.

This is supported by the commitment shown to arrange the music so that each player has a part suitable to their standard. This is a massive amount of work, as anyone who knows the Sibelius software will tell you, but yesterdays rehearsal was brilliant. It was exciting and exhilarating to hear this piece fully formed and with real sense of shape and direction. The session overlapped with change in period at the school, and there were many students crowding round the door, peering in, wondering who were making these awesome sounds.

Next are the two performances, where members of the BSO join us to enhance the orchestras even more as well as perform their own music to the participants and the assembled audience.

If ensemble playing is where the action is for musicians, performance is the life blood. You need performance to truly realise why you make music. Performing is exhilarating and challenging, you make yourself vulnerable and open and that can be scary. But you do it together. Your aim is to get across the finish line together, all performers and audience alike. And you feel amazing.

This is what the 20 members at Bishop of Winchester and the 40 members of Longfleet School Orchestra will feel later this month, and the members of the BSO will feel it too.

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