Category Archives: Comment & Media

City of London Sinfonia joins the RSPB’s campaign to celebrate birdsong through music in concert venues, hospitals, schools and day centres

In partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and RSPB President Miranda Krestovnikoff, City of London Sinfonia (CLS) joins the call to celebrate birdsong in music. In their Absolute Bird spring concert series and wider social programme, CLS explores the wondrous sounds of nature at a time of growing environmental threats.

Featuring diverse artists including vocalist and violinist Alice Zawadzki, recorder player Genevieve Lacey, folksinger Sam Lee, and conductors Jessica Cottis and Sian Edwards, the Absolute Bird series culminates in three concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Southwark Cathedral in May 2019 celebrating 800 years of awe-inspiring music.

The Orchestra’s London series supports the release of the RSPB’s Let Nature Sing recording, a specially created track of pure birdsong highlighting the loss of 40 million wild birds and their calls from our skies. The charity is calling on the public to download, stream and share the single to indicate that they are passionate about nature’s recovery, with the aspiration of entering the Charts. The track, to be released on 26 April, was directed by Sam Lee who performs with CLS on 24 May, and co-composed by Bill Barclay, who is currently touring King of Ghosts with CLS and Soumik Datta following their 2017 recording on Globe Music. Continue reading City of London Sinfonia joins the RSPB’s campaign to celebrate birdsong through music in concert venues, hospitals, schools and day centres

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The influence of Absolute Bird

Our three Absolute Bird programmes in the spring are influencing the majority of the work we’re doing in 2019, challenging and marvelling audiences and project participants alike. As our chairman, John Singer explains in our participation brochure, our artistic programmes – such as Absolute Bird and, previously, Bach and the Cosmos – are not limited to our concert series. We also explore the relative themes, music techniques and pieces from these programmes to enthuse participants’ enjoyment in our daily activities in hospitals, hospices, specialist care centres, care homes and schools.

In Absolute Bird, we’re performing a vast range of birdsong- and nature-inspired repertoire, from medieval rounds and canons such as Summer is icumen in to modern-day naturalistic sounds of the Outback by Hollis Taylor – some of the music being used to inspire multiple age groups in our wellbeing and education projects.

Here is just a taster of how we are using nature, namely birdsong, to inspire creative music-making beyond our concert series this year.

How birdsong is inspiring our projects

In our music-making workshops at St Christopher’s Hospice, patients are drawing inspiration from bird-related classical repertoire such as Couperin’s Le Rossignol en amour (featured in Absolute Bird: Flocks of Europe) and Les coucous benevoles, and excerpts of Stravinsky and Vivaldi to from their own creations of music and word with CLS musicians and workshop leader Sam Glazer.

St Christopher's Hospice visit January 2019
CLS musicians at St Christopher’s Hospice, Jan 2019

The young people at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School get to create something a bit special with Sound Artist Gawain Hewitt and CLS musicians this term: they’ll leave a legacy of birdsong-inspired sounds in the form of an interactive sonic tree sculpture. “How?” we hear you gasp. Well, the plan is to create a tree as large as six feet tall to house 24 interactive birds that, when touched, play back music composed during the sessions. “Naturific!” And audience members at our Queen Elizabeth Hall and Southwark Cathedral concerts in May will get to see this in action.

The “nature-niche” continues with members of Headway East London, a centre for survivors of brain injuries, who will create and perform music composed in response to Absolute Bird repertoire during their five-week project in March. Imagine a sonic flotilla of these recorded creations, shaped as river birds, floating down the canal – this is what Gawain is aiming to construct for a Headway EATS event.

Recently, our participation dream-team met with vocal leader and workshop facilitator Jessie Maryon Davies to get the creative juices flowing for our summer term Creative Primaries projects in Tower Hamlets and Harrow. There are lots of possibilities for bird-related stories and repertoire for pupils and our musicians to collaborate on in Key Stage One classrooms, so watch this space for their new music.

