Children’s Corner

Spotlight

The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception.
– Albert Einstein

I’ve been playing the piano from the age of 5 and haven’t discovered anything yet – but I can certainly feel everyday the benefits of having studied music. Growing up in a musical family made it easy not just to pick up an instrument, but also to stick with it: my parents and older siblings were there to help me understand and accept that the road to perfection, or at least to being able to play to satisfactory standards, is paved with hours of practice.

To follow up from my previous post about music and the brain, and more specifically the Royal Conservatory of Music’s advocacy for early years music education, I’m looking now at a few schemes that introduce children to music. The examples below are actually only about classical music, mainly because being hosted by large institutions means that they come with structured learning programmes, nice videos and evaluation reports – and also that they’re easier to find.

 

El Sistema / In Harmony / Big Noise

Back in 2009, I got to spend a full day at a primary school in West Everton to observe musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra teaching pupils (and their teachers) for several hours a day, from singing at the morning assembly to practicing their tiny violins in small classes then rehearsing as a full ensemble in preparation for their performance at the Royal Festival Hall. This was the very first year of In Harmony Liverpool, a learning scheme inspired by El Sistema, the Venezuelan “system” based on intensive instrumental practice and orchestral performance embedded into the daily life of underprivileged children with an overt goal to promote individual and collective change. Or in the words of its founder, musician and politician José Antonio Abreu:

An orchestra is a community where the essential and exclusive feature is that it is the only community that comes together with the fundamental objective of agreeing with itself. Therefore the person who plays in an orchestra begins to live the experience of agreement. And what does the experience of agreement mean? Team practice – the practice of the group that recognizes itself as interdependent, where everyone is responsible for others and the others are responsible for oneself. Agree on what? To create beauty.

El Sistema has attracted its share of praise over the years, but also criticism – most recently by British academic Geoff Baker, who has just published El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth (previewed by Baker in the Guardian, and reviewed pretty much everywhere – I especially like the responses from El Sistema-specialists Tricia Tunstall in Classical Music Magazine and Jonathan Govias on his own blog – watch out for the aggressive comments by the reviewed author himself!).

Wile the debate is raging, El Sistema-inspired schemes are still going strong in the UK and have grown to 6 official programmes in England, where they are called In Harmony, and two in Scotland, where they are known as Big Noise.

Children & the Arts: Start & Quests

Children & the Arts is a national charity backed up by the Prince’s Foundation with a mission to introduce children who are least likely to discover the arts to high-quality artistic experiences. Their approach is based on long-term partnerships between venues and schools to develop year-round engagement programmes, with regular visits, participatory activities and embedded learning. I found out about them through the Relaxed Performance Project that they piloted a few years ago, enabling children with special needs and their families to enjoy live theatre together.

They offer two main types of programmes: Start, fostering partnerships between primary schools in deprived areas and cultural venues that are geographically local to them yet a whole world apart; and a series of year-long Quests focusing on one area and one single art form at a time and structured around teacher support, workshops with professional artists, access to free performances and opportunities to create and perform. Quests have so far explored architecture, poetry, theatre, orchestral music, dance, opera and visual art.

They also run Start Hospices, work with children’s hospices to enable children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions to enjoy a cultural outing with their family in a welcoming, friendly and very supporting environment.

Evaluation reports, case studies and free teaching resources are available on their website.

Orchestras Live: First Time Live

I came across Orchestras Live recently via their new music scheme Beyond the Premiere through my ongoing research on new music commissioning. They also run a large-scale national outreach initiative, First Time Live, a touring programme that not only brings orchestral music to young people, but also involves them in repertoire selection, production and presentation of the concert.

In 2013 and 2014, First Time Live – Youth brought 20 concerts by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the City of London Sinfonia to young people aged between 10 and 14 years living in 10 locations in the bottom 20% for arts engagement across England (Hull, Scunthorpe, Doncaster, Grimsby, Luton, Harlow, March, Peterborough, Thurrock and Mansfield).

Here are a few selected quotes taken from the evaluation report of the project’s first phase, from both Young Producers and teachers.

‘It just felt like it wasn’t something we were ‘allowed’ to experience but we were the ones creating the experience’. Young Producer 

‘I’ve learnt that I definitely want to be a music teacher, because the [project] experience has shown me how really accessible music is to children, no matter what age and I want to support and encourage that’. Young Producer

‘The children were very impressed and gave standing ovations – which took us teachers by surprise. I think this demonstrates the strength of their feelings towards the concert. They chatted about it for days afterwards too’. Teacher

The project has now entered a ‘legacy‘ phase, building on the success of the first tour to develop and consolidate new outreach and participation models. In Barrow-in-Furness, 30 young producers aged 12-15 organised two concerts by the Manchester Camerata for their school peers; in Spalding, young people devised their own collaborative concept for a concert with the City of London Sinfonia and young local musicians; in Harlow, a group of students worked with composer John K Mile and the City of London Sinfonia to commission and promote a collaborative piece with young musicians; and in Luton, young musicians created and performed a new orchestral piece with the City of London Sinfonia on the theme of Carnival (work-in-progress documentary below).

Creative Employment

Tools of the Trade

Last spring’s call for (part-time, unpaid) interns from the Marina Abramovic Institute elicited some creative responses – and some more cautious comments.

Advice

Internships are commonly understood to be short-term practical work experiences, and should ideally be a win-win situation: the intern gains experience, skills, contacts and a general sense of their chosen industry; the employer gets an enthusiastic and committed assistant, perhaps even a future collaborator.

The problem when they’re not paid is that they create an unfair playing field, as Intern Aware – a UK-based campaign against unpaid internships – explains in this video:

On the Huffington Post UK, unpaid internships are blamed for widening the ‘elitist gap’ and likened to a form of modern day slavery; the BBC is reporting that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is targeting 200 employers who recently advertised internships to ensure they are paying the minimum wage; and the Guardian is regularly reporting on sectorial practices around unpaid internships and the culture of privilege they reproduce.

