All posts by City of London Sinfonia

We create dynamic and engaging musical experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds, performing throughout London and the UK in concert halls, schools and hospitals, alternative venue spaces and diverse community settings.

Building on our experience in care homes

Written by Natasha Krichefski, CLS Participation Projects Manager

City of London Sinfonia (CLS) has a long-standing reputation for delivering concerts in care homes, in partnership with Jewish Care, across a range of homes in North London. Building on a new relationship with the Jewish Care ‘Creative Arts’ and Betty and Asher Loftus Centre ‘Living Well’ teams, we recently worked closely together to develop an exciting new pilot for our work.

As Resident at the Betty and Asher Loftus Centre, we worked in the three care homes on the campus over a period of four days. We aimed to look at ways of developing the current format to allow a more flexible responsive approach to residents and make improvements to the residents’ sense of wellbeing, whether we met them in lounges, their rooms, corridors, or in a more formal concert setting, whilst keeping the highest quality of music at the core.

Responding to the needs of care home residents

We wanted to respond strategically to the partner’s desire for us to provide activity for the more isolated, “hard to reach” residents who either chose not to or are unable to attend our concerts and who rarely engaged in any activities in the homes. Becoming Resident on the campus enabled us to build relationships with staff and residents in a way that wasn’t previously possible with a single fleeting concert performance. We were also able to fit with Jewish Care’s commitment to the Principles of Person Centred Care, as well as reflect the principles of Participatory Arts promoted by Jewish Care’s Creative Arts team.

“Working in partnership with CLS and Caroline Welsh was a pleasure. We welcome the opportunity to work with artists and arts providers that are able to respond the needs of our residents, by working together with us to develop bespoke projects. The focus on a participatory approach showed great benefits for both our most isolated residents and the CLS musicians.”

Caroline D’Souza (Arts Development Manager, Jewish Care)

Following dementia training from Jewish Care and a music improvisation session led by animateur Caroline Welsh, the project started in earnest: we opened up the rehearsal sessions so that curious passers-by could pop in; ambient music accompanied the lunch hour in the lounges; and for the first time we visited residents in their rooms for a series of interactive moments, playing to and talking with those people who don’t currently have as much engagement with other residents or staff.

Pairs of musicians were partnered with a member of the Living Well team who could brief musicians on the needs of residents, accompany each visit and provide feedback. Drawing on their specialist skills, expertise and relationships with residents, we were able to target isolated residents and create moments of connection and engagement that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

We continued to deliver daily concerts, one in each home, but with an added sense of familiarity as the musicians had built relationships with several of the residents and staff and could refer to the audience by name.

Measuring the impact of our visits

Evaluation formed an important part of the collaborative process, with both organisations reflecting extensively on the best approach to measuring the impact of the project on the participants, the care home environment and our musicians. The Living Well team provided baseline synopses on each of the residents and gave written follow-up summaries after each of the visits.

The project not only allowed us to work with a larger number of residents on this occasion, but we were also able to make a major change to the range of activity offered through the partnership and achieve a much deeper sense of engagement. Over the course of the four days, the Living Well team saw great change in mood and a new openness to interaction and connection from some of the residents.

For example, a team member described one of the residents before the activity as someone who didn’t like socialising, but on the final day of the project, the team member explained: “I felt she didn’t want the interaction to stop today, whereas in general she shows a preference to short interactions unless she really knows the person well and trusts them.”

Another resident was initially described as having “low mood and withdrawn”, but after the first day of visits, the musicians and resident were “smiling and laughing together at the end of the session and he asked when they were coming again”.

Having worked more closely with the Creative Arts and Living Well teams and having started to develop a new practice in this context, we are very much looking forward to working together again and using our learning to inform future projects.

Many thanks to Dunhill Medical Trust and Rayne Trust for generously supporting this project.


Find out more about our participation work in care homes on YouTube.

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CLS presents Mindful Music

City of London Sinfonia presents Mindful Music: an innovative combination of live music and mindful meditation that contributes to improved wellbeing by:

  • decreasing stress and anxiety
  • improving focus
  • boosting working memory

Violinist and mindfulness practitioner Ann Lovatt, who leads the meditations, describes mindfulness as ‘a practice that encourages you to step out of autopilot’ and explains that combining it with live music creates an incredibly powerful experience.

Meditation is a proven method of reducing stress, and music is also proven to have therapeutic effects, as well as the power to excite, to calm and to the reach the myriad of emotions in between.

