Ensemble brings music to pupils' ears

An orchestral project applies classical music to unlikely curriculum areas

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Live classical music is being introduced to young people who might more usually listen to hip-hop or heavy metal, in a scheme designed to broaden their horizons.

Musicians from Ensemble Cymru, a chamber orchestra, have been performing in schools around north Wales, inspiring some pupils to take up an instrument, while the more promising have even been asked to play with the group.

Peryn Clement-Evans, the orchestra's artistic director and clarinettist, said many of the youngsters he worked with had never heard classical music performed live before.

"It's still an alien thing to them, and we would like it to become normal," he said. "Much of the music is challenging the intellect and takes a bit of hard work."

But he said the scheme was not just about listening and playing music, but about everything to do with composing and performing it.

He added that the lottery-funded project was unlike anything that had been done previously: "There have been fleeting workshops arranged before in schools, but there's been no long-term growth or development."

What makes this scheme different is that it is designed to involve every teacher and to introduce music to every subject.

As part of history and geography, teachers are encouraged to tap into the classical music traditions of historical periods or other countries, such as China or Japan, to bring the time or place to life.

Some of the workshops use classical music to stimulate debate and encourage critical thinking.

"We ask youngsters to examine why they listen to their own music," Mr Clement-Evans said. "At first they say they listen because it's good, and we develop that so they realise that it's what they are being fed. We try to give them the confidence to analyse themselves."

Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi (formerly Holyhead High) in Anglesey runs critical thinking workshops for Year 7s.

Nia Wyn Roberts, its deputy head, is passionate about the approach: "One concert is like a pebble in the pond; the ripples are far reaching. The workshops get children to express their opinions in an articulate way, but music is something that looks at emotional health as well," she said.

On schools visits, the orchestra promotes Welsh music and traditions, including contemporary Welsh composers, such as Hilary Tann. For example, pupils at Uwchradd Caergybi have experienced folk tales from The Mabinogion through classical music.

Mr Clement-Evans said the scheme was a positive development at a time when music services in Wales were underfunded. He has ambitions to introduce it in other parts of Wales.

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