GL: Hi Russ – I’m looking at our Urban Orchestra programme as a model for musical inclusion in partnership with music services. The performance I saw in Maidstone seemed quite traditional in construction but was still in the early days of the project. How did it progress?

R&L: When you say ‘traditional in construction’, can you elaborate? Were interested to get someone else’s view on how the project appears from the outside

GL: I was referring to what I understood to be the way the conductor/composer appeared to have taken elements of the children’s work to construct the piece for performance. Some of the rhythm elements felt a lot like ‘workshop pieces’ and from a couple of comments it appeared that more of the young people’s original musical ideas could have been included.

The make up of the orchestra seems to be very inclusive and open. I couldn’t tell if the devising/composition process was as inclusive or if the inclusion of a guest conductor/composer enhanced or diminished the young people’s musical input to the work. The battles we’ve had in the past have been with classical players/arrangers who wanted to ‘correct’ the young people’s work rather than explore the sometimes deliberate, quirkiness or complexity within it.

The Orchestra ONE model seems to depart from ours in the inclusion of a ‘named’ composer. Our model seeks to shape the young people’s music through a collaboration with the music educators rather than interpreting and developing their work.

These were my impressions but I’m not sure how accurate they are or if they reflect on only one incarnation of a programme that changed over time. That’s why I’m keen to read some evaluations in order to get a better/bigger picture to inform the development of our model and offer alternative approaches that may have strengths in other areas.

R&L: Our choice to include a Musical Director was borne of wanting to have someone with the skills to pull the whole project together across a wide range of needs and abilities. Pieces were developed not only in prior workshops with music leaders (and then sent to the MD so that he/she could get a sense of what was happening in the workshops and draw inspiration) but also throughout collaborative processes within the writing and rehearsals sessions leading up to the concert. We believe it was Project 2 that you saw where Dr Matt Wright led the group. Matt has a background in traditional music services (i.e.a trained Tuba player) but is also one of the UK’s leading turntablists and has his finger firmly on the button of technology, turntable improvisation and sound installations.

Equally, other MDs (Tim Steiner, James Redwood, Pete Wareham, Joe Browne, Musiko Musika) were all chosen for their wide range of experiences and knowledge of both traditional (read notation and instrumentation), world (i.e. non western and traditional music) and non-formal delivery such as free improvisation. ONE stands for Orchestra of New Experiences so by having a new MD each time, the group got exposed to different musical and working styles. We would categorically say that the inclusion of an MD was an enhancement to the programme.

Were intrigued by your term ‘Classical’ players and arrangers and were going to make the assumption that you mean someone who comes from a traditional graded and notated learning school. If this is the case (which we think it is) then were going to say that in our experience, different learning styles haven’t presented any detrimental effects to the learning of young people in an inclusive setting. We don’t deny that the age-old battle between ‘Classical’ and ‘Rock and Pop’ or even ‘Urban’ isn’t there and that some formal music sector teachers are guilty of unhelpfully upholding what they think is best practice but equally, community musicians are often terrible at sniffing at these teachers just because they can’t use an iPad, improvise a solo fluidly or find reading and writing notation helpful when in fact they themselves couldn’t spot a Bb on a stave if their life depended on it. It’s boring, out of date and is often six of one and half dozen of the other. To us, the two worlds belong equally and are as valid when applied in the right settings, however fear of each-other’s skill-set often prevents this which is why careful selection of tutors and MD’s is crucial. The idea of ONE originally was to be without genre and as controlled or abstract as the young people wanted it to be but you may be surprised to know that often, the young people attending the project wanted the songs to be constructed and to ‘sound’ musically ‘correct’ (whatever that means but we guess in saying that they’d like things to be in time or have some recognisable harmonic structure or even sound like a band they were inspired by) and would look to the music leaders and MD for help in this. We tried to balance the two elements of constructive learning, including technique, rhythm, harmony and melody across all instruments and also provided opportunities for the band to go ‘off piste’ with experimental sections. Equally, as you point out, if an idea is deliberately quirky or complex, it may have to be simplified to allow other less able players to take part in order that it becomes an inclusive element of the whole gig. Lastly to that, some ideas are just rubbish and need to be ignored just like every good producer in all styles from Hip Hop, Soul, Jazz, Swing, Be-Bop, Grunge, Garage, Rock, Metal, DnB, Grime etc will do in order to bring the best ideas to market. 