Creative Primaries Dec 2018 Suzi Corker
Primary schools engaged in Bach and the Cosmos in Dec 2018 (image: Suzi Corker)

We’re in the thick of creative music sessions at University College London Hospital (UCLH). In the first session this term, guitarist Jack Ross led the session with clarinettist Mel Henry and CLS Violin Clare Hayes, trying out some trios with bass clarinet, violin and guitar. They based the session on the story of a little chick, about which, with the help of our musicians, the young people created an original piece in response. Staff were loving it and people were passing by the classroom often – hopefully it brightened up their Monday morning!

Where else are we using birdsong?

The subjects of nature and birdsong are also at the centre of our Comfortable Classical concerts in February and March at the Albany, Deptford, and Canada Water Theatre. Our wind and string ensembles are going to be playing and introducing the music in three relaxed lunchtime performances for anyone and everyone, from young children to older adults. Audience members are also encouraged to take up other relaxing activities (such as drawing, colouring or knitting!) while listening to the music.


Be sure to keep up to date with all our activities on Twitter @cityldnsinfonia, and on Facebook and Instagram (@cityoflondonsinfonia). You can also visit our website for information on our wellbeing and education projects, and our upcoming performances.

“From Bingo to Bartok”: Creative and Innovative Approaches to Involving Older People with Orchestras

On 25 January 2019, we published “From Bingo to Bartok”: Creative and Innovative Approaches to Involving Older People with Orchestras, a free online publication with Orchestras Live and commissioned by the Baring Foundation.

Co-edited by our very own CEO Matthew Swann and Orchestras Live CEO Sarah Derbyshire, From Bingo to Bartok illustrates some of the best examples of orchestral work engaging older people from many classical music organisations around the UK.

The publication’s case studies cover projects in communities where classical music is supporting older people living better lives and meeting the challenges of health and loneliness – about which Matthew says:

“These projects show how orchestras can bring huge societal benefit in an area of growing need. They also show how these same projects can deliver enormous artistic and organisation benefits to orchestras through developing the skills of our musicians, creating performance opportunities and opening income streams.”

Download From Bingo to Bartok

You can view our own case studies in chapters five and seven, detailing our approach to sharing music experiences with older people in care homes and to intergenerational concerts through Relaxed performances.

Find out more about our Wellbeing work

The CLS team’s 2018 highlights

There have been so many great moments at City of London Sinfonia in 2018. Our team have been reflecting on some of their participation and performance highlights – enjoy the read!

Headway East London
Headway East London

Headway East London

Fiona: Working with members of Headway and CLS musicians, led by Gawain Hewitt, to create music using a range of instruments including music technology to make it an accessible experience for everyone, and resulting in interactive ‘music boxes’ containing music samples from the project that remained at Headway. Headway had seen Gawain speak at a conference about inclusive and accessible music-making so were thrilled when we brought him in to lead the project – and it also linked well with our Modern Mystics concert series. There were some wonderful moments in this project including Waffy, our principal clarinettist, playing her clarinet into the canal and it being recorded on a hydrophone and a performance at Headway EATS (Headway’s monthly supper club) that included a member talking about the science of sound over the top of an improvisation.

Catherine: The project is great! I loved creating music with the members and helping out with the planet installations. There’s such a creative atmosphere there, it was great to see their art room and chat to Headway members.

Bethlem and Maudsley residency in Camberwell and Beckenham

Fiona: Creating music with young people from eight to 18 who are being treated for a broad range of psychiatric illnesses. It’s a highlight as a result of the growing relationship that we’ve established with the school; the number of CLS musicians who have been involved in the creative teams and making music alongside the young people; and the body of work that has been produced in the moment – some of which had been shared in our podcasts and performed at the QEH as part of The Hexagon installation, designed and created by Gawain Hewitt.

October 16, 2018_Reception-QEH_054bw
30 years of participation work celebration at the QEH

St Christopher’s Hospice workshop in Sydenham

Zak: Music is a way of living, and the people in this workshop were testament to that. The term ‘hospice’ comes with connotations of sadness, sickness and loss – but were you to walk into this brightly lit cottage at St Christopher’s, you’d be faced instead with instant new friends who represent a pure, focused way of living. And laughing. Channelling all that into music and hearing their composition lifted me up spiritually, a feeling the whole group must’ve shared.