Watch our new video to hear more about the initiative from Ann and Creative Director Alexandra Wood and watch footage from our CLS Minis Music and Mindfulness concert at the Albany (Deptford) in April 2018.

How can you experience Mindful Music?

We recently took Mindful Music to Soho House’s new White City House and audience members experienced it in our Modern Mystics and CLS Minis series.

If your company is considering ways to look after your employees’ mental health and wellbeing, or you would just like to learn more about Mindful Music, please get in contact.

For more information on Mindful Music, contact CEO Matthew Swann or Development Manager Zak Hulstrom. You can also find out more about CLS and our Participation work in mental health and wellbeing settings on our website.

There will be opportunities to experience music and mindfulness at City of London Sinfonia performances in the near future. Sign up to our mailing list to stay up to date.

 

Retrospect: Hero Worship at the QEH

On 8 May, we headed to Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall for the first time since the Hall’s refurbishment and grand reopening in April. This was the first of many collaborations to come at the QEH and our debut working with Australian composer and violist Brett Dean.

CLS_Brett Dean_Hero Worship rehearsal
Brett Dean directs City of London Sinfonia in rehearsals.

As with many of our ‘seriously informal’ concerts, Hero Worship departed from the regular orchestral concert format, offering a narrative and images (not too dissimilar to that of a TED talk) to help us better understand Beethoven’s life and music. Cue entertaining Cambridge historian.

Sir Christopher Clark, Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge, gave our audience insight into the historical, political and social contexts that influenced Beethoven and his compositions. Intertwined with musical canapes from his early symphonies and septets, the narrative spanned from his early years to the uncovering of the Heiligenstadt Testament following Beethoven’s death (listen to Brett Dean’s explanation in our podcast).

Brett Dean was welcomed to the podium to conduct the centrepiece of the evening: his “fantastic” and “pretty tricky” (as described by Creative Director and Leader Alexandra Wood) contemporary take on Beethoven’s famous document, Testament.

Violins relaxing before Eroica
CLS violins relax before performing the ‘Eroica’ Symphony, standing up.

We’d had a taste of who Beethoven was before his Heiligenstadt trip and Napoleon’s betrayal, and now it was time to discover his reformed style in the ‘Eroica’: the Symphony that altered the course of music. With Brett Dean directing the Symphony from the viola and the majority of our musicians standing (thank goodness the violins relaxed in their break – pictured), ‘strong inner voices sprang to life, unfurling the symphony as a gigantic piece of chamber music’ (The Observer).

Despite having known each other for decades, Brett Dean and Sir Christopher Clark had never been on a stage together before. Their bows at the end of the performance showed what a joy it had been, and the simultaneous rapturous applause confirmed that it was a joy for everyone involved.

Tweets from the night

#CLSattheQEH

For more information about the performance and to learn about our next concert, Bach Remixed, coming up in October, be sure to search #CLSattheQEH on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or sign up to our mailing list for email updates.

Your guide to Hero Worship

What’s more exciting and entertaining than a TED talk? A TED talk with a 40-piece orchestra. This is how CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann describes our Hero Worship concert at Southbank Centre’s newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 8 May.

Join us on an exciting journey with Cambridge historian Sir Christopher Clark to learn about the significance of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, Beethoven’s illness and medicine’s inability to cure it, the verbose testament he wrote in Heiligenstadt but never sent, and how he elevated artists from the servant class and reinvented them as heroes.

Amongst works by Beethoven, the Orchestra performs Brett Dean’s Beethoven-inspired piece Testament. Testament was composed in an attempt “to pick Beethoven’s brain”, as Brett puts it. The piece promises to be an exciting experience for the musicians as well as the audience, as our strings play on bows without rosin (which is basically the musical equivalent of driving on ice without snow chains if you’re in the Austrian Alps), while the woodwinds produce “sounds that are hard to pin down” with effects such as ‘toneless murmuring’.

In a bold move that violist and composer Brett Dean describes as being “don’t try this as home difficult”, City of London Sinfonia performs Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony without a conductor. What is very special about this performance is that the Symphony will be directed by Brett from the viola; from within the orchestra, which highlights aspects of the piece that you might not be able to hear as clearly in a more traditional setup and gives you the chance to rediscover the Symphony in a different way.

We know that worship usually takes place in special surroundings and Hero Worship is no different in this respect. That’s why we have chosen Southbank Centre’s shiny new Queen Elizabeth Hall as the place for an evening full of beautiful music and exciting insights. It is the perfect place for a concert that gives you a chance to see and hear Beethoven the artist as well as Beethoven the hero – but most of all, Beethoven the human.