On the militant front, Internship Anonymous features some rather revolting personal stories, and the Internship Manifesto for the creative industries (by Toronto-based Sam Johnstone) is making some powerful points with its Intern Charter of Rights + Freedom, of which I’ll quote the last two ones (click to read the full manifesto):

Manifesto

Practices and regulations differ for each industry and country, but rules on compensation are not always enforced and are too easily circumvented by playing on the blurry frontier between volunteer and intern. Intern Aware addresses this issue:

If you’ve got set hours, tasks and responsibilities then you almost certainly count as a ‘worker’ and have a right to be paid. There are a few exemptions, for charities and people who are interning as part of their study.

In the cultural sector, there are now other ways to get one’s foot on the career ladder. The three initiatives featured below are helping out young people and emerging art workers to explore and gain experience in their dream career; they also support arts organisations by enabling them to expand their capacity; and they benefit the ecology of the sector at large, by nurturing the next generation and ensuring that skills and knowledge are continuously shared and improved.

Creative Employment Programme

The Creative Employment Programme is a £15m fund to support the creation of traineeships, formal apprenticeship and paid internship opportunities in England for young unemployed people aged 16-24 wishing to pursue a career in the arts and cultural sector.

It provides part-wage grants to employers who apply through a formal competitive process, with a rolling deadline every 5 weeks. The grants are provided up to the following amounts:

  1. Up to £2500 per paid internship based on a minimum of 26 weeks of employment at 30 hours per week. Wages must be paid at National Minimum Wage or above.

  2. Up to £1500 per Apprenticeship based on a minimum of 12 months at 30 hours per week. This is if the employer chooses to pay National Minimum Wage for Apprenticeships (£2.68 an hour).

  3. Up to £2000 per Apprenticeship based on a minimum of 12 months at 30 hours per week. This is if the employer chooses to pay National Minimum Wage or above for the age of the apprentice.

The scheme is funded by Arts Council England until March 2015 and run by Creative and Cultural Skills. The two organisations have co-published a “Guide to Internships in the Arts” clearly stating that “interns” that fall under the ‘worker’ status must be paid at least the minimum wage. And if interns “have a clear set of objectives, a specific role and formal duties, and (are) expected to help the arts organisation to achieve its aims”, then they are quite likely into this category.

The scheme also promotes a chart of Fair Access Principle, developed in collaboration with The Creative Society (see below), that articulates the difference between Volunteers, Work Experience, Internships and Apprenticeships, and encourages employers to commit to the following general Recruitment Practices:

We commit to advertising all opportunities fairly, openly and transparently. We will publicise details openly and in a range of relevant places including the National Apprenticeships Service Vacancy Service and Jobcentre Plus, where appropriate.

We also commit not to request that applicants possess qualifications that are not relevant.

The Creative Society

Formerly known as New Deal of the Mind, the Creative Society is “an arts employment charity that helps young people into jobs in the creative and cultural industries”. It all started with an article in The New Statesman by founder and CEO Martin Bright, considering the effects of the cultural programmes of the American New Deal, such as:

The Federal Art Project conducted classes attended by 60,000 people a week and produced 234,000 works of art; the Federal Music Project gave 4,400 musical performances a month, with an average monthly attendance of three million people, and the Federal Theatre put on 1,813 plays. The Federal Writers’ Project produced guidebooks to the American states and nearly 200 books and pamphlets.

According to Britain’s leading expert on the New Deal, Professor Anthony Badger of Cambridge University:

The WPA was based on the principle that there was no point in putting unemployed writers to work digging roads. They were ridiculed at the time, and there were some ludicrous projects, but there were also some remarkable achievements.

The Creative Society conducts research and publishes guides and reports, campaigns for Fair Access to establish standards of recruitment,and runs event, projects and programmes, such as Right Futures, advising 16-19 interested in a career in music, film or design; Haringey Job Fund, subsidising jobs in the arts for 16-24 Haringey residents currently unemployed (and open to arts organisations based in any London borough); and This Is It!, a series of events across England for all paid interns and apprentices on the Creative Employment Programme.

The BBC Performing Arts Fund

The BBC Performing Arts Fund aims to seek out and support aspiring individuals and community groups who, for reasons of lack of existing support, personal background or circumstance, would not have been able to achieve their greatest potential without the Fund’s support or intervention.

Since its inception in 2003, the Fund has already awarded over £4m worth of grants, as well as offering mentoring and advice to help winners achieve their most ambitious goals. Previous winners have gone on to produce a Mercury Prize winning album, perform at the Glastonbury Festival, appear on Later with Jools Holland and land starring roles in the West End.

Each year the Fund’s work focuses on a different art form – music, dance or theatre – and grants are distributed via two schemes, one for individuals and one for community groups.

The charity is funded through revenue from the voting lines of BBC entertainment programmes such as Fame Academy, Over the Rainbow and The Voice.

The focus for 2013 is Community Theatre, and 19 Fellows and 58 community groups have just been selected to receive grants (£10,000 for individuals, £500 to 5,000 for groups). The Fellows are emerging artists, playwrights, producers and director from across the UK, placed for several months with a host organisation on a bespoke work experience programme. The community groups’ projects are equally varied, from Team Oasis in Liverpool who plans to “promote community togetherness, inclusion, integration; and above all, acceptance within the local Liverpool community” to the Duns Players who “want to improve their vocal and movement skills. These skills would be used with school children and older people in two new projects next year”. An ongoing blog provides information about working in the performing arts, updates on funding schemes and themes, and follow-up interviews and features on past winners.