Category Archives: Education and Outreach

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.

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Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School Residency

In 2016, the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School invited our musicians to bring their creative, responsive approach to its young people, leading to our current three-year residency. The School, based at two sites in Camberwell and Beckenham, Kent, is attended by young people aged 8-18 from across London and the South East, all of whom are living with severe mental health and psychiatric conditions.

Mental health is a crucial issue for today’s young people with more than one in ten having a diagnosable condition, and more than half of adult mental health problems beginning in childhood. Presenting a broad range of conditions including anorexia and psychosis, the young people at Bethlem and Maudsley need transformational opportunities during a difficult time in their lives. Continue reading Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School Residency

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.

L’Chaim: Living Music

This August, we set off on another of our successful L’Chaim tours around care homes in North London, offering concerts for Jewish residential homes in partnership with Jewish Care.

The houses were originally set up to provide sheltered housing for elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors or refugees. Each home has a shared space where residents come together to socialise and our concerts help to bring people together in these spaces, helping to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness amongst the older people.

A string quartet from CLS visited seven different homes, playing a specially programmed concert of classical favourites, lighter popular songs and arrangements of Jewish melodies. The audiences varied in size but staff told us that many residents hear and appreciate the music from their own rooms – some of the audience were so enthusiastic that they couldn’t resist the urge to get up and dance to some of the Klezmer tunes.

We were also lucky enough to hear thoughts and stories from residents in a few of the homes over a cup of tea and cake – it was a privilege to get to know the residents and we’re looking forward to our next tour in November.

Want to know more about our L’Chaim projects? Watch our L’Chaim, Living Music video.


With older people, Holocaust survivors and those who are facing bereavement, our music-making helps to keep memories alive and minds active. Learn more about our Wellbeing through Music projects…

Podcast: Animal Antics KS1 Project

It’s not often that our musicians get to be bumblebees, chickens and horses stuck in mud, but they got to do just that in our ‘Animal Antics’ themed KS1 concerts in May 2017.

The project, in partnership with Tower Hamlets Arts & Music Education Service and Harrow Music Service, saw schoolchildren engage in a series of fun, creative workshops with our fantastic Animateur in Residence, Claire Henry, before experiencing live orchestral music for the first time. The concerts introduced the children to instruments, with our musicians illustrating the story through musical excerpts, and gave them the chance to join in with rhythms, dictate changes in the music, and sing along to their own songs, created in the workshops – all to help the orchestra escape from the mud!

Our Key Stage 1 music projects this year have been made possible with generous support from the Aldgate and Allhallows Foundation, AM Spurgin Charitable Trust, Bernarr Rainbow Trust, Childhood Trust, Derek Hill Foundation, D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and donors of the Big Give Christmas Challenge.

Listen to our Animal Antics podcast, featuring conversations with musicians, Claire Henry, children, and representatives from schools and music education hubs, available on SoundCloud.

You can also watch/listen on YouTube.

We’ll be releasing a new podcast every month, giving you insight into our performances, collaborations and projects throughout the year, so follow us on SoundCloud and keep an eye out!

John K Miles: First Time Live, Chelmsford

Over January–March, CLS in partnership with Orchestras Live worked with six secondary schools in Chelmsford. Students from Year 7 upwards worked with John K Miles over a series of workshops to devise a new piece to be performed at Chelmsford Civic Theatre on 17 March. Read on as John reflects on the project.

I chose to base the project on The Golden Ratio as it was a potential treasure trove of starting points for creativity. Looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s concept of physical perfection in portraiture versus today’s ’selfie culture’, we discussed The Nature of Beauty, particularly in terms of imperfection being beautiful. The resulting work formed the basis of our libretto. I also used The Golden Ratio as a musical starting point using the first five numbers in The Fibonacci Sequence 0,1,1,2,3 as a basis for rhythmic starting points. We gave particular focus to the ratio between 3 and 2 within a ‘1’. Ultimately all the rhythmic and melodic material referred to these numbers in some way.

The Nature of Beauty was composed in response to creative workshops with 130 open access participants from six Chelmsford secondary schools. The work was done over 3–4 sessions in each participating school. I supplied some musical and narrative starting points to the first session and from there we worked on playing rhythms, composing melodies and writing libretto. In response to these initial workshops I developed the main themes for the piece, which I then took back to workshop 2. From there I completed the piece and the later sessions were focused on rehearsal. The piece was scored for all participants to play alongside City of London Sinfonia.

First Time Live 2017, Chelmsford

The new piece formed the finale of a concert of popular orchestral music chosen by the participants. The concert was also presented by the participants, with input from myself and representatives of Essex Music Hub. The participants came from a range of informal and formal musical backgrounds. Some could read music, others could not. The level of musical experience was varied, but for many it was their first experience of playing with, and listening to a professional orchestra.

