Open Orchestra


Open Orchestra is a project led by Drake Music together with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal College of Music.

Together we are delivering a new schools project working with children from SEN and mainstream schools.

Working in collaboration with the tri-borough music hub of Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster, the project is delivered in two primary schools in each borough, one mainstream and one special school.

In each area we are composing and playing new material and working as a teaching team comprising of Drake Music Associate Musicians, BBC Symphony Orchestra players and students from The Royal College of Music.

The project will culminate in a performance of the new work with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at a schools concert on 22 May 2013.

I have been working on this project for Drake Music as Lead Artist, and in this blog post I will be reflecting on some of the approaches used in the project with the hope that this may be of use to other practitioners working in partnership projects.


The specific challenges that this project presented to me in my role at Drake Music were:

  1. The projects long time scale – 7 months, but with big gaps between work

  2. Integrating personnel from Drake Music, The BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal College of Music into a teaching team

  3. The creative process – my role in bringing together the work, in partnership with the Conductor Tim Redmond and the delivery partners.

The projects time scale presents challenges primarily as it effects the momentum of the project, and this has implications at 4 levels; the gap between training sessions and the delivery work, the children have large gaps between work, the teaching team have large gaps between work and maintaining a creative overview over such a long time.

It should be pointed out that the gaps in the project are a consequence of working around a professional orchestra’s schedule, and so in order to have a project with this vision and the integrated involvement of world class orchestral players it is necessary that the workshops are scheduled in this way.

Integrating the personnel from the three delivery organisations has proved to be less of a challenge, due to a genuine and deep level of “buy in” across the project, a point I will pick up on again shortly.

Managing the creative process has been really a question of being organised, keeping briefed by the team and intervening when appropriate. Again this has been solved as a team, with Tim Redmond suggesting a theme of flight, which we all felt was excellent for the project, and each school working with this as a creative brief.

The key intervention so far has been less about creativity and more about steering the project from a “making” phase, into a “rehearsal phase” – the scale of creativity being such that we are having to use less than we have created rather than looking for more!

And so, perhaps predictably, a theme emerges for the success of this project, and that is strong and genuine partnership among the delivery team. There is palpable sense of common purpose – and excitement also. This has made working with what could have been a difficult project very enjoyable. This clear sense of common goals has allowed us to focus on outcomes, approach and be supportive and critical of each other. It is without a doubt the most important contributor to the success of this work

Whole Team Training

Building a delivery team from musicians with such different experiences of working has only been possible through the provision of whole team training.

In total we have had four sessions where I have facilitated team workshops at BBC Maida Vale, and these have covered Disability Equality Training (led by Lynn Cox), methodology for planning, ways to approach working in schools for the disabled and an introduction to assistive music technology (AMT).

Naturally there was a lot of anxiety about working in special schools and with music technology. A lot of the time was spent in conversation talking through these experiences and reassuring the players as to approach.

The key to this and to the project is ensuring that each person is being used for their skills. With a team as experienced as we have, it is critical that we all play to our strengths, and it is important that this is reinforced throughout.

With the level of knowledge available, both on AMT, education and playing at the very highest level, it would be easy to be intimidated – therefore for all of us we have had to remind ourselves, you are there to be you, Drake Music as AMT experts and experienced facilitators, BBC players as professional musicians and RCM students also as experienced musicians.

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