Want to book tickets and find out more?

You can purchase tickets at the CLS Box Office (until 10am on 8 May) or at the Southbank Centre Ticket Office. Tickets will also be available at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the night.

Listen to our Spring Season podcast to hear CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann elaborate on what makes the concert a TED talk.

In our Hero Worship with Brett Dean podcast, Brett Dean talks more about Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony and his own piece, Testament, shedding light on the concept and context of the work and the experimental sounds he chose to feature in the music.

The Inclusive Orchestra: relaxed performances

Written by Zak Hulstrom, CLS Development Manager

CLS prides itself on having a ‘seriously informal’ approach, which means we play high-quality music, but we think people should have the freedom to enjoy the concert as they please: grab a drink, use their phones, cough, or clap between movements. Our approach works and has grown in popularity. Young people (aged 16-25) made up a surprising proportion of our audience at our Modern Mystics concerts in autumn 2017 (25%).

We’re beginning to realise that this approach works well for anyone, including people living with dementia, who would enjoy having the freedom to get up, talk, clap, or enjoy a break in the quiet space outside the concert hall.

What makes a concert ‘dementia-friendly’?

I often get asked this question, and it’s not a complicated answer: it’s no different to a regular concert. When we are putting together a dementia-friendly concert, we are primarily focused on accessibility around the venue. Can audience members find the toilet, the café and the concert hall with relative ease? Is there a volunteer nearby who can answer questions?

In December 2017, we presented our first ‘dementia-friendly’ concert at St John’s Smith Square. In preparation for the performance, we sought answers from other like-minded organisations who already have experience engaging people living with dementia: The Alzheimer’s Society, Southwark Dementia Action Alliance, Dementia Friends, Shakespeare’s Globe, Royal Academy of Art and The Young Vic.

One of the important steps was having The Alzheimer’s Society audit the concert venue. They showed us all the many ways we could improve access to St John’s Smith Square, and we were delighted by the sheer number of considerations. We were “delighted” because addressing the issues meant we could be more confident about promoting this concert as dementia-friendly. For example, some of the issues they discovered were dark patches on the floor, which, to some people, can appear as holes in the ground or wet patches. Likewise, colours on signs, the chairs and tables must be carefully selected so that the contrast is highest and objects can be differentiated more easily. Signs must also be clear in content and within line of sight as you navigate the venue.

Our team in the office and many of our musicians are trained as Dementia Friends. We’ve participated in a taster course to better understand the many kinds of dementias and how they can affect people in different ways. From losing memory, which is what most people associate with dementia, to visuo-spatial difficulties and emotional changes, there is no such thing as one dementia. We can’t recommend it highly enough to become a Dementia Friend, so that you can learn small ways to help other people.

How are we putting our learning into practice?

Our concerts should be as welcoming as possible. Our first dementia-friendly concert could have been better, as it was held in December, on a dark, windy and rainy evening. We have already considered some solutions, and so our next round of relaxed concerts will be held in CLS Minis in April 2018 – in a much warmer month, and during the day.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets are just £5 at the CLS Box Office (online or by phone, 020 7621 2800) and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

You can read more about our Relaxed Lunchtime Performances on Facebook and Twitter, or by visiting our website.


Following our first dementia-friendly concert in December 2017, Zak was given the opportunity to speak more about this and represent CLS at a British Council conference in South Korea. You can read more about his time there in our The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea blog post.

Zak on dementia-friendly concerts

Music and mindfulness in a busy world

In today’s world, we need time to stop and focus. We need time that doesn’t involve being bombarded with the deafening noise of work and noise pollution; to have a break from social media and other things that are supposed to make our lives better, but quite often make our minds overly busy and stressed and tired.

In our Music and Mindfulness concerts, CLS violinist and mindfulness practitioner Ann Lovatt (referred to as Ann Morfee elsewhere) and the musicians of City of London Sinfonia are there to give you a “magic hour” of peace and calm.

Previously, audience members at Modern Mystics: The Fruit of Silence experienced a mindful meditation with Ann before listening to the beautiful music of Arvo Pärt and Peteris Vasks performed in Southwark Cathedral. We also took Music and Mindfulness to a place of work, to help city workers start their day with positive and focused minds.

