Nationwide music programme for schools launched

RSNO Engage for Schools most ambitious Scotland-wide orchestral music initiative to date

From May, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) will provide the most comprehensive orchestra-led music access programme to primary and secondary schools across Scotland. In terms of scale and choice, RSNO Engage for Schools is the first of its kind in the UK, as education establishments can pick and choose the level of music education provision they require from over thirty options.
From May, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) will provide the most comprehensive orchestra-led music access programme to primary and secondary schools across Scotland. In terms of scale and choice, RSNO Engage for Schools is the first of its kind in the UK, as education establishments can pick and choose the level of music education provision they require from over thirty options.
Headlining the new initiative, the RSNO launches a national composition competition, in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland, open to 12- to 18-year-olds across the country. Notes From Scotland invites young composers to write a two-minute work for an instrumental trio, quartet or quintet. The theme for the first year’s Notes From Scotland is inspired by five National Trust locations around the country.
BAFTA, GRAMMY and Ivor Novello award-winning composer Craig Armstrong OBE, famed for his soundtracks to blockbusters such as Moulin Rouge!, Love Actually and The Great Gatsby, welcomed the move:

This is a fantastic idea to engage young people in composition and to bring them together with existing composers and musicians to pass on their knowledge and skills. I’m sure it will be an invaluable experience for all concerned.

RSNO Engage for Schools comprises four distinct sections; RSNO PLAY – performance-based workshops, RSNO CREATE – composition workshops, RSNO LISTEN – exploring musical concepts and appreciation, and RSNO WATCH – educational performances. Among the many available activities and workshops are conducting lessons, improvisation for beginners, samba workshops, instrumental coaching, digital composition sessions, an Instrument Petting Zoo (where children can play with orchestral instruments for the first time), and, from January 2015, a cross-Atlantic collaboration with US orchestras examining the music of American composers.
Last June the RSNO published the first ever careers booklet created by an orchestra, providing information on available courses and further education opportunities as well as case studies and insights into the workings of a modern professional symphony orchestra. The booklet is available from Now the Orchestra will be providing work experience opportunities to fifty young people each year, where pupils will assume control of Scotland’s national orchestra over a two-day period, with a view to planning, producing and performing their own concert at the end of the placement.
RSNO Engage for Schools is devised to be fully integrated into the goals of the national Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), offering increased music education and learning provisions through new concerts for every level of CfE from age 3 to 18 years. It is intended that, in its first year, over fifty thousand young people in Scotland will benefit from engaging with some form of RSNO Engage activity.
RSNO Engage for Schools is part of the RSNO Engage initiative, announced last year, which has led to a five-fold increase in the number of people enjoying music with Scotland’s national orchestra outside of its Season performances. A notable success story is the RSNO’s Young Ambassadors scheme, which invites young people aged 16 to 18 to help promote the live orchestral experience in their area. There is now at least one RSNO Young Ambassador for every local authority in Scotland, and the attendance of audience members under 26 years old has risen to 15% across Scotland and nearly 20% in Glasgow as a result.
RSNO Director of Learning and Engagement Jenn Minchin:

We’re very excited to be unveiling our new programme, RSNO Engage for Schools. Its development is geared towards providing the most valuable experience in terms of musical enjoyment and understanding, and provides a seamless integration with schools curriculum requirements at all levels. What’s more, it is available to every school across the country, and those who choose to engage with Scotland’s national orchestra can do so at the level of their choice. It promises to be the most ambitious learning and engagement drive of any performing arts organisation in the UK, and we are very much looking forward to sharing our love of music with many new enthusiasts.

For more information on RSNO Engage for Schools, contact the RSNO Engage Team on 0141 225 3574, email:, or visit

Young Ambassadors Forum #4: Natalie Brayshaw

One of the Highlands' Young Ambassadors, Natalie Brayshaw, describes the 4th Young Ambassadors Forum and Vaughan Williams' 5th on Fri 4 April 2014, at Eden Court, Inverness.

