Music A Year with the London Chamber Orchestra

LCO workshopWhen an international performer or group visit a school the impact on a student's musicality can be instantaneous and dramatic. However, what usually lasts in the immediate memory for a couple of weeks soon recedes and any initial inspiration can easily fade in the musical practice of a pupil caught up in the full and rich programme school life offers. What was different about this year’s project with the London Chamber Orchestra is that, rather than parachuting in and out, a relationship was built over the course of five separate visits to the school, with each occasion building on work carried out in the previous visit. Back in November the orchestra visited with eight musicians to spend the morning giving surprise flash-mobs during Latin Prayer at the senior school, at Uffculme School during their morning break and at Blundell's Prep School while they ate their lunch. They brought with them instruments and encouraged the pupils to try them out, and one of the lasting memories I will have is of a very wet day (so wet that roads and playgrounds were closed due to flooding), watching dozens of pupils with ears pressed close to double basses, whilst multiple flutes, violins, trumpets, clarinets and percussion instruments all rang out in a cacophony of delight that Schoenberg would have been proud of. Spring Concert posterIn the afternoon of that first day, all three schools came together to partake in chamber music masterclasses, rehearsing the Mozart clarinet quintet and flute quartet, as well as other string quartets, brass ensembles and jazz groups, culminating in an informal concert in the chapel.

The main body of the next three visits, in January, February and March, was concerned with developing newly composed material for the spring concert. Working initially with twelve Blundell's Music Junction mentors, the LCO worked with the pupils to encourage their creativity in composing ideas. The pupils also came up with lyrics which were subsequently learned by hundreds of student musicians from the LCO's main Music Junction hubs. Working on alternative notation, improvised elements and modern composition techniques, the students refined their work in the second visit before meeting up with pupils from Uffculme, Exeter Cathedral School and Blundell's Prep in early March to teach the visiting musicians the material and put the whole work together. Seeing pupils across all age-groups, from different schools and from different sectors working collaboratively together as equals has been extremely uplifting and has made the whole project one of the most rewarding experiences in musical education I have witnessed.

LCO concertLCO concert

In mid-March the orchestra visited the school and our students and those from the other schools sat alongside the professionals in a sell-out concert featuring a new commission by Paul Max Edlin, the work created by the students and a performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. The concert was conducted by the LCO’s principle conductor, Christopher Warren-Green, and from the moment he started rehearsals that afternoon the students were treated as colleagues: they were immersed for a day in a professional orchestra and were offered a real taste of life as a performing musician.

The project with the orchestra came to a conclusion in May when the twelve mentors from Blundell's travelled to London to perform with the LCO and students from various other schools from disparate counties in the Cadogan Hall as part of the larger LCO Music Junction project. The concert received a standing ovation, and was a suitably wonderful end to an amazing year of work. It has been an incredible journey for all of our musicians and one I hope will last beyond the immediacy of the moment and be remembered for the rest of their lives.