Using a creative approach allowed us to work on the balance between bespoke challenge and enjoyment and the outcome was a huge success. The participants performed brilliantly in the final concert and it felt like we’d set them up to succeed in a professional performance context. I hope the schools enjoyed working together to make music alongside a top class professional orchestra! I have personally been very inspired by the possibilities that we began to explore together in this project and I hope to develop this project further in the future.

Watch some of the final performance of The Nature of Beauty in a video filmed and edited by students involved in the project:



Find out more about our educational and community-driven projects in our Meet the Music programme on the CLS website.

Instrumenta Lincoln – First Time Live

The CLS Education team is really enjoying planning some exclusive concerts with a group of Young Producers in Lincoln. The project is part of Orchestras Live’s ‘First Time Live’ scheme, and will culminate in two concerts with City of London Sinfonia at Lincoln Drill Hall. Here’s a sneak peek at the programme they’ve come up with so far…

They’ve also included Gabriel Prokofiev’s brilliant Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, which you can watch here.

Our year in pictures – 2015

It was quite a year at CLS. We began 2015 with our Émigré series, full of music by composers who travelled the globe looking for fame and fortune, new artistic experiences, or just a safe place to call home. We did some travelling of our own when we visited Mexico in the spring, before setting up camp once again with Opera Holland Park over the summer. This autumn saw the beginning of our RE:Imagine series, which explores composers’ new interpretations and perspectives on existing works. Take a stroll with us down memory lane and see some of our highlights from 2015…

With the help of some brilliant cat gifs, we channelled our inner dancers for the tango-inspired CLoSer: To and From Buenos Aires. We also reminded ourselves just how weird cats can be!

The real dancers who joined us for the concert were brilliant, though!

 

In April, Russian-born New York composer and violist Ljova joined us for a special residency. He delighted us all with his beautiful blend of classical music, Russian folk, Klezmer and jazz, reflecting his own émigré roots. In anticipation of his arrival, we all thought up our favourite viola jokes…

Continue reading Our year in pictures – 2015

Month in pictures – September and October

We’ve had two very busy months at CLS. Our RE:Imagine concert series got off to a flying start in September with CLoSer: Debussy, Copland and Dance at Village Underground, and continued at Southwark Cathedral with an atmospheric celebration of the music of one of the most romantic cities in the world, in Venice: Darkness to Light. But that’s not all we’ve been up to so far this autumn. Take a look at some of our highlights of the last two months…

CLoSer: Debussy, Copland and Dance saw us return to the intimate setting of Village Underground with a programme exploring music written for dance from Rameau’s 18th century take on the classical Pygmalion myth to Copland’s evocative Appalachian Spring. The concert opened and closed with two brand new dance interpretations of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by choreographer Tony Adigun, one contemporary classical, one urban. Photographer James Berry was on hand to capture the concert as it happened. Take a look at some of his stunning pictures…

Whether you missed the concert, or would just like to relive the evening, you can still watch short highlights on our website.

Our second RE:Imagine concert took us to the magnificent Southwark Cathedral to celebrate one of the world’s most wonderful cities, with Venice: Darkness to Light. Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and countertenor Alex Potter joined us for JS Bach’s re-imagining of Pergolesi’s Stabat MaterTilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, and Latvian composer Ugis Praulins continued our theme of re-imagining the works of Bach, with his arrangement of movements from the Mass in B minor. Here are some lovely photos of rehearsals by James Berry.

On top of all that, it’s been very busy in the education department, as we returned to Suffolk and Essex for our annual Lullaby Concert tour and workshops with Orchestras Live. We also brought a Very Special Bear’s first concert to Warwick, Basingstoke and Saffron Walden with the help of the excellent Simon Callow, who was an absolute natural at conducting! Take a look behind the scenes to see us wrestling with balloons, and a lovely Paddington Bear card made by one of our younger audience members in Basingstoke!

Our RE:Imagine series continues in the new year with The Viennese Salon in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe, and our next Crash Bang Wallop! family concert will take place on 12 December. We hope to see you there!

Crash Bang Wallop! Let it Snow
Saturday 12 December 2015, 11.00am
Cadogan Hall, 5 Sloane Terrace, London
Tickets: £8 Children, £10 Adults, £30 Family (four tickets)
Box Office: 020 7730 4500 / cadoganhall.com

The Viennese Salon
Sunday 24 January 2016, 2.00pm
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Tickets: £62 (premium), £15 – 48, £10 (standing)
Box Office: 020 7401 9919 / shakespearesglobe.com