Friday 4 April saw the fourth of this season’s Young Ambassador forums, in Inverness. We met at Eden Court (in Inverness). This venue was particularly appropriate due to the fact that it was the final celebration week of the RSNO’s Highland Residency. Because to this, the forum took a slightly different format from the others: this time, it involved the Young Ambassadors preparing questions which three of us would later direct at two RSNO musicians in the pre-show talk. After having decided on some questions ranging from “What do you like about the Highlands?” to “Is the bassoon undergoing a revival?” and everything in between, we met the musicians: principal bassoon David Hubbard, and cellist Ruth Rowlands, who were more than happy to answer them. Both have been involved in the Highland Residency, and I recognised David from his involvement in the Highland Schools Wind Band, which I’m a member of.
After the talk, it was straight into another fantastic concert. It started with Neilsen’s stirring Helios overture, whose melody simply tells the story of a day – from sunrise to sunset. Though I’d heard the piece before, I’d never actually seen it performed, so it was a wonderful experience which really brought the music alive.
Next came Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, which was fantastic: commencing with the warm and lively Sinfonta (Overture) before progressing through a number of equally interesting movements. I particularly enjoyed Gavotta because of the prominent wind section, and the humorous Vivo evoked a good reaction from the audience. I absolutely loved this piece.
After a short interval, we returned for the famous Vaughn Williams’ Symphony No.5. The audience was captivated from start to finish, and the piece was a fantastic way to end ean already brilliant evening. I look forward to the next forum!
Natalie Brayshaw
Natalie is part of the RSNO's Young Ambassador scheme, arranged by the Learning and Engagement Department. All views expressed by Young Ambassadors belong to those of the individual and are not representative of the organisation. For more information, visit the RSNO website.
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Young Ambassadors at the Big Highland Residency : Natalie Brayshaw

One of the Highlands' Young Ambassadors, Natalie Brayshaw, describes the final event of RSNO's Big Highland Residency, RSNO Collaborate on Sat 5 April 2014 at Eden Court, Inverness

On Saturday 5, Eden Court hosted RSNO Collaborate, an event which invited amateur instrumentalists and singers - young and old - of grade 4 standard and above to play alongside the orchestra in a concert following a day of intensive rehearsals. When I first heard about this opportunity, I couldn’t wait to sign up, and I’m so glad that I did. The day began when, at 10am, we all gathered in the Empire Theatre for a vocal warm up – instrumentalists and singers alike – which introduced us to the fun, informal nature of the day.
Then, we split into our instrumental groups for sectionals. The flute sectional (which I attended) was held by Andrea Kuypers, who some of us had seen playing both flute and piccolo in the orchestra the night before. We began by running through the pieces we would be playing: a variety of Scots Traditional songs including Johnnie Cope and Will Ye No Come Back Again, and Sing by Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Some of the group also performed extracts from Vivaldi’s Gloria, in which woodwind are not required. This session, was very useful, and interesting in terms of flute technique. We then went into slightly larger groups, with woodwind all being led by principal bassoon, David Hubbard. After playing through and getting a general feel for the pieces, we had a break for lunch. During this, there was a performance by RSNO’s Baroque ensemble in the local hall which participants had the opportunity to attend.
After lunch, the whole orchestra and choir came together for a rehearsal. Sitting on the stage and playing alongside such a large group of both amateurs and RSNO musicians was fantastic, and it was great to have the opportunity to get advice from the professionals. When the woodwind were no longer required, some of us sat and watched rehearsals of Vivaldi’s Gloria, before the flutes met up with Andrea again, this time for a workshop based not on the pieces, but on flute technique. I already knew two other flautists from Highland Young Musician regional groups, and it was great to meet the others. We did a variety of exercises, mainly focussing on good breath control which affects a variety of other things such as tone.
Finally, it was time for the concert. A lot of the audience were friends and family members of performers, and the concert – like the rest of the day –was fairly informal. By the time it came to perform, it felt like we’d been rehearsing a lot more than the actual grand total of around 5 hours! The concert went very well, and it was wonderful for all of us to be able to say we had the opportunity to play/sing alongside the RSNO. The whole day was absolutely brilliant, and the perfect conclusion to the RSNO’s Highland Residency.
Natalie Brayshaw
Natalie is part of the RSNO's Young Ambassador scheme, arranged by the Learning and Engagement Department. All views expressed by Young Ambassadors belong to those of the individual and are not representative of the organisation. For more information, visit the RSNO website.
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Young Ambassadors at the Big Highland Residency: Elizabeth Barke

One of the Highlands' Young Ambassadors, Elizabeth Barke reviews RSNO's Big Highland Residency