Creative Primaries in Harrow

Fi: During the sharing of our Creative Primaries project in Harrow, I loved listening to our ensemble play Trisch-Trasch Polka whilst the Year-2 pupils and their parents/carers listened, and some of the children showed their enjoyment by miming playing the violin and dancing.

Zak: In the workshop, John made me feel like a kid again. I felt the sheer joy of learning about music in an immersive and playful way. The way the kids jumped at the chance to compose music, the way they laughed and cheered in unison, that’s how I felt on the inside.

Lullaby Concerts with Orchestras Live

Fi: A memorable moment in the Lullaby Concerts tour in October was when one toddler was so involved, he decided to invade the stage – man, that kid was a fast runner!

City of London Sinfonia.
Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed. Queen Elizabeth Hall. Tuesday 16 October 2018.

Bach and the Cosmos series

Matthew: My highlight of the year was Bach’s Goldberg Variations at the Oxford University Mathematical Institute, with Professor James Sparks, that started our Bach and the Cosmos series. It was one of those moments where years of planning came together and worked perfectly – James was insightful and inspiring in explaining how and why Bach is such a mathematical composer and being so close to our musicians’ incredible playing of the Bach was thrilling. Just as wonderful was the next performance we did of that piece to an audience of older adults and very young children – with some of the latter deciding to wander through the orchestra to listen!

Zak: I’d never heard the B Minor Mass before. But it starts with an epic beginning, as if the heavens were opening, and even more appropriate then that it was in Southwark Cathedral. The beauty of this piece was not only the music, but the way you could actually see the audience thinking about the piece. They could walk around the cathedral whenever they pleased, as if they were admiring a sculpture and wanting to catch the sound from every possible angle, the way that Bach might’ve wanted it.

Catherine: Bach and the Cosmos was my first time seeing a concert at Southwark Cathedral. It’s an amazing venue and I loved seeing everyone move around during the performance and take it all in.

Tasha: Our Goldberg Variations University Tour was amazing. We got to road-trip to Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol, to venues and lecture theatres that the Orchestra had never performed in before. I loved the last concert in Bristol – rather than being on box office, I got to sit at the back of the auditorium and take it all in. Joely, one of our incredible cellists, started the concert with a beautiful solo version of the Bourrée from one of Bach’s Cello Suites before the rest of the strings joined in with Roderick Williams’ arrangement of it. It was such a powerful and moving concert – I definitely had tears at the end, and in between! As a marketer, seeing a brilliantly programmed concert series that you have been working on for the last few months come to fruition, and with great audiences, is incredibly rewarding.

City of London Sinfonia.
WW1 Centenary: Fauré Requiem. Southwark Cathedral. Saturday 10 November 2018.

WWI Centenary concert at Southwark Cathedral

Elaine: At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, I sang in the performance of the Fauré Requiem at Southwark Cathedral to commemorate the end of World War one. It was intensely moving experience – especially listening to Bill Barclay’s emotive script.

La traviata at Opera Holland Park

Tasha: La traviata at Opera Holland Park was, without a doubt, the best opera production I’ve ever seen live. Lauren Fagan was just incredible as Violetta. There was one point during the first half – during the Sempre libera, I think – where she walked slowly forward towards the audience singing, just completely captivating us and owning the stage. OHP operas really show our Orchestra at their best too.

Concerts at St Paul’s Cathedral

Elaine: The May Organ Gala at St Paul’s included the mighty Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony. When the organ enters in the last movement the sheer noise and exuberance of the organ is thrilling and never fails to make me grin.

Alison: I’d have to say the St Paul’s Christmas concert was a highlight because it was one of my first concerts both in St Paul’s and with the full orchestra, plus it was really lovely getting to join in and have a sing-along. Nothing puts you in the festive spirit like belting out some descants!

