Tuesday, 13 May 2014

This is what makes Sheffield University Music a bit better than the rest

The Sheffield University Symphony Orchestra performed on Sunday 11th May 2014. Ok, so we're not the Berlin Philharmonic but that's not the point I'm about to make. What happened on the 11th was the culmination of a teaching, learning and performing ethos that sets The University of Sheffield apart from most other music departments. Sheffield has a superb concert series. More than 60 concerts a year - an amazing contribution to the City's cultural life. The orchestra performs twice a year in this series. The membership is university wide and draws students and staff from other departments closer to the music department and its students. The music department supports the orchestra whilst offering its students opportunities to compose for, perform with and conduct the major ensembles. An amazing opportunity for those who are thinking of extending their experience and careers in these areas of endeavour. And so it was in the first half of the concert. Elgar's 'Cockaigne' overture was conducted by Tim, a third year undergraduate who has even decided to switch to first study conducting - and after careful consideration we accommodated this: that's just how student-facing we really are. A very spirited performance resulted. Ella then sang the soprano part in Finzi's 'Dies Natalis' most beautifully. Ella is a first year undergraduate with a superb voice. When she auditioned for the opportunity, it was clear that she has long term plans to make singing her career. Finally, the orchestra played Vaughan Williams' 'Sinfonia Antartica'. This involved sourcing celesta and more problematically a real wind machine, plus organ and small choir of female voices. And with the symphony having such a history - beginning its life as music for film, the opportunity to work with the idea of the Antarctic, and Scott's magnificent though fatal expedition led to an education project - run by music students who went into five local schools. Working closely with teachers the groups made pieces, looked at Scott's diaries, watched bits of the film and learned about the orchestra. All this led to a morning session on the 8th May where 150 kids of KS2 from five schools came to the University and took part in numerous educational activities culminating in a performance of their pieces interspersed with sections of the symphony played by the orchestra. Many of these kids had never seen nor heard a live orchestra before and their natural wonder at something as simple as a wind machine was touching.  The 'project' was funded by the RVW Charitable Trust and put together by our concerts director, Stewart. This is what education at University is about - real joined-up activity with potentially huge impacts. Great for all to say 'we did this'. By the way, none of this makes its way to students' degree classifications. They gave their time freely and for that I'm enormously grateful. Education is not an equation as some would have it and music is not just something you listen to whilst driving or cooking your tea.