I recently formed a new company – operasonic – to focus on making opera with young people, and our first project, Port Songs, kicked off this month with an exciting residency at Project Space in Newport. In the last week of the Easter holidays, we ran two songwriting workshops for 10 – 14 year olds and an open drop-in session.

The songwriting workshops were fantastic. We asked our young participants to write stories and to tell us about their lives. Composer Stacey Blythe and I couldn’t believe the amazing stories that they created. They worked together to come up with ideas. They told us about the people and places that meant the most to them. They told us about their dreams and wishes.

Then we worked together to think about music. We discussed whether phrases should be long or short, music should be sad or happy, fast or slow. We talked about different instruments. Then Stacey started playing, and the magic started to happen. Suddenly all the talking turned into singing, and, before we realised it, we had written a song. A special song, with a chorus, and all the words and ideas in it.

For the final Easter session, we open the doors of Project Space and asked people to come and tell us their stories. Stacey got her harp out and played, and I offered cake to everyone who passed by. It was a sunny and warm spring day. We met over a hundred people that day, and heard a whole range of different stories. We cried, laughed, sang, and stood in awe of some of the memories we heard.

We are now working with local groups to write more songs in the next few weeks. Once this is all done, the Port Songs Performance Group will bring all the songs together, rehearse and then perform the final Port Songs at the Big Splash Festival on Saturday 30th May. We are still recruiting for group members, so if you are interested in getting involved, please contact me for more information at rhianhutchings@outlook.com



Matthew Flinders – Participatory Arts and Active Citizenship

Cultural Value Project Blog

Reconnecting Communities:  The Politics of Art and the Art of Politics

What does arts and culture deliver in terms of social benefits? How can these benefits be demonstrated? What role do arts and culture play in re-engaging ‘disaffected democrats’? And can this offer further proof of the social value of arts and culture? An innovative new participatory arts project in South Yorkshire is examining the ‘politics of art’ and the ‘art of politics’ from a number of new angles.

‘The general value of arts and culture to society has long been assumed’ a recent report from the Arts Council acknowledges ‘while the specifics have just as long been debated’. It is this focus on the specifics that forms the rub because in times of relative prosperity there was little pressure from either public or private funders to demonstrate the broader social impact or relevance of the arts. In times of…

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Ten Easy Ways to get Kids into Opera

Opera Teen

To start with, I know that this story is old news now, but it still gives me the happy giggles. It’s so refreshing to hear about a mother, father, or friend that takes a child to their first opera and a young fan is born. In case of this story, a mother took her nine year old daughter to see a family presentation of Carmen. When she enjoyed it, her mother took her back to see “Rigoletto” at the San Francisco opera, and even though “Rigoletto” deals with some pretty adult themes, as do many operas, the child was hooked.

Not only do these stories give us hope, as a generation of opera fans always ready initiate another into our cult group of enthusiastic opera lovers, but they make us excited! This art form isn’t even close to dead. Opera just needs revising. Suppose you write an essay: You read…

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Longitudinal data on the effects of learning an instrument

Fantastic to see this data!

Music Education Works

SOEP study

The German Socio-Economic Panel study (SOEP) is believed by its authors to be the best
available longitudinal data set for studying the effects of learning a musical instrument.

Its most recent report by Adrian Hille and Jürgen Schupp, concludes that even after controlling for a large number of social background characteristics, there are strong differences in terms of cognitive and non-cognitive skills between adolescents who learned a musical instrument during childhood and those who did not. Learning a musical instrument is associated with better cognitive skills and school grades as well as higher conscientiousness, openness, and ambition. Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theatre or dance. These effects do not differ by socio-economic status.




BENEFIT: Cognitive development
TARGET GROUP: Young people
AGE: 8-17 years
MUSIC TYPE: Learning an instrument
TYPE OF STUDY: Academic research – household panel study
PERIOD OF STUDY: Not relevant
DATE: 2013
PLACE: Germany

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Active participation in music can rewire young people’s brains

Great evidence for music training!

Music Education Works

In Harmony students Photo of In Harmony students – with permission of Dr Nina Kraus

Dr Nina Kraus’s longitudinal study into the effects of music training on disadvantaged young people in Los Angeles , has been looking at the importance of active participation in music.

The research concludes that the level of participation – attendance at classes, practice – affects the changes that result in the brain and the related reading scores.


Time Magazine: http://time.com/3634995/study-kids-engaged-music-class-for-benefits-northwestern/#

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My Danish Adventure – StepStones

At the end of October I spent four days in Denmark working on an extraordinary project which gave 45 young musicians the opportunity to devise over a weekend. The project was part of the Stepstones (Trædesten) project which is creating work with young people leading up to 2017 when Århus is the European Capital of Culture.

The project is a collaboration between a number of organisations including Århus Music School, the Aarhus 2017 and Den Jyske Opera. My job was to create a framework for the participants to devise within beginning on Friday evening, through Saturday, and ending in a sharing on Sunday afternoon.

The one given was the venue which was called VitaPark and was in a small town called Odder. The venue was an old hospital which was used as a community arts venue. It was extremely atmospheric, and we had nine different rooms that the young musicians could devise in across the weekend. Each room had a theme and gifts that had come from the last Stepstones project.

The space 1
Friday night began with introductions, inspiration, exercises and exploration. I introduced the group to the ‘yes and’ rule, and we did some storytelling together. The project leader, Gunnild, had assembled a facilitation team who would support the process across the weekend, and the team took over 4 rooms on Friday evening and offered inspiration pieces for the students to see. In this way they began to explore possibilities. The group then visited each room on offer and had to vote for their top three choices.
By Saturday morning we had sorted the participants into 9 groups, with a range of musicians in each room – we had classical singers, e-musicians, folk violinists, drummers, guitarists, and pianists, all between 16 and 18. Christian was their tutor, and his input was crucial to get the balance right.
The groups
And so the devising began. Warm-up to begin, of course, with a focus on getting them working together in their groups. Then structured chunks of devising time with seed questions for each chunk. By lunchtime it was clear that some groups were moving faster than others, and the facilitation team met to decide who needed light touch encouragement, who needed to be left alone and who was completely lost. We encouraged experimentation, and tried to keep thoughts of audience at the back of their minds for the moment.
The final part of the afternoon was spent with groups visiting each other’s work and feeding back on what they saw. I prepared a set of reflection questions for this session, to help structure thinking around what they were experiencing. Feedback from the group told us that this session was particularly useful.
Sunday morning was sleepy and bleary eyed, mainly due to the extended jam session that had happened the night before. A gentle warm-up tried to inject some energy into the group, and they were particularly amused by rubber chicken – I couldn’t tell them why this was the word we yelled at the end! Answers on a postcard.
We moved into polishing their work and thinking about how the audience would enter and leave the space. I visited each group and asked them questions. It was great to see some groups suddenly realising that there would be an audience in the space too and they would have to find a way to move them where they wanted them.

Finally our audience arrived, and they were led through the spaces in small groups by a facilitator. Gunnild explained the context of the project to each group before they undertook their journey. The group I was with was blown away by what had been created in such a short space of time, and also by the talent of the young people.
New Beginnings
I really feel so lucky to have been able to undertake this project. It was such a treat to work with the young musicians and see them find their way from Friday night scepticism through Saturday afternoon collaborative arts practice to Sunday afternoon site-specific performance artists.
For me, it was a testing ground for a number of techniques and ideas, and I certainly came away with a clearer view of the possibilities and limitations of structure in this kind of process. I hope to be able to explore extended devising again, and would be love to see what happens when there is a cross arts group involved.