Fi: Sitting behind the percussion during Sleigh Bells in the Christmas Celebration was so much fun!

CLS team in December 2018

The only way is up: Bach, Singet and B Minor Mass

Written by Andrew Dickson (Bass, The Epiphoni Consort)

Singing Bach is a little like mountaineering, I sometimes think. Not only is Johann Sebastien Bach (JSB) the greatest musician of all time (sorry, Mozart), but no other composer requires so much energy and concentration to rehearse, or so much balance and nerve to perform. The arcing lines and dancing rhythms, the switches from darkest tragedy to wild joy, the sheer muscular athleticism and dexterity required… you can ascend to dizzying heights, but only if you use all your muscles, including some you didn’t know you had. It’s upwards, always upwards.

To make things even more challenging, we in the Epiphoni Consort are scaling two pinnacles of the repertoire in CLS’s Bach and the Cosmos series. The first is the 1727 double-choir motet Singet dem Herrn (Sing Unto the Lord), with its delicate balance between exuberance and pathos, which we sing with the superb baritone Roderick Williams. The second is the real biggie – the mightiest, meatiest choral piece of them all: the Mass in B Minor, sometimes described as the summation of JSB’s career, in which we’re conducted by one of the greatest Bach interpreters alive, John Butt. As one of my fellow singers commented at a rehearsal the other night, “there really are a lot of notes”. Not so much mountaineering as marathon mountaineering, if that’s a thing.

Of course, it’s also a pleasure, and none of us would be doing it if it weren’t. Singet I first sang at university, and it’s a delight to reencounter it (though it’s more fiendish than I remember: apparently I’m not as athletic as I was). As well as drilling those notes, we’ve spent a long time focusing on the Lutheran text, which is deeply poignant, especially during the chorale section in the middle of the work: “Gott weiß, wir sind nur Staub. Gleich wie das Gras vom Rechen, Ein Blum und fallendes Laub…” (“God knows we are but dust. Just as the grass that is mown, a flower or falling leaf…”). Singing it is a powerful experience.

The B Minor Mass I first heard in my teens (in that legendary John Eliot Gardiner recording), but I’ve never actually sung it before – more reason our concert on Saturday feels special. This work, which Bach assembled from a collage of cantata movements he’d composed in Leipzig, was intended to show off his skills and catch the attention of a new employer across in Saxony. In that way, I suppose, it’s the greatest job application of all time. (Not that it worked: Bach spent the rest of his life grinding away in Leipzig.)

The Mass is utterly encyclopedic: from elaborate fugues and dizzying double-choir counterpoint to the simplest, slenderest solo arias and plainchant. Singing it, you feel like you’re exploring the furthest reaches of Bach’s architectural imagination. The way he builds the opening cries of “Kyrie”, like placing the great foundation stones of a cathedral, to the filigree of the Sanctus, where we in the bass section sing a joyous, swaying melody that descends through the octaves while the higher voices make shimmering patterns up in the heavens. Encyclopedic though it is, after a while you don’t see the individual textures or effects: you just feel the heft of the whole structure, its solidity and profundity. That, too, is rather moving.

As I hope is clear, it’s tricky, learning to keep your head at these altitudes, but it’s also hugely rewarding. Hopefully we’ll make it all the way to the top.

Bach and the Cosmos: B Minor Mass

The Epiphoni Consort perform Bach’s B Minor Mass with City of London Sinfonia, John Butt, Roderick Williams, Joanne Lunn, Rowan Pierce, Robin Blaze and Charles Daniels at Southwark Cathedral on Saturday 20 October 2018, 7.30pm. Tickets available via the CLS Box Office online, on the phone (020 7621 2800; M-F, 10-6) or on the door.

OHP 2018: Views from the Pit

It’s been an incredible Season of operas at Opera Holland Park: our fifteenth Season as orchestra in residence. From ‘one of the most moving Traviatas’ (The Mail on Sunday) ever staged to the passionately performed (Opera Today) UK premiere of Mascagni’s Italian verismo, Isabeau, Opera Holland Park’s 2018 Season truly had it all.

