Friday, February 27, 2009, from 10:45 am to 11:15 am
With Nancy Evans — Education Manager, BCMG (UK)
(The following is the complete talk, provided by Nancy Evans)
I would like to start by thanking you for inviting me here today and to say how delighted I am to be able to share with you the learning and participation programme of BCMG, that is, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. I will be sharing:
How it evolved
The actual programme
Its relationship to other music education providers
Before I do this I’d like to tell you a little bit more about BCMG. BCMG was formed 21 years ago by Simon Rattle and members of the CBSO to perform 20th and 21st Century music for smaller scale forces. It was the first such group to be formed from within an orchestra in the UK. Though we still share a building and many of the same musicians we have been, for a long time, an entirely separate organisation. However, the relationship to the orchestra is an important one — the sense of ensemble and freshness of the musicians approach flows directly from the fact that core members of the group play together in the CBSO. The benefits flow both ways — with the musicians taking their BCMG experience back into the orchestra. The group was born into a unique culture in Birmingham created by Simon Rattle that had fostered an audience with an appetite for adventurous new music.
The group presents a concert series at our home the CBSO Centre. We tour nationally, having particular relationships with the Barbican Centre in London, the BBC proms and the Aldeburgh festival, and internationally. In 2008, the group performed two concerts at Carnegie Hall and in 2002 was the first contemporary western music ensemble to tour India under the auspices of the British Council. As well as having Simon Rattle as our founding patron BCMG has artistic relationships with Thomas Ades, who was music director for a while, and our three current AIA — composer John Woolrich, Conductor Oliver Knussen and composer, conductor and creative director Peter Wiegold.
At the heart of BCMG’s mission are core values of excellence, engagement, quality relationships, supporting artists and innovation. These affect every part of the groups work.
I was appointed in 2000 as BCMG’s first education manager prior to which the group had run one or two education projects a year based on repertoire and, had a relationship, as ensemble in association, with the University of Birmingham. The programme is managed by myself on three days a week assisted by our education trainee which is an annual one year appointment. As well as managing the programme I am responsible for the learning and participation programme’s strategy and for devising projects in collaboration with artists and educators.
Many things have informed our learning and participation strategy. I have always felt passionately that our learning programme must clearly reflect the ethos and identity of the group and that it should be fully integrated with the other activity of the organisation. This has never meant to me that all projects need to be repertoire based. Instead it integrates in the sense that everything we do supports people’s engagement and involvement with contemporary music and by the fact that the fundraising, press and marketing resources of the group being as much at the disposal learning and participation programme as much as the performance programme. Integration also means using the resources of the group in the best possible way, that is, our expert musicians and our links with composers. Our creative music making projects are led by composers, not necessarily those whose music we perform but those with excellent ME experience (and of course many composers are teachers too) and by animateurs who have a particular interest in new music.
The musicians of the group obviously play a very important role in the programme. Despite a large number of the musicians in the group being drawn from the CBSO, who have there own extensive learning and participation programme, most had not been part of that, choosing instead to do BCMG as an extra to their contracted orchestral work. Our musicians lead very busy lives and instead of training them to be workshop leaders we have had an ongoing professional development programme of creative musicianship known as Creative Exchange led by composer/creative director Peter Wiegold. This programme challenges traditional notions of the separation of the role of composer, conductor and performer. It builds on the musicians existing musical virtuosity and has made them more musically flexible — able to respond to the different contexts they find themselves in. The programme has also become a stream of activity in itself leading to public performances. At key points this journey was shared with our audience allowing them to see/hear the creative process evolve in front of them. The latest manifestation of the programme, funding pending, will see BCMG musicians creatively devising music alongside Chinese and Arab musicians — seeking out ways at making authentic connections with other art musics without becoming fusion. There is no obligation upon BCMG musicians to take part in our learning and participation programme though nearly all will come into contact with it through concerts for young people or through playing student compositions.
What has also been important to consider is how BCMG, despite being a small organisation can have impact, and it was clear that this was not to be achieved by doing lots of different projects with lots of different people. We have something unique to offer and it was important that what we offered complemented or offered alternatives to other music education provision in the city. Developing partnerships has been very important in this. The programme is funded partly by public funding with the rest coming from trust and foundations.
Initially this talk was given the name ‘Creative Music Audience Development’. The primary mission of BCMG’s learning and participation programme is not audience development in the conventional sense. What BCMG’s learning and participation programme does is offer people, particularly young people, is a variety of opportunities to engage: with BCMG; with the music we play; and, with contemporary classical music in general, not just through being an audience. All the people who engage with BCMG as participants or as audience members are important to us. In the early years of orchestral education programmes in the UK, for many, audience development was a primary aim, aware of dwindling audiences for classical music. That is not a view that is held generally held now or at least the idea of project being attached to a programme immediately to fill the concert hall is not there.
