Wake up chord for music lovers

Rowena Smith

The RSNO is expanding its education work to spread music appreciation and tempting young people with free concert tickets, writes Rowena Smith.

The new season of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is attracting a great deal of interest, most particularly because the developments and changes being made are in the interests of not only increasing audience numbers, but also helping that audience connect with the music.

The first programme is the first for which the new chief executive, Simon Woods, and music director, Stephane Den ve, are fully responsible.

In the quest to develop a younger audience base, children under the age of 16 will now be entitled to free tickets to most of the RSNO's concerts if they are accompanied by a paying adult, while under 26s can sign up for a card that entitles them to get tickets for just pound;5.

The orchestra is staging a series of concerts in Glasgow that are intended to provide an approachable introduction to great works in its repertoire, ranging from Beethoven's Eroica Symphony to Petrushka by Stravinsky.

The format of Naked Classics, as the series is called, is simple. In the first half of the concert, animateur Paul Rissmann will explore the work using musical demonstrations, film clips and discussions with orchestra members and the conductor, then, after an interval, the work will be performed in full.

It is hoped that these concerts will attract a new audience as well as encouraging existing concert-goers to learn more about the music they are going to hear. The RSNO will be working with Glasgow City Council and community learning facilities all over the city to target adults who don't usually access cultural facilities.

"The aim is to introduce people who don't have a background in classical music to the piece, to give them some historical information, stories and anecdotes to make it more approachable, so they have an insight into the music when they hear it," says Ellen Thomson, the RSNO's director of education and audience engagement.

These audience engagement policies are, in reality, just a continuation of the RSNO's well-established education work. The projects are generally unseen by the RSNO audience, but nevertheless are an integral part of the orchestra's work.

"A lot of companies separate out what their education department does from the rest of the organisation, but I think that's a real pity," says Ms Thomson. "You need integration if you want the follow-through from introducing people to classical music, be they 6 or 60, to have them eventually coming to concerts of their own accord."

Outside its main season, the orchestra puts on special concerts for children of all ages, ranging from Monster Music events for nurseries schools - short, informal programmes where the children sit on the floor, close to the orchestra - to more specialised concerts for senior school pupils, which are designed to support the music curriculum. Using an animateur to explore the music, this is intended to be learning in a fun and engaging way.

Then there is the forthcoming RSNO schools Eco-Prom, a concert connected to the Scottish Power summer prom series, which begins with a training session in which teachers are given an education pack and learn the specially commissioned song that all the children perform at the concert.

In addition to these large-scale endeavours, the RSNO is also involved in education on a smaller scale, with ensembles of orchestral players and individuals going in to schools to work with children on specific projects.

This month, for a week, a quartet of players from the orchestra is working with S1 to S3 pupils at two schools in Aberdeen, the Total French School and Torry Academy, looking into impressionistic aspects of music, centred on the string quartets by Ravel and Debussy. During the week, the children will also create their own compositions, which will be performed in a special concert at the end of the project.

In preparation, the pupils went to hear part of the orchestra's rehearsal of Debussy's impressionistic masterpiece La Mer in Aberdeen at the beginning of the month and talked with the orchestra's music director.

The RSNO's education work enables around 32,000 people annually to have access to live music, though a mixture of small- and large-scale projects, from the longstanding relationship with the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, involving small groups of players, to the annual outreach week, in which the entire orchestra decamps to a particular Scottish region and undertakes a wide range of activities. The measures announced for the new season are a more visible extension of that strategy.

"We've got broad aims for the education department: to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of music," says Ms Thomson. "There are lots of ways we can do that, but the large-scale events involving the full orchestra are particularly important."


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Rowena Smith

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