‘City of London Sinfonia is getting better year on year’
Seen and Heard International (Isabeau)

Throughout the Season, some of the CLS team have been getting behind-the-scenes insight from City of London Sinfonia musicians, conductors and the Opera Holland Park team, all featured in our Views from the Pit podcast mini-series – available on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts. There’s talk about the Season’s four productions, insight into the rehearsals and opera experiences over the years, as well as insight into a typical day in the life of a professional musician.

Let us know what you think by giving us a like, leaving a comment or a review. You can also tweet us @CityLdnSinfonia or via Opera Holland Park’s dedicated hashtag for the Season, #OHP2018.

Views from the Pit: episode guide

Episode 1: James Clutton and Matthew Swann

Opera Holland Park’s Director of Opera, James Clutton, and CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann discuss how Opera Holland Park has evolved over the years, the collaboration between both organisations, making opera more accessible to the widest possible audience and, of course, the four operas performed in the 2018 Season.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts

Episode 2: Così fan tutte with the strings

Following 2017’s marvellous interval biscuit talk, violinist Charlotte Reid and violist Matthew Maguire return to our podcast series to talk about Così fan tutte and performing an opera after spending a couple of hours working with children at University College London Hospital. We’re also joined by violinist Gabrielle Painter who describes Isabeau and a typical performance day during an OHP show run.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts

Episode 3: La traviata with the brass

Two of the Orchestra’s longest-standing members, French horn Mark Paine and Tuba Stephen Wick talk about the exciting and challenging orchestral moments in Verdi’s La traviata. They also go down memory lane, having both been performing at Opera Holland Park since 2004.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts

Episode 4: Ariadne auf Naxos with the woodwinds

The woodwinds are very important in Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos – an opera that Principal Oboe Dan Bates has loved for 20+ years. We join Dan and Principal Clarinet Katherine ‘Waffy’ Spencer after a six-hour rehearsal of the opera to find out more about the incredible orchestral and vocal writing in Strauss’ score.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts

Episode 5: Opera Holland Park with Brad Cohen

In the fifth and final episode of Views from the Pit, conductor Brad Cohen expresses his excitement about conducting Ariadne auf Naxos at Opera Holland Park, giving insight into the rehearsal process and the challenges of moving Ariadne from Glasgow to London. He also explains what makes opera a unique artform.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts


Views from the Pit is presented by Tasha Allery and Gabriele Neuditschko, and features rehearsal footage from OHP 2018 dress rehearsals (Così fan tutte, Ariadne auf Naxos, Isabeau) and OHP 2017 dress rehearsals (Zazà). Images © Ali Wright for Opera Holland Park, 2018.

Music, technology and wellbeing

Our wellbeing work includes long-standing projects at children’s hospitals such as Evelina London Children’s and University College London hospitals, care homes in North London, hospices in South London and with survivors of brain injuries at Headway East London. We have also entered our second year of a three-year residency (supported by Youth Music) at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, making music with young people who have a broad range of mental health illnesses.

In our Music, technology and wellbeing podcast, Fiona and Zak from the City of London Sinfonia team discuss their experiences of music-making with CLS musicians in wellbeing settings, as well as the impact our projects have on participants and our musicians.

“Music-making is a shared experience.”
– Fiona Lambert, CLS Director of Participation

Sound Artist Gawain Hewitt also talks about how we’ve been using music technology in our recent projects to respond to some of our artistic programmes, such as Modern Mystics, Hero Worship and Bach and the Cosmos. Using technology alongside instruments makes music-making even more accessible, particularly for those with physical or psychological difficulties. In the current term, Gawain has been working alongside CLS musicians and participants to create pieces that respond to Bach’s compositional structures, as well as composing using numbers, sequence and patterns.

“Everyone has the right to be music-makers.”
– Gawain Hewitt, Sound Artist and Workshop Leader

Hear more from Fiona, Zak and Gawain in our Music, technology and wellbeing podcast, available for free download on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts.

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.

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.

 

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