Every year the RSNO holds a residency in Scotland and this year it was held in the Highlands. Overall the residency ran for 9 months with lots of different concerts and activities for all ages.
My involvement with the Big highland residency started in September when the members of the RSNO came to the highland regional youth orchestra rehearsals and worked with us for our programme for November. Working along side members of the RSNO was great as we could see how they tackled a piece of music and they gave us loads of useful tips. I was working with Janet Richardson the principle piccolo of the RSNO. This was great for me as I only recently started the piccolo so it was very inspirational to see the piccolo being played to that standard. The musicians from the RSNO then can back later on in the year to help us with a our March programme.
As part of the big highland residency the RSNO held workshops in highland schools. I was lucky to attend an improvisation workshop with my school's big band. The workshop was taken by the principle trombone player Dávur Juul Magnussen. It was such a great experience for myself and the rest of the band. We learnt to react off each others improvisation and really work well together as a band. I also hope to be attending a conducting workshop with Jean Claude Picard run by the RSNO in the near future.
As well as these workshops in schools, the RSNO held more activities for all ages such as a tea dance in Kingussie and a singing project with boys in primary 7 and secondary 1.
To end the Big Highland Residency the RSNO were in concert on the 4rth of April with a spectacular performance of Vaughan Williams Fifth symphony alongside Berlioz Helios overture and Stravinsky's ballet music Pulcinella. I was lucky enough to interview cellist Ruth Rowlands and bassoonist David Hubbard as part of the pre-concert talk. Myself and two other young ambassadors were able to ask them about their experience of the highland residency and also general questions about being in the RSNO. After we had asked them our questions they then went on to ask us questions about being young ambassadors and our involvement in the Big Highland Residency. I really enjoyed the concert and it was also great to spend some time with the other young ambassadors.
The next day was a collaboration "come sing, come play" day with the RSNO this was a chance for musicians to play and sing alongside the RSNO. The day was run through workshops in sections run by members of the RSNO. At midday the RSNO baroque ensemble performed in Inverness town house. At the end of the day there was a performance of the collaboration day work of Vivaldi's Gloria, Sing by Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber and some traditional songs Johnnie Cope and Will Ye No Come Back Again. The Big Highland Residency 2014 has been a wonderful success  engaging more people in classical music and giving wonderful experiences to people of all ages including myself.
Elizabeth Barke
Elizabeth is part of the RSNO's Young Ambassador scheme, arranged by the Learning and Engagement Department. All views expressed by Young Ambassadors belong to those of the individual and are not representative of the organisation. For more information, visit theRSNO website
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Young Ambassador Review: Turangalila

One of the Glasgow Young Ambassadors, Luke Maher, describes Turangalila in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Sat 15 March 2014

Turangalila was a piece that I never thought I would be able to like. I had listened to several recording but had never seen it live and until this point I hadn't managed to enjoy it at all. The dissonance and the madness of it had just never managed to capture me, however, Saturdays (15th March) performance changed it all.
The RSNO under the baton of Thomas Søndergård were thrilling and for the first time I enjoyed Messiaen's Turangalila immensely. It really is as much of a feast for the eyes as it is for the ears with the use of instruments such as the ondes Martenot (the nearest thing to a synthesiser in a piece of classical music). All the soloists really were amazing but for me the leader of the orchestra stood out as I think he captured Messiaen's idea of a love song amongst the chaos perfectly. Passages that had usually made feel a little uneasy completely reeled me in and when the tension was released, with the massive warm brass chords that pop up several times throughout the piece, the hall was left in shock and you could feel the audience wanting more.
The only disappointing thing about this concert was the attendance. A masterpiece and display of such genius should not be missed by anyone who can help it.
Luke Maher
Luke is part of the RSNO's Young Ambassador scheme, arranged by the Learning and Engagement Department. All opinions expressed by Young Ambassadors are that of the individual and are not representative of the RSNO. For more information, visit the RSNO website.
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An Adventure with Messiaen - by Ian Taft

