Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Exploring our SEN operas

Wed May 15 2019

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OAE Education reaches out much further than the concert hall.

With the aim to engage and inspire those who might not have had the access to classical music before, our projects create unique and exciting ways to get people involved in music making. I went to see the children of Cricket Green and Greenmead School taking part in Hazel Gould’s adaptation of and James Redwood’s compositional additions to Purcell’s masque The Fairy Queen. Both schools have been part of ‘Our Band’, a large scale Special Educational Needs Project generously supported by Youth Music. In five settings across the country, we have created student bands to perform in our opera. I had a chat with Kirsty Hopkins (our soprano in this project) about working in a SEN environment and why it is so important.



Kirsty summed up her role in this project as so:

‘I am a singer – telling a story – through a character who is always in contact with the audience.’

More than simply performing the music, Kirsty explained to me how her role is all about validation and feedback from the children, and how this helps the facilitation of the entire production. Working with children can often produce unpredictable and unexpected digressions from the script, and this means that each performance can be entirely different. Being able to adapt to and incorporate these digressions into the performance is so important. If the children are giving positive or negative feedback, that can encourage certain elements of the production to come out more than others.

On working as part of a SEN project, Kirsty said:

‘It has been really easy, […] the children are so giving.’

Of course, Kirsty and I discussed, there is an extra level of awareness that comes with working with children with additional learning needs. Not all of the children, for instance, were comfortable with direct eye-contact, and others thrived off physical interaction with the performers. Kirsty was particularly touched by how some of the children would run up on the stage just to hug her, or show how amazed they were by her performance. It’s a case of working out who is at ease with what, accommodating for this and then working out how to engage with everyone involved. At certain points, the children would be very excited by the action and James’ fast-paced jazzy music, which was indeed intended to encourage the children to be active. In order to regain their attention, this activity would be remedied with the snippets of Purcell’s original composition which would encourage the children back to their seats and be ready to concentrate for the next scene. The constant changes in the mood and tempo of the music meant that the children were kept interested in the entire performance, which lasted just over an hour.


‘They’re as much a part of the show as we are.’

Kirsty’s statement encapsulates the feeling of the project. For the entire performance, the children are treated as both members of the orchestra and active members of the cast. James Redwood, who acts as the Animateur, instructs the children in a similar way to how he conducts the orchestra. They are treated professionally, but in an undeniably fun way. It is not simply a case of the children making noise for the sake of it with their instruments; they are taught to play rhythmically and melodically, enhancing the music of the orchestra and, at times, leading our players by conducting them!

It wasn’t difficult to see how much fun the children were having, with many getting up and dancing and interacting throughout the whole performance. Watching performances like this emphasises how important OAE Education is and how much of an impact music can have on a child’s ability to learn. The end result, Kirsty told me, is always very rewarding.

 

Anna Bennett, Marketing and Press Officer

 

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