Way back in September 2020, we began our Pictures at an Exhibition online project for amateur musicians of all ages, in partnership with caithnessmusic.com. Since then we have reached hundreds of players from all over the UK, as well as Australia, Brazil and South Africa.
Over 20 weeks we shared video resources for amateur musicians of all ages and stages to play Pictures at an Exhibition with us from home, filling the void that restrictions have created in the amateur orchestral community. In Term 1, Gordon Bragg led a string quintet rehearsing movements each week, and we revisited each movement in Term 2 with a larger ensemble of fifteen SCO players conducted by Susie Dingle (caithnessmusic.com). Parts for beginners, learners and advanced musicians were specially arranged by Katrina Gordon (caithnessmusic.com). Susie’s weekly “conductor challenges” inspired participants to get creative and we now have a beautiful Gallery full of creations and selfies on our page. To celebrate the project, Gordon, Susie and Katrina met online with 40 participants to play through the whole of Pictures at an Exhibition. It was wonderful to see so many enthusiastic musicians in one virtual space!
Here’s what Susie, Katrina and Gordon thought about the project:
How has the Amateur Orchestral Community been hit by restrictions and how valuable has this project been for them?
When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, all amateur group music making activities were stopped completely. None of us could have guessed at the time that we’d still be out of action a whole year later! As it gradually became clear to us that amateur group music making was not going to restart after the summer holidays, we realised we needed to take urgent action. We hit upon the idea of weekly online video-rehearsals using a piece which could be broken down into sections – Pictures at an Exhibition was ideal for this kind of treatment. We both had fond memories of playing it as young musicians – Katrina in the National Children’s Orchestra and Susie in the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. So in August 2020 we dived into creating arrangements of each movement, transposing as appropriate and creating learner and beginner parts to make the project fully accessible. It was only after we had started this work that we contacted our friends at the SCO to discuss whether they might deliver the project and we were delighted when they agreed to help!
This project has given amateur musicians internationally a much-needed chance to play along with other musicians and to ‘rehearse’ with a conductor. Participants have fed back that they found the videos enjoyable and useful, and we also greatly enjoyed meeting everyone who attended the online playthrough event.
In Scotland, amateur community group music making still has no “indicative date” for when we might be allowed to return to rehearsing. Although there is mention of amateur performance arts activities being allowed outdoors to begin with, which is great news for our “waterproof” Brass Band! The benefits to mental health of singing in a choir or playing in an amateur music group are well documented and so, for us, this will be a vital step towards re-creating a healthy community, in Scotland and beyond, post-Pandemic.
Going forward the Caithness Orchestra has a few plans up its sleeve, each in various stages of development. If you are interested in joining in, please contact email@example.com
- Our “40th anniversary” and our “Come and Play Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony” events were both postponed from 2020, but we are looking to reschedule them in some format over the Summer.
- Lifting Lockdown celebration! As soon as it is possible to do so, we hope to get everyone together in Caithness to play through the Pictures at an Exhibition score as a one-day live event, with a few Scottish Chamber Orchestra guests to help us.
We hope to see you in Caithness sometime soon. Keep playing and please do keep in touch!
- Susie Dingle and Katrina Gordon (caithnessmusic.com)
How important has it been, for you, to help the amateur orchestral community continue with their activities from home?
It has been wonderful to be part of SCO's Pictures at an Exhibition partnership project with caithnessmusic.com.
What struck me throughout was the integrity and care that Susie and Katrina took over every aspect of delivery. Their vision was for the project to encompass experienced adult amateurs as well absolute beginners with no orchestral experience, so as well as editing the entire piece with this in mind, they made various videos themselves where they gave tips and played different instruments to ensure that nobody felt left behind. This care, married with their infectious joy and positivity, has resulted in them building a musical community which brought together so many people at a time where it was easy for many people who play in any type of orchestra to feel isolated and fragmented.
From our side, I think it is really important to connect with as many people as possible through what we do, even in 'normal' times. What was especially heart-warming was the goodwill I felt towards the Scottish Chamber Orchestra from participants at the final playthrough, with many participants saying that they were looking forward to seeing us again in the future. I think that this project has many important lessons to teach all professional orchestras going forward, and of course I really hope that the SCO can sustain a lasting and meaningful relationship with Susie and Katrina!
- Gordon Bragg (SCO Violin and Pictures leader)
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