Rehearsing Turangalîla with the RSNO

“Are you OK with volume?” says John Poulter. “I can get you some earplugs if you want.”
“No, I'm fine thanks,” I grin back at him. My head might be ringing by the end of the day but I've been looking forward to this for a long time and I want the full-on experience.
I'm sitting at the end of the percussion platform at the back of a Henry Wood Hall packed almost from wall to wall by an augmented RSNO, and the full rehearsals for Messiaen's glorious Turangalîla-Symphonie are about to begin. Directly in front of me are the tubular bells which John will be playing; to his left is the tam-tam and eight other percussionists distributed in an arc away from us, charged variously with splash, suspended, china and crash cymbals, wood blocks, maracas, triangle, tambourine, snare, tom-tom and bass drums. Actually, this is quite a modest array of percussion compared with those demanded by many more contemporary works. Now, I love percussion and the textures and emphasis it can bring to a piece (unlike in rock music, orchestral percussion is mostly not about anchoring rhythm but is part of the acoustic palette) but I do feel that too often today's composers just overdo it and throw the kitchen sink at a composition to no particular advantage. All those battering, clattering tom-toms and clanging gongs and brake-drums can be sotedious and clichéd. Less really is more in most cases and for my money, Shostakovich did it all so much better…
…and so it is with Messiaen. It's notable that each player in the section only has one or maybe two instruments to play because, at times, those rhythms get pretty complex: each tap of a block or splash of a cymbal has an integral part in Turangalîla'ssound-world and the timing has to be perfect. Tenth member and section principal Simon Lowdon is down at the front of the orchestra with a vibraphone. For this performance all the “keyboards” are clustered around the podium, so the piano and Ondes Martenot (of which more later) are behind the conductor and grouped in front of him are vibraphone, keyed glockenspiel and celesta. I haven't seen this set-up before, but it makes good sense in terms of Messiaen's aim to emulate the sounds of a Gamelan orchestra, and should help the more delicate sounds to project more clearly into the audience.
If I sit forward in my seat I have a good view of those players and the podium, on which conductor Thomas Søndergård has just arrived. He greets the players and without much ado calls out “5th movement” and we are off into the dancing rhythms of “Joie du sang des étoiles.”
Joy of the blood of the stars! How can you not love a title like that? This fifth movement forms a kind of “end of part one” to the piece and for its six or seven minutes never ceases its dancing, whirling motion, concluding with an overwhelming, swelling crescendo only eclipsed at the very end of the work. As the musicians work through the movement at some length, it's evident just how much precision and control is needed, and Thomas' rehearsal technique is an model of efficiency as he highlights the most difficult areas, breaks down complex rhythms into bite-size chunks and addresses points of balance. There are just so many notes in this work and the density of some of the scoring is such that it's easy to see how passages could descend into chaos without impeccable control. It's plain to see how much the orchestra appreciate his clear, no-fuss approach: taxing to play as this music undoubtedly is, there's clearly a lot of enjoyment here, though I think the biggest grin must be the one on Maestro Søndergård's face as he directs these great torrents of sound.
Having started in the middle of the work, the rehearsal continues with the opening movements: the Introduction with its bustling, aggressive string entry and the growling, foreboding brass (what Messiaen called the “Statue-theme”) leading on to a plaintive little woodwind phrase (the “Flower-theme”) which also recurs throughout the work; and the second movement, “Chant d'Amour 1”, which heralds the swooping “Love-Theme” introduced by the sweet tones of the Ondes Martenot. Here the piano also makes its voice heard in no uncertain terms. I've listened to this music on recordings many times but seeing it performed live really makes you aware just what an insanepart this is for piano and why it needs a virtuoso player: pianist Markus Bellheim is certainly up to that challenge and he gets a hearty stamping of feet from the orchestra after he executes at blinding speed the descending passage at the end of movement 2 which covers the whole length of the keyboard from top to bottom.
It's break time and I manage to have a brief chat with the Ondes Martenot player, the charming Jacques Tchamkerten. He says that he plays this work maybe three or four times a year at most and by day he's an academic at the Geneva Conservatoire; “you cannot live just by playing the Ondes Martenot.” I tell him I'm fascinated by the instrument and remark on its ability to sound like a human voice. “Yes,” he replies, “and for a while it was popular among composers. But some who wrote much music for voice didn't like it. Poulenc, for example, hated the instrument.”
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So what is it exactly? Most people have heard of the Theremin and that has been used in film scores and by performers like Led Zeppelin and Bill Bailey. You can buy Theremin kits online fairly cheaply and play one yourself. The “Onde”, though, is a bit of a rarity and is always the focus of attention when it appears on stage. Invented in 1928 by musician Maurice Martenot, its name translates as “Martenot Waves” and you could think of it as the very first synthesizer. It uses an electronic oscillator to produce a pure tone (remember those sound experiments in the Physics class at school?) and some other circuits to allow the pitch to be varied continuously over a wide range. In addition the sound can be fed through three different speakers – a plain one, one with resonating strings in front and one with a small gong, which creates a more metallic tone. With the wide frequency range you can have a high, clear, human sounding voice or at the bottom end, earth-shaking bass notes, both used in Turangalîla . Get hold of the recent Hyperion CD of this work, play it on a good sound system and you’ll be startled to hear the “Onde” chugging away mightily in the first movement.