When we run something truly inclusive, we have to factor in that some young people will have learnt notation, and even (heaven forbid) want to get better at notation and want to play ‘classically’ inspired repertoire (especially those pesky Muse fans). Sure, some may be fired up at being able to put their violin through a wah-wah or loop it, but others won’t and we have to have music leaders and MD’s that can do both if we’re going to support those young people. If someone improvises a cool riff on Thumbjam and the string section want to pick it up and develop it but need it written out first, if we don’t have music leaders or an MD that can do that then it is the adults who are providing a barrier to progression, not the young people. Equally, if none of our music leaders can improvise then we have a problem.

All in all, the over-use of the term ‘inclusive’ in Music Education is getting to be a bit tiring. Most projects that label themselves as inclusive simply are not and that issue, in our experience stems from the adults, not the young people. It’s really hard to please all of the people all of the time but by saying something is inclusive and then making a distinction between ‘classical’ and ‘Urban’ is just as bad as the ‘classical’ world looking down on non-formal styles. This is 2014, not 1973. 

Lastly, it’s actually really hard to find music leaders that have both sets of skills and are equally empathetic to the challenges of young people from different abilities and backgrounds. This is true also of MD’s and composers who can allow creative freedom within a set time frame but also deliver something musically valid and rewarding for all. Since Laura and I left Orchestra ONE, Kent Music have re-used two MD’s which means that as good as they are, some returning young people are not getting the full ‘NEW’ experience. We think that it is important for organisations to be able to look outside of their existing knowledge and take risks with new leaders. After all, we are expecting all of our young people to take risks so the supporting organisations should embrace that ethos too.

Were going to be blogging about this very subject soon on the Youth Music website on behalf of Rhythmix so will send you a link. Were not the authority on this at all so please challenge us if you feel its appropriate as it’s all good learning. Like they say, your band’s only as good as your drummer!

Best Wishes

GL: Much food for thought!

Interestingly your description of the process is very similar to our own so it will be interesting to tease out more of the similarities and differences in an attempt to define the truly inclusive elements of the processes. For me the inclusivity refers to the young people rather than the music.

What were the typical ages of the YP involved in ONE. Ours tends to be in the 15-20 range. ONE seemed to feature a younger core group..? I’d be interested to explore how the approaches alter with the age groups and how the timing of the input of the MD affects the shape and perceived ownership of the work.

I’ll be posting in the Musical Inclusion area on YM Network soon as I’m interested in the debate on this and whether this kind of work provides an inclusive model that Music Hubs could/should adopt as part of their core offer.

When we get our resource/site up and running I’d like to feature some quotes from you as it seems that Orchestra ONE is the main comparison to our own programme. Maybe a we should arrange a specific practice sharing meet-up as I think there is something important in this work that needs airing/sharing so that those planning similar work can avoid the pitfalls and make appropriate choices about the process that will suit a given group of YP

R&L: Sounds good. We think a wider debate on this is long overdue. We do think that this is a model that should be adopted as a core offer but not to the detriment of other styles. For instance we do see a place for County Orchestras (where the repertoire and technical excellence is paramount within a certain genre) alongside a place for wild experimentation with technology, regardless of any previous learning. There’s nothing wrong with either model as long as it’s balanced with something else but the issue seems to be that the siloed funding streams simply result in one being pitched against the other. Funders want to represent CYPCC and an inclusive model but they often wrongly assume, as does the wider sector, that CYPCC only come from poor backgrounds and only want to be engaged through urban or rock styles and were afraid that this is both wildly inaccurate and naive. Many, many people from deprived backgrounds have become notable ‘classical’ players and composers and vice versa. Interestingly, John Frusciante (guitarist with Red Hot Chilli Peppers) came from a very affluent family and had a very good upbringing but money and a stable family home didn’t stop his very public descent into madness and back, aged 21, including setting himself of fire whilst freebasing. Case in point perhaps? The point is that we cant make assumptions about any young person based on their background/homelife/musical tastes/preference to notation or improvisation etc. We must get to know the young people as individuals and meet their specific needs, both musically and pastorally.

When done correctly, we both believe that the inclusion should relate in equal measures to the music and the young person. We see that music (historically, culturally and socially) is intrinsically linked to the development of the human so if you get the music right, you’ll also get the inclusion right and vice versa. It’s rarely the case but it’s a worthy vision.

Russ and Laura

PS. Yes, the group in ONE was younger, up to about 16 with the occasional young person older than that but I don’t think it makes much difference, only in the approach from the adults to not patronise the young people regardless of age. We’ve seen 12 year olds play better drums than some adults and behave far more maturely than so called professional touring musicians who seem to relish getting drunk and losing their passports on a regular basis