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…Or, The Dundee Residency, Explained.

Well, we had to get you to click on the link somehow. If we’d called this post “An article about why we do education and community outreach work, with some examples of events coming up which you might enjoy” we might be looking at a few people who’ve got here accidentally, maybe someone doing research for an essay, one of our player’s mums… but certainly not normal members of the public with no prior knowledge of, or interest in, musical education theory. And that’s the people we are trying to reach with this education and community outreach work.

Now you are here, before we put you off entirely: this post IS about one of the best things you will ever do in your life. People can’t lie on the internet. Just, perhaps in a more understated way. The potential problem with making any sort of claims like this – and, on the whole, a potential problem with anything relating to music education or community outreach type work – is that it risks sounding patronising. Who is anyone to say what will and will not improve someone’s life? What if they like their life the way it is, thank you very much? Add to this mix the problem of classical music in general being perceived as elitist, not for you unless you have A B or C, and the risk of sounding patronising increases exponentially.

However; with the events we put on in order to try and put classical music in a more common, public space so it can be heard by people who might not otherwise get to hear it, there is an element of knowing that it might not work, and that is absolutely fine. Just because we enjoy it doesn’t mean everyone else will or needs to enjoy it. But, we have made a considered commitment to at least trying, on the off chance that something could improve someone’s life forever. You could have a life-changing experience happening across any niche interest or cultural experience; it could be a disgusting-looking cheese that a friend forces on you, that you would never have looked twice at in the supermarket, but that turns you into a lifelong cheese enthusiast, planning holidays around artisan cheese-making communities and meeting your future cheese-loving partner. You get the drift: it’s something new that you have been introduced to because of someone else’s efforts, which you simply would not have fallen in love with had someone not snuck it into your day to day life.

(‘Classical music as disgusting-looking cheese’ would be another good post title.)

Anyway, Scottish Ensemble ‘Residencies’ – our title for a space of a few days where we set up camp in one specific location and put on a concentrated series of events which match the needs of the people there – aim to do just this. That’s why there are events such as pop-up performances in shopping centres, or visits to children in hospitals, or non-academic workshops at community centres which mean that you get all sorts of people dropping in and experiencing music without having the obstacle of not playing an instrument or not really knowing they like music in the way.  

This sounds very holy and saintly but the fact of the matter is that it’s really good for us, too, as for musicians it’s a side of the job that means stepping out of the usual roles of practising and performing, and into weirder situations, like playing in odd places or one-on-one coaching with people you would never have met in your normal routine.

With our next Residency coming up in Dundee (Wed 9 to Sat 12 March – see the full event list here), here are five elements which we have considered in order to at least try and bring about a day-, if not life- changing experience for someone in the city.  

  1. (1) If you play a string instrument, you can get involved.

    A Scratch workshop is one where you turn up unprepared (or, semi-unprepared) with an instrument and learn a piece in a day, usually performing it at the end of the day. We say semi-unprepared as sometimes, you do get to know the pieces beforehand, so you could have a play around with some of the harder bits. Other times you turn up and that’s the first time you’ve seen those notes. For those who come out in an unsightly rash on even reading the word ‘sight-reading’, and then begin to hyperventilate at the thought of having to do it in earshot of other people, this might sound frankly horrific. It could also be one of the best things you have ever done; practice, after all, makes perfect, and there are relatively few chances for some people to get together with a group of other musicians of a similar standard (which is important) and be a bit free. There’s no test or exam so there’s no shadow hanging over you of having to achieve something academic – but with a performance at the end, it means you’re motivated enough to want to try hard and get it right, which is essential for actually learning and getting something out of it.

The Scratch Workshop takes place on Sat 9 March at Bell St. Music Centre and is free. If you want to get involved email Elaine on elaine.craig@scottishensemble.co.uk or call 0141 332 4747. Places are being snapped up very quickly, so act fast! There is no age limit, but you should be at Grade 6 or above to enjoy this.

  1. (2) If you don’t play a string instrument, you can get involved.

