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High note for pupils as music projects unveiled

AT PERTH Concert Hall yesterday, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) launched what it claims, very specifically but surely without fear of contradiction, a programme that provides "the most comprehensive orchestra-led music access programme to primary and secondary schools across Scotland."

SUPPORT:  Composer Anna Meredith.
SUPPORT: Composer Anna Meredith.

AT PERTH Concert Hall yesterday, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) launched what it claims, very specifically but surely without fear of contradiction, a programme that provides "the most comprehensive orchestra-led music access programme to primary and secondary schools across Scotland."

The RSNO may be hiding its light under a bushel. The list of projects in the 20-page RSNO Engage for Schools publication is a remarkable one and more than any other UK orchestra can boast - and undoubtedly a good many beyond these shores. Seasoned RSNO watchers will know of the schools concerts that the national orchestra has long provided, some of which have been reviewed in these pages, and probably of the special performances for the very young of bespoke works like Teddy Bears' Picnic and Steve and his Seriously Tall Ladder, while concertgoers may have witnessed the opportunities afforded older youngsters to perform in venue foyers before performances. But that range barely hints at what the orchestra has planned and the hub of education and outreach activity that its new home next Glasgow Royal Concert Hall will become - not that we will have to wait until the band moves house for many of these activities to begin.

More than 30 different projects are described in the schools leaflet and Jenn Minchin, the orchestra's director of learning and engagement, says that the programme represents a menu available across the country.

"Schools can select what they want from a pick-and-mix price list of activity that's hugely subsidised by ourselves. We want to get the musicians out and about and offer added value to the schools curriculum requirements at all levels."

A new composition competition in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland is the centrepiece of the programme. Notes from Scotland is open to 12 to 18 year olds across the country to create a two-minute piece of chamber music for trio, quartet or quintet, inspired by one of five geographically-spread National Trust properties, where open workshops wil be held with professional composers and musicians to develop new works.

Threave Castle Estate in Dumfries and Galloway, the Georgian House in Edinburgh, Culloden Battlefield by Inverness, Pollok House in Glasgow and J M Barries' Birthplace in Kirriemuir are the locations of designated inspiration and workshop venues for a programme that will start in August and culminate in a concert at Perth Concert Hall on June 17, 2015. Craig Armstrong, Anna Meredith, Eddie McGuire, John Maxwell Geddes, Malcolm Lindsay and Lorne Balfe are the professionals of varied backgrounds already lined-up to support the young composers in their efforts, which they will be encouraged to upload to a dedicated website for input and mentoring along the way. They will also be attending workshops in schools and at open weekend ones at the National Trust venues.

Minchin explains that the project has been some time in the planning, drawing together an approach to the orchestra from the National Trust seeking a collaboration, the RSNO's desire for an initiative to create new music, which will also include the appointment of a composer-in-residence, and the ambition to grow the orchestra's school engagement. The winners' concert will feature live performances - and recordings - of five selected semi-finalists before the announcement of the winner, who goes home with a music software-loaded iPad, a family pass for National Trust for Scotland properties and a VIP Access All Areas RSNO pass.

Armstrong said: "This is a fantastic idea to engage young people in composition and to bring them together with existing composers and musicians to pass on their knowledge and skills."

That interchange is mirrored in the score or more of other initiatives Minchin and the RSNO revealed yesterday. Among the most intriguing are the Instrument Petting Zoo, giving pupils the opportunity for hands-on experience hearing and playing every instrument in the orchestra, and, from January 2015, an on-line link-up for Scottish schoolchildren with schools and orchestras in the US, exploring the works of American composers such as Gershwin and Bernstein. Young violinists will be encouraged to explore the sound of their instrument's bigger sister in The Secret Life of Violas and all string players can add Brazilian samba rhythms to their armoury. Schools will be encouraged to adopt an RSNO musician, from whom they will receive regular letters, and the RSNO's assistant conductor will hold workshops.

Work experience at the RSNO will be offered to pupils interested in working in the arts, culminating in a two-day take-over of the organisation next year when senior school pupils collaborate in producing the Notes from Scotland concert - all of which complements the orchestra's publication of a booklet on careers created by an orchestra, downloadable from the RSNO website, rsno.org.uk

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