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The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Beverley Schools - 18-21 May 2015

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Acis and Galatea

At the core of this year's Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival education programme was a four-day secondary schools' residency with the innovative Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, in collaboration with inspiring composer and facilitator James Redwood. Together, these acclaimed musicians led 103 Key Stage 3 students (aged 11-14 years old), from across Beverley Grammar and Beverley High Schools, in an ambitious and creative exploration of the music of George Frideric Handel.

The project particularly focused on Handel's masterpiece Acis and Galatea - a pastoral opera, telling a story of rural love, both tragic and comic. The key focus of the four-day residency was for the two schools to join together in devising and performing an evening of entertainment based around the narrative themes, musical motifs, texts, and moods of Handel's original work. As well as learning a number of songs from the original opera, the students were encouraged to create their own musical, theatrical and choreographic responses. The residency culminated in a large-scale performance, as part of the Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival programme, in St Mary's Church on 21 May 2015.

The project was supported by a team of 13 music students from the University of York. Performers from the University of York Baroque Ensemble and Chamber Choir took leading performance roles, especially in extracts from Handel's original Acis and Galatea. Additionally, members of the University of York's voluntary Music Education Group (MEG) supported in the delivery of workshop sessions and aided in the schools' performances. This was a wonderful opportunity for school participants to meet, look up to and learn from more advanced young musicians, and to consider their own progression pathways into higher education and the professional sphere. One teacher commented: "Using the Uni students worked well as they were halfway between the professional musicians and the school students themselves - it was aspirational as the Uni musicians were just normal, approachable people and school students could see this and feel free to ask questions."

Members of staff from both schools commented on a wide range of musical, social and personal outcomes for young people, as a result of the project, including:
  • "The skill of working together as a company has increased hugely"
  • "Musical knowledge - chords, the octatonic scale, transposing instruments - got better through work on the repertoire and compositions"
  • "Singing accuracy, pitching, counting and composing confidence all improved"
  • "Students were inspired by working with high calibre professionals"
  • "Many students will now continue with instrumental learning beyond the project"
  • "Bringing together girls from the High School and boys from the Grammar to work together in this positive environment was great for their team-working and understanding of mixed working environments"
  • "Students made friends and mixed with new people - this was great for them!"

When participants were asked what they gained from the project, their responses were rich and varied, with comments including:

  • "I'm proud because we created something amazing out of absolutely nothing in just 3 or 4 days!"
  • "This helped me be more creative and confident in my music"
  • "I managed to apply different skills on my violin that I haven't used before"
  • "I loved meeting and working with new people (especially mixing the boys and girls to work together because we brought different ideas)"
  • "I'm so happy with the feedback I got from my family who saw me perform!"
  • "I loved all of it - especially the big instrumental piece as it brought us all together as one"
  • "Performing and seeing classical musicians - mind blowing!"
  • "I never saw any classical music before and this has really made me want to find out more about it"

This project was made possible thanks to generous support from the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, the Hull & East Riding Charitable Trust, the F P Finn Charitable Trust, the University of York, and the Mayfield Valley Arts Trust.