Of course, this Scratch Workshop is all well and good if you already play a string instrument and you’re at Grade 6 or above. That’s probably, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively small number of people in the whole city. But the Residencies are absolutely not about simply catering for the people who already play; they’re also about inspiring the people who don’t, whether that’s to pick up an instrument and have the motivation to keep learning, or just to find a new bit of music they like which happens to be classical. The performance element of the Scratch workshop is actually a perfect example of this; at the moment, we’re hoping to do this outside of the rehearsal room – whether outside on a city centre shopping street, or somewhere like the Overgate shopping centre. The point is to surprise people (in a good way, hopefully) with music where they wouldn’t expect it. The pieces we’ve chosen for the Scratch Day are incredible, dramatic, sensual bits of music full of Latin American tango rhythms and take-notice bits of technique; i.e. the sort of thing you’d want to stop and watch. Accessible, we think it’s called.

For a list of all public events (no music experience at all required) go to: http://bit.ly/1SKnXsO

(3) You can meet the players.

At a lot of these events there is a chance, either for musicians or music fans, to meet the musicians. On its own this doesn’t sound like that much; but actually it’s a big thing. For musicians, young ones in particular, there is something amazing about simply meeting someone who does this for a living. Even if you’re not asking direct questions about their experiences, there is something psychologically gratifying about being around people with the same interests as yourself, and who have gone that next level in terms of committing to it. It shows that yes, it’s incredibly hard, but someone has to do it – people can become professional musicians, despite what the Careers Officer at school might say.

For members of the audience, there’s something psychologically gratifying about breaking down that barrier between performer and observer. Without this – and it goes for any kind of music, rock, pop, folk, whatever – there can be an obstacle in the way of really truly engaging with what you’re hearing when you don’t get any of the human element of the performers. Of course, some people enjoy this; they want their musicians or artists to be on an unreachable pedestal. But others want that little bit extra of having a bit of human conversation and narrowing the gap between the seat and the stage.

On Sat 9 March we’ll be playing quintets at The Steeple Church in Dundee City Centre and then joining for a tea and coffee afterwards to give people the chance to have a chat, if they want to. Tickets are £10 – buy online here.

(4) We’re playing at events that you might go to anyway.

One of the key themes of this particular Residency is exploring the link between visual art and music – a much-documented and analysed link, but also a very obvious and intuitive one which deserves to have time dedicated to it. All The Young Nudes is a wonderful quirky life drawing class which always has a musical element to it – but never, as far as we know, having live performers acting as the models, and so giving the music almost a new pedestal. The idea is that the sounds heard will inform and inspire the lines being drawn. We are already looking forward to seeing the results. Another event of this ilk is After-Hours: a chance to explore Dundee’s impressive McManus Galleries after opening hours, with a live soundtrack. Our musicians will be scattered and hidden across the rooms in groups, so you’ll either hear the music from afar whilst looking at the exhibits, or accidentally stumble across a group – either way, the idea again is that there will be this new layer to the familiar experience – that of drawing in an art class, or looking at art – which could change the way you see either one forever. At the very least, people will be hearing incredible music at close hand, played by professionals at the top of their field. That’s a good ‘at the very least’ clause.

Both events take place on Wed 9 Mar. AFTER-HOURS: Music and Art Promenade is at McManus Galleries from 7pm-8pm (register for your free ticket here). Then All The Young Nudes takes place at Bonar Hall from 8pm-10pm. It’s £12, there is a bar, and drawing materials are supplied on the night. Book your ticket here.

(5) We’re always looking for new ideas and suggestions.

As mentioned, probably the most important part of these Residencies is that the events are chosen and planned with specific needs in mind. They are not chance affairs; they happen after conversations with people who can see a need somewhere, or who have ideas about what would appeal to that community – how to sneak music in to events which are already going on, or how to enhance an event by adding live music. So, maybe you have an amazing idea about the place you live in and how something or someone could be enhanced by adding a musical layer and we could make that happen. This is one of the really exciting elements of the residencies – that they could make someone’s vision come true.

If you want to get involved or ask a question about what’s possible in your city, email office@scottishensemble.co.uk or call 0141 332 4747.

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The Scottish Ensemble Dundee Residency takes place from Wed 9 to Sat 12 March across the city. For a PDF of the programme, click the image below or browse online here.

SE Dundee Residency 2016 - Interactive PDF (web cover)