OAEducation - Music is Special

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment joined forces with Camden Music to put on an educational project called 'Music is Special' at Cecil Sharp House on Monday 21st of November 2016. This innovative project integrated students from two special needs schools and two mainstream schools with the period-instrument players of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Composer and animateur, Sam Chaplin had worked with these students in workshops to produce an accessible, inclusive and creative concert for this wide-ranging group of people - with much of the creative content devised by the students themselves.

The result was remarkable - especially given that the students from schools across the London Borough of Camden had only had two preparatory workshops with Sam Chaplin to get their performances to such a high standard for the group performance at Cecil Sharp House.

Sam Chaplin had devised pieces for the school’s massed orchestra and had written music for the OAE inspired by the students’ ideas. These pieces cohesively linked Handel's 'Music for the Royal Fireworks’ with music that the children could play and sing along to - still with many of these ideas coming from the children themselves. All of the children played, sung and learned sign language symbols - probably without realising that they were doing all three at once! Sam Chaplin had a fantastic affinity with the students and was a brilliant ‘master of ceremonies’. He had also, incidentally, written clear and effective natural trumpet and horn parts - never an easy task.

The group performance flowed perfectly and I didn’t see any students struggling to concentrate - they were all totally on board. Even during the quite lengthy Overture from the 'Music for the Royal Fireworks’, I didn’t see any students with wavering attention. The ingenious idea to invent words to this tune meant that the students could relate the sounds they were hearing with what they had previously learnt to sing or play.

The members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are brilliant at delivering this kind of project and every player in the orchestra dutifully ensures that the children feel suitably enlightened by this rich educational experience. The orchestra enjoys being involved in all of the activities and we each went home with an enriched knowledge of British Sign Language and with the infectious enthusiasm that the children showed. Bravo to all at: OAEducation, Camden Music, the teachers and students from the four schools, and to Sam Chaplin.

Russell Gilmour
Russell Gilmour Blog
writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.