Tag Archives: Scottish Ensemble

Music Changing Lives I: ‘Inspiring Change’

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the different ways music can be used in the community, and I’ve decided to write a series of posts about a few that have made the news in recent years and their social impact.

I’d like to start with a lesser known but hard hitting project, called ‘Inspiring Change’ which took place in 2010. Its rather bland name gives no hint of what the project was actually about – it was a pioneering collaboration between Motherwell College, a dozen arts organisations and the Scottish Prison Service to provide arts outreach to those inside Her Majesty’s prisons. The arts organisations involved were Scottish Opera, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the National Galleries of Scotland, the Scottish Ensemble, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, the Citizens Theatre and the Traverse Theatre, and funding was provided by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Arts Council. The project included rigorous evaluation so that the benefits that it brought could be recognised and applied to future projects of this sort.

Scottish Opera and the SCO collaborated on a project working in HMP Shotts, where the offenders were involved in creating an opera from scratch, including writing the libretto, music, designing costumes and sets, then staging a performance of their work. Reading violinist Rosenna East’s account of the project in the Herald, I’m struck by the enthusiasm and eagerness of the prisoners to participate in the project, especially to sing, when we are constantly told by the media that classical music, and especially opera, is for the elite and is definitely ‘not cool’. Rosenna writes, ‘Only one man says to me that he will get “slagged” if he has anything to do with the project’, and that this man eventually ended up in one of the music writing groups. How many of us would expect this reaction if an orchestra and opera company were to walk into a prison or young offenders institute? I find it surprising and wonderful that the stereotypes don’t fit.

The project at Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institute Polmont was divided into three separate projects: the Scottish Ensemble’s Music for Change, which focussed on learning tp play and record music, National Youth Choir of Scotland’s VoiceMale, which was a series of vocal workshops culminating in a performance, and an art project by the National Galleries of Scotland in which individuals constructed life size human figures. A research paper (which can be found here) summarised the outcomes of these projects, and contained the following reactions from some of the young offenders:

‘I’ve never really had a chance to do anything like that. Never really had a chance to put on a show for anybody’

‘At the end of the performance I actually got compliments. They said it was good and I should carry on when I get out. It was surprising and it was good to hear, you know what I mean?’

‘I was just more eager to do it. It was something you wanted to do… Other things you wouldn’t want to put the time and effort into. I actually tried. I tried and made an effort for it.’

‘They [the arts practitioners] told you what to do but they never pushed you or forced you. They helped you. They weren’t too bossy. And the way that they did it, it worked out good, you know what I mean? You learned from them.’

 ‘Music gives you extra skills…it can open your eyes and you say [to yourself] I didn’t know I could do that before I came here and it turns out I can and I’m quite good at it’.

Overall the report emphasises the improved engagement of the young men: the sense of meaning and purpose the projects gave them, and the improvements in confidence and self esteem that being involved with others focussed on a common goal brought about. As the report stated, ‘engagement in the arts projects seemed to challenge the passivity of prison life.’

More information about Inspiring Change can be found on the SCO Connect’s page about the project here


Breathing space…

Sorry for the absence of a blog post in recent weeks – this is pretty much the first opportunity I’ve had to sit down and write one! This last two weeks have been extremely busy one way or another, as I starting the tuesday before last (8th feb), I was touring with the Scottish Ensemble as part of their ‘Side by Side with RSAMD strings’ project (see photo above of a rehearsal in Caird Hall). The tour was great fun but exhausting, as we did 5 concerts in 7 days in Aberdeen, Inverness, Perth, Dundee and Edinburgh. We did have a weekend to break the run of concerts, so at least I got some rest in between (and saw Alex in Crail, which was lovely!) but the life of a touring musician is pretty hard as I found out. The 2 nights we stayed in hotels (in Aberdeen – the Carmelite hotel: ok but a bit noisy due to the bar opposite) and in Inverness (the Columba hotel- very nice!) were both very late, as for those of you who don’t know, musicians tend to drink a lot and banter late into the night…

My impressions of the playing with members of the Scottish ensemble were very positive- it was fantastic to play beside two very accomplished players – Fiona Winning , one of the Ensemble’s permanent members who job shares with Cathy Marwood, and Rose Redgrave, who plays in Warwick university’s quartet in residence, the Coull Quartet . Jonathan Morton, the ensemble’s artistic director, is a rare combination of artistically demanding and entirely likeable and easygoing at the same time, and often asked me how my neck/shoulder was throughout the tour (I had told him about the problem early on in the rehearsals). The five concerts I played with the Ensemble were all very special, but for me the Inverness and Edinburgh ones were where I performed at my best (sorry to Alex and Cate who were at the Dundee one!). Here are some reviews of the concerts:





Other things that have been happening:

• The Musiclab does Birtwistle concert on Monday 7th feb was a great success, or so I gathered from the audience – I still don’t really get or like the piece we played (Silbury air) which is supposed to be one of the hardest that Birtwistle wrote…! Here’s a photo of the score with the absurd metronome mark of 112 ½ !! The conductor, Jessica Cottis, managed extremely well though.

• I have started physio on my neck/shoulder to try and help the pain get better, The physio (who specialises in musicians) has told me it is because I put my head forward when I play, and thus put strain on my lower neck, irritating the nerves and causing pain in my shoulder/arms/left hand. He has given me some exercises to do, and I’m going back next week.

• I have entered the concerto competition, the preliminary round of which is on 7th march. I will be accompanied by Scott Mitchell, one of RSAMD’s accompanists, and will be playing the Walton Viola Concerto (only the 1st mvt for the first round, the rest if I get through on 11th march).

• I have been on my nursery placement twice – more of that in another post!