Play it again off stage

Philippa Davidson

Philippa Davidson listens to an orchestra demonstrating its educational work

Few orchestral musicians these days expect to perform solely on the concert platform. Players who take part in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's and the Sinfonietta's extensive education and community programme are perhaps more accustomed than most to finding themselves in all manner of venues from village halls to quarry pits. Recently London audiences at the Barbican had the chance to sample all aspects of the orchestras' work in a showcase of concerts and educational events entitled Unveiled.

"The idea was to show the range of work of a modern orchestra and highlight the changing role of the orchestral musician," said education administrator Stewart Collins. "Musicians can't merely be players any longer, they have to have other skills."

Although some Bournemouth projects are concert related, those who are involved in education are expected to work creatively, not just to play.

"We were keen to show successful projects that had already been tried and tested, because we knew we would get high quality performances that would be satisfying for an audience as well as educational," explained education and community manager Andrew Burn. Events ranged from jam sessions and junk band performances to multi-arts projects and a concert given by Bournemouth's Rusty Musicians and its London counterpart, the East London Late Starters Orchestra.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Sinfonietta work in 11 counties from Buckinghamshire to Cornwall. Out of 63 local authorities, they receive funding from around 48. Funding for education is shared between regional arts boards, commercial sponsors and local authorities. "Sponsors find education work very attractive and authorities don't mind sharing the funding because they know the money will be ploughed back into the community," said Collins.

One of the highlights of the weekend was an excerpt from a Cornish language project. Year 10 GCSE pupils from Mullion School in The Lizard created music and wrote poetry during a week's residency with Sinfonietta bass player Andy Baker.

The starting point was a local folk tale and throughout the project pupils immersed themselves in the complexities of Cornish, assisted by poet Loveday Jenkins.

First they were asked what Cornish words they knew, explained head of music Andrew Howes. "We all came up with things like pasty and place names." Pupils admitted they'd found the language difficult but said "It's been great fun to work with players. They really listened to our opinions."

Andy Baker and other players receive training in improvisation from TAPS (Traditional Arts Projects), a group performing in a range of styles on instruments from all over the world. "Improvisation is important for classical musicians. It really makes you listen and appreciate the music you are playing."

Andy Baker is no stranger to improvisation having been a rock musician before he joined the Sinfonietta. He enjoys playing electric bass with TAPS. "Audiences enjoy being able to touch and feel an instrument. An electric bass is much more accessible than a conventional instrument."

Bringing out the latent talents of amateur players - pupils, students or adults - is the responsibility of community musician Seona Pritchard. She lead a group of students from North Devon College in a new piece specially composed for the weekend. This collaboration was the result of a successful project (also involving schools in Barnstaple and Bideford) in which students created sound maps around the story of Tarka the Otter.

"I prefer longer residencies because they are better for integration. Sometimes younger pupils are uncomfortable at first but they all want to perform. It's all about the band ethic and everyone contributing at their own level." She particularly enjoys working with TAPS. "Lots of musicians think their job is just to play. I'm more used to having to adapt than many orchestral musicians."

She is interested in what will happen in the next few years as funding becomes tighter. Andrew Burn says education is central to orchestra policy and the commitment - particularly to cross-arts work - will go on.

Bournemouth is also keen to develop links with music colleges. "You will never get all the players doing education work, however. People have to feel comfortable but I am still convinced that there are some lights that are hiding themselves."

For more about Bournemouth Education ring 0l202 670611.

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