But what for me makes the instrument so interesting is how it is played. It has a scaled-down keyboard (though about 6 octaves' worth) and you can just play notes, with the added feature that the whole keyboard can move freely in its mounting, and you can get vibrato effects if you wobble your fingers while holding down keys. The other mode of playing – I've heard this called the ruban(ribbon) – is based on a tensioned steel wire with a mounted ring in which you place your index finger. By moving the ring back and forth along a strip – with note positions marked – at the front of the keyboard, you create continuous slide, or glissando, effects, and these are what Messiaen uses very prominently in Turangalîla. And given that this is an amplified instrument, it has no difficulty soaring over the work's huge forces when it needs to.
When I go back upstairs to the rehearsal hall, I'm amused to see the “Onde”’s curiosity value is well in evidence as M. Tchamkerten and his instrument are surrounded by a wee gaggle of players, though I do manage to get a close look for a few moments before the rehearsal restarts. This looks like one of the original instruments, lovely old wood and Bakelite switches. I know there are not many of these left but I have heard that a new model is being produced. This has been prompted by, among others, Jonny Greenwood of the band Radiohead who's used the instrument in some of their songs. I would love to play with one but it's way out of my price range, I fear.
So it's back to work, and before the lunch break we come to the eighth movement,  “Développement de l'amour.” This, says Thomas, is the most difficult and complex section in the whole work. I can see what he means as they begin to work on the movement's energetic passages which seem surge forwards then to pull back in rapid succession, at intervals bursting into great flowerings of the love-theme. This movement above all, is where Messiaen celebrates physical love, and there's certainly a sense of, ahem, release when the orchestra's finally allowed to reach the immense, extended climax near the end of the movement.
And so it goes, into the afternoon session, with more of that eighth movement followed by pointed explorations of the other movements. Although this is the full rehearsal day, on the previous day there have been sectional rehearsals to attend to fine detail by percussion, brass, winds and strings. Today, on occasion Thomas asks a section to play a passage on their own where, for example, their part is particularly important in the rhythmic structure and it's fascinating to hear these bits out of the context of the whole ensemble. This reminds me of a previous rehearsal when John asked me “Doesn't it take away the magic to see how all this is done?” Well no, actually. Not only does it help me – a music lover without any musical training – to get a sense of how a piece fits together, but it doesn't diminish the real magic which is how does a composer think this stuff up – and then achieve the sound in the orchestra? Now that's magic – as the man said.
Postscript – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Saturday.
So what of the performance? The feeling at the end of Thursday's rehearsal had been overwhelmingly positive and reports from the Edinburghconcert had been good. I've loved this piece from the first time I heard it – a BBC Proms broadcast in 1982 – and this is just my fourth live Turangalîla. Partner Elizabeth has been joking all week that she needs to tie me down or I'll float away; it's fair to say anticipation is high on Saturday evening.
Violist Katherine Wren gives an excellent pre-concert talk and there's a nice coincidence: it turns out her first live experience of the symphony was the same as mine – a concert by the Hallé in Manchester in 1989. We can't remember who the conductor was, but I promise to look out the programme and let her know.
The audience tonight is not large – it's a sad fact that Glasgowaudiences are still scared away by the unfamiliar – but it's a respectable enough showing. I can see someone in the front row of the stalls with a score in his lap. Oh yes, we're ready.
…and we’re away. I'm so absorbed that it's the fifth movement almost before I know it, my heart's pounding and every impulse in me wants to cheer. But no; save it. The long, gentle sixth movement is a welcome chill-out after all that excitement. Love's well and truly developed in the ecstatic eighth, and the curious, intense little ostinato of the ninth builds up the tension again before the last lap. We have seen few conductors who simply radiate pleasure in their work quite like Thomas Søndergård: he's conducted throughout with passion and precision, but mostly with a huge, happy grin that's infectious all the way from stage to circle. He launches the Finale at a hell of a lick; it definitely wasn't this fast at the rehearsal! There are moments the orchestra seems to be hanging on for dear life, but magnificently, they manage it. The very last chord in the score is marked “très long” and Thomas doesn't disappoint: the crescendo is indeed very long and overwhelming.
A moment of almost shocked silence, then the first clap. I shout; so does Elizabeth. Over the next few minutes we all make, I think, a worthy amount of noise in reward for what's just been given to us. It's all over and we're shattered, though I nip round to the choir stalls to have a few words with John down below. As we get our coats to leave the hall, there is another cluster of folk at the front of the stage looking at the Ondes Martenot. The ten gallant percussionists are having a group photo taken. What a great night. Bravissimi tutti, Thomas and all the performers: we'll remember this one for a long time. And if you weren't there, too bad: you have NO idea what you missed.
Ian Taft is a valued member of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's Chair Patron Programme, supporting our Associate Principal Percussionist, John Poulter. Please click here to find out more about the RSNO's Chair Patron Programme.

In Conversation with Peter Oundjian