Ann Lovatt
CLS violinist Ann Lovatt in a King of Ghosts recording session (c) Pete le May.

How do live music and mindfulness work together?

Mindfulness is a practice that encourages you to step out of autopilot. It allows you to reconnect with your body and your breath; to become more aware of stresses and to enable you to step back from stress and its causes. Meditation is a proven method of reducing stress, and music is also proven to have therapeutic effects, as well as the power to excite, to calm and to the reach the myriad of emotions in between.

When preparing for a mindful music session, Ann looks in depth at the music – for example, the structure, context and how the instruments might be used. In each session, she hopes to highlight aspects of the music which allow some insight or reflection appropriate to the practice of meditation. Throughout the mindfulness session, Ann bears all the musical factors in mind and references the chosen piece of music before it is performed live by CLS musicians.

The inclusion of a short mindful meditation within a live performance aims to enhance the listeners’ experiences of the music being performed, bringing an immediate sense of wellbeing to complement that which comes through the music alone.

Where can I experience Music and Mindfulness?

In April 2018, our strings, brass and woodwind sections will take it in turns to perform lunchtime and evening miniatures at various venues in our CLS Minis series. These include three Music and Mindfulness concerts in Deptford, Mile End and Marble Arch.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets start from £5 (for students and 16-25s with the CLS 5IVER ticket scheme) at the CLS Box Office and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

Listen to the CLS podcast

Want to know more before you try it out? Ann Lovatt talks more about the benefits of music and mindfulness in our Spring Season podcast: available for download on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud.

Your guide to CLS Minis

Lots of good things come in mini packages: cars, ice creams, iPads (to name a few). CLS Minis is our version in orchestral music, featuring six short chamber concerts with programmes focusing of different sections of the Orchestra: strings, brass and percussion, and woodwind.

The series of miniatures focuses on mental health and wellbeing and features three programmes curated and performed by CLS musicians. For each programme, there will be a relaxed performance during the day (1.30-2.15pm) and an evening performance with an additional mindful meditation (7-8pm).

Relaxed Lunchtime Performances

The Relaxed Lunchtime Performances are for everyone and aim to provide comfortable environments for people who are perhaps living with dementia, their carers or another invisible disability associated with age. These 45-minute concerts are great opportunities for those who may not be able to attend evening concerts to visit some great venues and watch some fantastic live music in the middle of the day. In these performances, there is no judgement; you can come and go if you need to do so, and you can be confident that the performers are aware of people with those conditions attending the concerts. It is a wonderful way for people to enjoy music that they perhaps loved when they were younger, but don’t get the opportunity to now.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets are just £5 at the CLS Box Office (online or by phone, 020 7621 2800) and the Albany Box Office (17 April only), and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

Music and Mindfulness

In the early evening, our orchestra sections will perform the same programme as they did earlier in the day but with an added dimension: with a mindfulness meditation integrated into the concert. During the mindful music sessions, CLS violinist Ann Lovatt (referred to as Ann Morfee elsewhere) gives audience members something to focus on, or to watch or listen out for in the performance of the music. Experiencing live music alongside a meditation is so powerful and helps bring an immediate sense of calm and wellbeing at the end of a working day. It enables you to tune out of the outside world and just listen to the music; to just be in the moment.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets start from £5 (for students and 16-25s with the CLS 5IVER ticket scheme) at the CLS Box Office and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

Listen to the CLS podcast

Find out more about our CLS Minis series with CEO Matthew Swann and Ann Lovatt on our podcast: available for download on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud.

Beethoven: Artist to Hero

Comment by Matthew Swann, CLS CEO

Nowadays, we’ve got a very good idea of the artist as hero: an individual who creates what he or she wants to and is very much their own manager. But it wasn’t always the case. Until the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, it was very much the case that artists – particularly musicians and composers – were considered part of a servant class. They were artisans; they were producer of things for the upper classes to consume and they weren’t necessarily in control of their own artistic vision.

Beethoven was the man that changed that. He looked at political, military and leadership heroes throughout his life – particularly Napoleon Bonaparte, leader of the French Revolution and later self-declared emperor. Through a series of events where Beethoven fell out of love with Napoleon, for all intents and purposes, he decided that true heroism came from the artist.

Our Hero Worship concert at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall follows that journey and Beethoven’s own realisation, at the same time, of his growing deafness. It’s a journey of how Beethoven realises that the artist is becoming the hero, and all the anguish and that realisation is presented in his Third Symphony.