Pierre Boulez once remarked that the orchestra was ‘an ensemble of possibilities’. I like that. A big difference for BCMG (and other contemporary music ensembles) compared to a symphony orchestra is as well as the ‘community of musicians’, as Ernest Fleishmann, former managing director of the LA Philharmonic put it, we have networks of composers, many of whom are willing to share in different ways their creative processes (whether through direct involvement in projects or not) and a steady stream of new works reminding ourselves of art as adventure, an ongoing discovery, and a living art form. These are unique resources to learning programmes, to schools and to influencing music education in general.
At BCMG we have projects which are more clearly audience development projects — our Sound Investment scheme, where individuals purchase sound units (each costing £150) towards the cost of commissioning a new piece is as much a audience development initiative as it a fundraising one — for a sound unit the investors get advance news about the commission, are invited to rehearsals and have their names in the score. There are about 295 active investors at the moment and many have come back time and time again as well as getting their friends involved. Another example of audience development projects are our rural tours and urban tours where we tour smaller programmes to community venues in rural and non-city-centre locations. These are free and informal and often have a composer or two present — we have even had a commission written on one of these tours! Our new series of Insight events which include interviews with composers and conductors as well a creative music-making workshops also allow our adult audience to gain a deeper understanding of the music we play.
What we all want at BCMG is for workshop participants to become audience members and audience members to become workshop participants and all those experiences to be deeply engaging ones. For a time in the UK one felt there was a culture that held that to be an audience member was somehow a passive experience. Of course both being an audience member and a workshop participant can be equally engaging or not. There is no hierarchy of experience they are just different and we strive to bring the same care and thought to all. Through all it is the quality of the musicianship and engagement that matters.
Audience development encompasses everyone who comes into contact with BCMG’s work. It is the responsibility of everyone at BCMG.
Aims of the Learning and Participation Programme:
- To be a contemporary music learning resource
- To create and support opportunities for active involvement in contemporary music
- To make the understanding and connection with the music BCMG performs a deep and rich one
- To develop and nurture reflective practice
This translates into 6 strands of activity:
- Young people as composers
- Young people as performers
- Young people as active listeners
- Developing practice
- Commissioning new music for young people as performers and an audience
- Wider community participation
I’d like now to illustrate how these strands are manifest in projects. Many projects cross over the different strands and respond to one or more of the aims. All the time we are striving to make connections between different projects and sign post young people from one to another.
So…the projects we run…… For some years I have been developing our out of school hours programme. This started with a project called Music Maze. Music Maze is a day-long creative music making workshop for 30 young people age 8 — 11 years. The workshops happen about once a month and take as their stimulus repertoire from upcoming BCMG concerts. The project is led by myself and composer Liz Johnson. It is the only project at BCMG that I actively lead. We are not trying to get the young people to recreate the works from the concert but trying to encourage them to think like composers. All music created in the performance is performed to family and friends at the end of the day. Young people who take part in the workshop are offered a free ticket and concessionary one for an accompanying adult to the BCMG concert. At the concert they have front row seats, a specially designed programme and a juice and biscuits reception at the interval.
After some years of this project we realised that we had to do something for those young people who became too old for the project and now run in parallel the Zigzag Ensemble for 12-13 year olds. This project, unlike Music Maze, requires the young people to play an instrument (of any kind) and read a little notation. The focus here is playing as an ensemble and devising music together often through improvisation. When the young people become too old for this we have a third project called Feel the Buzz which again focuses on composition and improvisation. These two projects are part funded by Birmingham Music Service (the organisation responsible for instrumental lessons across the city and a variety of youth ensembles) because they do not provide this kind of creative/improvisation opportunity elsewhere.
Our Music Maze free tickets approach had some success in encouraging young people try our performances as well as coming to workshops but we were aware that many barriers still prevented young people from accessing our concerts — particularly as they happen in the evenings. This led us to developing our Family Concerts now in their third year. Though there are some very good family concerts the format can often be tired with music put together for thematic rather than artistic reasons and a celebrity presenter instead of someone who can really communicate about the music to the young audience. We wanted to present the music we cared passionately about in a more family-friendly way. We were clear from the start that we would make no concessions on the music we chose — the first concert included music by Xenakis, Frank Zappa, Andreissen, Tansy Davies and a new work by John Woolrich and the last, Luciano Berio, Oliver Knussen and a new commission from Errollyn Wallen. All the concerts have included at least one world premieres. What we have done is bring in elements of theatre, animation, CGI and film to illuminate the experience and thought carefully about the whole experience from the moment the children enter the centre. A whole new audience for BCMG has emerged, but many of our existing audience come too…..! Each concert has been unique and we feel we on are own journey to discover what works well. As well as great feedback from the young people we were very lucky in getting national broadsheets to review the concerts with the Guardian giving it 5 stars. Next year we will also present the concerts at the Barbican in London. There are very few models to look at in terms of contemporary music concerts for young people and I look forward to share ideas with you over the next two days.
