True Professionals

22 May

I had an absolutely lovely and totally positive musical experience this Friday which I thought I would share here.

I am sad to say that over my years of working as a music educator and performer I have learnt to limit my expectations of musicians.  I’ve come across lots of ‘Job’s Worths’ in both of my areas of musical work, and I’m often depressed by the seemingly narrow mindedness that can seep into some musicians as they pursue one particular area of musical performance to the disdain of other styles and genres.

Over the past few months I have been putting together a project which is aimed at setting up an ‘inclusive orchestra’.  This hopes to be a musical ensemble that could be open to young musicians of all styles, abilities, and needs.  The project has been sponsored by Surrey Music Hub with support of the BBC.   I have put a lot of thought into how this project could work, the music we will produce and how we can make this accessible to a huge spectrum of young people.


The music the ensemble will be performing is going to be based on a selection from The BBC Ten Pieces,  classical musical performances that the BBC have been highlighting over the past couple of years (in fact its 20 pieces now!).  So the musical inspiration for the day will be classical… but the mode of the performance will be anything but… I’m looking at a workshop model where the young performers will take their inspiration from aspects of the pieces given, but then use these ideas to produce their own music through group composition and improvisation.  Its all very exciting but feels very nerve racking to prepare for as the end results are totally un-predetermined!  All I can do is set up starting points for the musicians and help steer things in what I hope will be a positive direction.

I’m used to this manner of working with my jazz and free improv background, but the team of musicians I will be working with on the day are going to be members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus….  Classical Players at the top of their game, but classical players nonetheless!

So it was with some trepidation that I headed up to Maida Vale studios to meet my team of musical tutors for the very first time.  I had done some preparation for this, but in essence all I had to show were some vague motifs and chord sequences from a short list of music from the Ten Pieces programme.  Things have to be vague because I don’t want to pre-determine what the musicians will end up with!

I have worked with professional performers in the past of educational projects and my experiences have always been slightly bittersweet.  Yes these phenomenal musicians can be truly inspiring, but putting this inspiration into a package that is accessible to a range of children is often tricky.  Good musical performers have often turned out to be less good educators and these events often cause me huge heartache and headache as I work to turn inspirational playing into a real learning experience for the young musicians involved.

The meeting with my musician tutors on Friday was different… I don’t think I have ever had a musical rehearsal with such a ‘can do’ attitude!  I laid out my plans for the day, which I thought might receive some hesitancy but instead there was just a continuous flow of ideas on how we could practically put everything into place.  These were musicians who were able to perform amazingly, but also were totally open minded as to what their performance could or should be.  But coupled with this positive attitude was facility to make things work.  They performed transposing at sight from full scores, playing and singing lines from other instruments, improvising and helping arrange a performance that would link our material all together and provide a starting point to inspire and challenge the young musicians for the day.   With just four musicians, some scores and oodles of positivity we had created arrangements of Shostakovich Symphonies, Bizet Opera, and a beautiful Cello version of Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending.

This is what I would describe as true professionalism.  The ability for a musician to understand the brief, even though it might be outside their comfort zone, and then use all their musical skills and abilities to create a performance to the highest standard.

Maybe it is my mis-informed view of classical musicians that is at fault, expecting to see performers who needed sheet music and exact instructions in order to perform, and with an equally narrow minded attitude as to what would be a successful performance.  I will certainly be more open-minded in the future about these things.  But it iscertainly looking good for this project now!

If you want to know more about The Infinity Orchestra I am sure I will be blogging about it again very soon.  The workshop day is already fully booked, and I’m hoping to create something truly inspirational with our young musicians and the fantastic team of performers from the BBC.

Infinity Orchestra:  June 12th, Tillingbourne School, Surrey.   More info here:


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Posted by on May 22, 2016 in Education


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