As well as collaborating with Brett Dean, a wonderful composer in his own right, Cambridge historian and music-lover Sir Christopher Clark will bring phenomenal insight to our performance. He’ll elaborate on the historic significance of this change: the change from an artist perceived as a servant – an artisan at the beck and call of the upper classes – to someone who drives artistic, creative and philosophical thinking themselves.

Hero Worship at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Listen to Matthew talk more about Beethoven and our performances on our Spring Season podcast (available on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts).

Want to be further enlightened (pun intended) on Beethoven’s historical significance? Come to Hero Worship on Tuesday 8 May 2018 (7.30pm) at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Tickets available at cls.co.uk (including CLS 5IVER for students and 16-25s) and southbankcentre.co.uk.

The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea

Written by Zak Hulstrom, CLS Development Manager

For one week in December 2017, I was lucky enough to travel to South Korea and represent CLS at a British Council conference focusing on ‘Creative Ageing’. It was part-funded by the Baring Foundation, who invited CLS because of our creative ways of engaging older people through music. Ten delegates from the UK, and many more from Korea, came together for a knowledge-sharing conference, to tell our stories and learn how each of us are involving older people in the arts.

Creative Ageing UK Delegates 2017
(There I am at the front, on the right)

Our orchestra’s first projects in care homes began in 1998, when CLS musicians started visiting residents of Jewish Care, performing concerts and developing relationships with older people through a person-centred approach. Over the years, these care home concerts have become so popular that we felt we could do more: we wanted to open our concerts to the public so that more people could attend classical music concerts.

For nearly 30 years, CLS has involved people of all ages and backgrounds in music activities as a way of improving wellbeing and enhancing quality of life. Our approach is one-of-a-kind because all 43 of our musicians lead and participate in workshops in children’s hospitals, hospices, schools and care homes, while at the same time performing innovative concerts at major London venues (e.g. St Paul’s Cathedral, BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Opera Holland Park).

We are constantly thinking up new ways of tying our two most important strands together (artistic innovation and community involvement) so we were delighted to be invited to South Korea and share our experience of producing our first-ever dementia-friendly concert.

Highlights from the conference

On our first day in Seoul, we watched a variety show featuring groups of older people acting, dancing, singing, and playing handbells and handmade box instruments. The first act ended with 100 women in pink outfits pulling all the jetlagged UK delegates off their seats and into the middle of an impromptu dance party.

Dancing
(From left to right: Alice Thwaite, Equal Arts; Kate Duncan, City Arts Nottingham; Carol Rogers, Liverpool Museums)

The conference began on the second day with a plenary session entitled Why creative ageing? followed by themed sessions on ‘Arts and intergeneration’, ‘Arts and dementia’, and ‘Capacity building and training for catalysts’. The conference was followed by a series of roundtable discussions at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) the following day. Session topics included ‘Creative ageing programme developments at museums and galleries’, ‘Creative contents development’, and ‘Impact and evaluation’. Alongside the Seoul and Busan conferences, UK delegates Penny Allen and Diane Amans conducted dance workshops for teaching artists and older people.

My presentation was titled The Inclusive Orchestra and it told the story of how we break down barriers between music and our audiences. With success in attracting younger people over the past several years, we have started thinking about the barriers for older people to attend classical music performances, which led to our first-ever ‘dementia-friendly concert’ on 2 December 2017.

With support from our local Dementia Action Alliance, we provided Dementia Friends training to our musicians, encouraging a deeper understanding of the disease and the many ways it affects the brain (i.e. it’s not always about losing your memory; sensory perception can also be affected). The Alzheimer’s Society then performed an environmental audit of our concert venue, making sure that we considered better access routes into and around the space. Continue reading The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea

Looking forward with CLS

We’re looking forward to so many wonderful performances and participation projects this year. Some of which, as you’ll have seen and heard about already on Instagram, has already had a creative and positive impact on our musicians and workshop participants.

In our first 2018 podcast (available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes), you’ll hear from Alexandra Wood and our team about what they’re looking forward to this year, including working with people at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School (whose music features in our podcast!), learning more about mental health, Ariadne auf Naxos at OHP, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi coming out on DVD.

“In this world, there’s so much clutter: constant noise, texts, emails our mobile phones. We constantly need to be on our toes, ready to act. It’s wonderful to take time just to exist, to breathe, and to have space.” – Alexandra Wood

What are you looking forward to this year, or even this week? Whatever it is, take the time to just enjoy it.