As well as presenting the concerts to a family audience they are also repeated for schools. The schools audience also receive a day-long in school creative music workshops exploring music from the concert. For most of these young people it will be the first time they have ever been to a concert,
This leads me onto talking about other school-based projects. One of the most simple, and someone said to me old fashioned of these is Sequenza that takes its name from the Berio Sequenzas for solo instruments. Despite being simple I think it is very effective. A BCMG musician and composer give a series of 5 or 6 workshops. The young people (age 15 -18) write solo works for the BCMG player. These are notated — some in traditional notation others as graphic scores. The resultant compositions are then recorded and made into a CD. Working with professional musicians, who can play anything you ask of them, allows the young people to sculpt the sounds they are looking for in real time with the musician giving continuous feedback and demonstrating the full palette of sounds and possibilities available. The young people are encouraged to articulate/communicate their ideas precisely verbally or on paper. The result is the YP write with sophistication and complexity that would never be possible just for other classmates and make massive progress in a short space of time. There have been some exceptional compositions created.
You may look at our UK music curriculum and think how lucky we are that composition has such a prominent place but teachers often feel very unconfident about teaching it and it is often reduced to a painting by numbers exercise with one week the young poeple writing a blues and the next a raga. A desire to have curriculum that embraces many music’s can mean that the creative element/process of composition is lost. Therefore our projects have an important part to play in supporting teachers.
The pedagogy of composition is an area we have been exploring for some years. A number of years ago we brought together a thinktank of composers, teachers and educators (including the schools music advisor for the city who we continue to work with). The group spent four stays exploring questions of pedagogy through dialogue and practical activity. This resulted in a new resource which has been used in teacher training across the UK and is downloadable from our website. What we learnt from this process and the subsequent feedback from teachers informed and continues to inform our work in schools.
Having given the world premieres of over 100 pieces commissioning is at the heart of BCMG. This has been extended to commission music for young musicians to perform which of course is not a new idea — Bartok, Berio and Britten all wrote for young and non-professional musicians with composers such as Peter Maxwell Davies continuing this. Through our partnership with Birmingham Music Service we commissioned two pieces for chamber orchestra plus a concertante group of BCMG musicians. One of which you heard at the start was Cutting a Caper by John Woolrich and the second was Manivelles by Tansy Davies. In a more unusual project exploring the connections between the science of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and music, we commissioned three string quartets for intermediate to advanced string players (inspired by the science). We also ran a project for a few years called Top Score in which composers were invited to collaboratively creative new pieces for primary school classes.
One of the reasons for doing this is that there is so little music of this kind being written for young people and therefore they are a very unfamiliar with its sound worlds may be only encountering tem when they go to music college. However, such music does exist and we have had presented two concerts in which young and non-professional musicians played alongside BCMG musicians. Many musicians who took part were drawn for previous projects and partnerships, in particular many from the Birmingham Music Service. In the second concert entitled Mouth Feet Sound, over 100 saxophonists (as you can see from the picture (taken during rehearsal)) performed La Bocca, I Piedi, Il Suono by Salvatore Scarino, 4 wind bands (the Birmingham Schools Wind Orchestra, Birmingham Symphonic Winds (a amateur ensemble), the Birmingham Conservatoire Wind Orchestra and a young professional group Telford New Symphony Orchestra Winds and performed Luciano Berio’s Accordo. In this piece the bands at placed on bandstands at compass points with the audience walking around. The piece mixes written music with excerpts from operatic repertoire (as Italian street bands used to play) where only the key is specified!
I see our contribution in the patchwork of music education provision in Birmingham (with a hope our influence also extends further) as:
- Supporting and promoting creativity within the music curriculum
- Enabling young people write way beyond what could normally be achieved
- Offering young people opportunities to engage with professionals who they would otherwise not come into contact with thus raising aspirations and opening up other life possibilities
- Developing practice through bringing together composers and educators
- Offering alternative music-making opportunities not found elsewhere, in particular, creative music-making ensembles
Of course there are ongoing challenges some of which I have already touched upon
- Lack of confidence in teaching composition element of curriculum
- A curriculum where composing can be reduced to painting by numbers
- A crowded curriculum where music is not given priority despite masses of evidence on the positive effect of music
- Enough composers and musicians who take this work as seriously a their performing
- Perceptions of new music
- Funders need for constant innovation which mitigates against refining models and taking models into the core of our offer
- Developing a reflective culture within a culture which is used to turning up to the gig and then going away again
- Balancing responding to needs and reaching more young people (there are 67 secondary schools and 327 primary schools in Birmingham) with depth and impact.
The things I’m thinking about at the moment are:
- Finding new ways for young people’s voices to be heard in our planning
- How I can raise the profile of BCMG’s programme, share project models and thus be able to influence and challenge more
- Explore the possibilities digital has to offer
- Evaluate/research more thoroughly our project models through collaborations with researchers and higher education institutions
When I started at BCMG integrating the Learning and Participation Programme was the big thing but as I look back at the work I have realised that the role of the Learning and Participation Programme has to been to also expand what BCMG does, what it stands for and how it engages with people as well as significantly influencing what was previously the core of BCMG’s activity.
The mission of the group has widened as a result of our developing Learning and Participation Programme instead of being becoming an appendage to our performance programme.
Thank you very much for listening — I’m very happy to take questions now or please come and find me during the conference breaks.
Feb 2009 Montreal