A view from inside the bear suit

I am a viola player in the Royal Scottish National Orchestra so what on earth am I doing on a cold March morning, standing on the very blustery Beach Boulevard in Aberdeen, dressed head to toe in a big furry bear suit?!
Well, six other RSNO musicians and I are in Aberdeen to present our under 5s chamber music concerts to over 400 nursery and primary school children at the Beach Ballroom as part of the Learning Through the Arts Festival organised by Aberdeen Arts.
These concerts were first devised five years ago for one of the orchestra’s Out and About weeks – a unique week in our year where we take up residency in a particular area of Scotland (usually one that we don’t visit as much as we’d like to) and try to reach out to as much of the community as we can.  Quite often we find ourselves in small groups which is exactly how this group was born.
The group is made up of a flute, violin, clarinet, bassoon, double bass and percussion although part of its success lies in its flexibility – we can swap instruments in and out – a French horn instead of a clarinet, or a cello instead of a bassoon for instance, giving the audience a broad representation of instruments of the orchestra.  We play orchestral music ‘reduced’ to suit the instrumentation of the group.
This particular show is a Teddy Bears Picnic and I am the presenter – Big Bear.  The rest of the band are musical bears except for the double bass player who is an elephant and has lost their way and quite literally bumped into a sleuth of bears on their way to a picnic.  Children love three things: silliness, stories and songs and I try to incorporate all of these which is why I am dressed like this for a start!  I read the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears accompanied by the incredible music of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (trust me, it really works) and I get chased by bees during Vaughan Williams' The Wasps Overture.  Then I sweat a thousand calories dancing to The Sailors Hornpipe, encouraging the children to do the same.  It's silly, it's fun but it exposes these impressionable minds to some of the most fantastic music ever written and to sounds they have probably never heard before.
I've been thinking a lot about connections recently.  As musicians, connecting with people is essentially what we do.  In the concert halls across Scotland, week after week, people are touched by our music – that very raw emotion within us that no one can see is exposed by that music and we make that connection without uttering a single word.  It doesn't necessarily have to be an uplifting experience but it definitely enriches our soul.
It saddened me to learn the other day that there are children in Scotland who arrive at school unable to recognise even their own name – no one has made that primal connection with them that we all so desperately need to thrive in this world.  I'm not saying that our concerts are going to change that but music has a profound effect on people, even at a very young age.
So, what's in it for us musicians?  Well, for me, I have a lot of creative input into this venture and it makes a big change from my day job of playing "mm, cha, cha" (which I love, don’t get me wrong!).  It's a challenge figuring how to make the shows engaging but informative at the same time.  We play without conductor so the band have the challenge of staying together by themselves – a good way of sharpening one's aural and visual tools.  But, most of all, I think we have fun too – who wouldn't in a hall full of 3- and 4-year-olds, completely free of any inhibitions, having a really good time, and being as cute as only they can be?
As I see over 3000 nursery children visiting the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow this week to hear the full RSNO perform its Teddy Bears Easter Picnic, I really hope that this groups builds on its success so far. Music is so important at every stage of our development but none more so than in those early years.  All I can say is "watch this space!"

RSNO Young Ambassador 14:15 – Rosie Lavery

Yesterday, on Sat 7 Feb 2015, I went to the RSNO concert A French Feast in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – and what a feast it was. I had been particularly excited for this concert, as I have a great love of languages, especially French! Taking my seat with the rest of the ambassadors, after our customary meet and greet of the audience, I felt a shiver of excitement as the lights went down and the oboe played it's first tuning note for the rest of the orchestra. In the past couple of years, that lonely 'A' note has become somewhat of a signpost for me of something spectacular to come – especially whilst sitting in the Concert hall.
Once the orchestra had tuned up, and the audience has quietened down, the conductor Gilbert Varga walked onto the stage, smiling and waving, before beginning to welcome the audience to the concert. He then went on to give us some back ground on the first piece – Les Éolides (The Breezes) by César Franck, in which he asked the audience to imagine a light summers breeze gently tapping on our cheeks as the strings began in a delicate surge of sound. It felt quite unusual actually, to have a conductor speak so intimately about a piece to the audience before beginning, but I found it refreshing and very interesting. The rest of the young ambassadors and I had been discussing before the concert about how we could make Classical Music more accessible to people of our age – and one of the ways we all agreed on was giving the music a bit of context. It's all very well to listen to an orchestra playing a piece and afterwards saying "Oh yes, it was lovely" but soon forgetting it. However, what Gilbert Varga did by actually explaining the background of the piece, actually made the piece into an experience. The piece was absolutely exquisite and completely blew away the audience (breeze pun intended...)
After the rapturous applause of the audience died down, there was a slight pause in the programme as the conductor walked off the stage and was replaced by two stage crew carrying what looked like, according to one of the young ambassadors, 'a giant door'. But yet, it soon became clear as the conductor reappeared with a man holding a cello (Daniel Müller-Schott, world renowned cellist, to be more precise) that this 'giant door' was actually an extra stage – the solo cellist had arrived. And so began the second piece, Cello Concerto No.1 by Saint-Saëns. Beginning with a punchy melismatic line from the soloist, the entire audience was submerged in Daniel Müller-Schott's absolute passion for the music, which you could feel as the notes sang from his bow. I think everyone's reaction to the piece, and the night as a whole, was enraptured in the image of a little tiny girl I spotted in the front row with her grandmother, who within three seconds of the cellist beginning to play, turned round to her gran with wide eyes and mouthed "WOW!"
And to sum up, the rest of the concert was just "WOW!". Going from Fauré's absolutely exquisite and "intimately beautiful" piece, according the conductor – which had me and one of the other Ambassadors in tears – to Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye (Mother Goose) which cheered us up immensely, before a rather impromptu and unscheduled performance of a wonderful Benjamin Britten piece, performed solo cello without orchestra, the night was a complete success.
The concert ended with Ravel’s Le Valse, which told the story of a Waltz's birth and then death. The conductor related this to us using a very complicated extended metaphor of a wizard... I don’t know either... but it was clear the audience had an absolutely amazing night. The clapping bounced off of the walls, going on for ages and raining down on the orchestra, and most importantly Varga and Müller-Schott. And, as I travelled home on the train afterwards, I realised that every fantastic musical night I have begins with a lonely 'A' note from an oboe – and ends with aching hands from clapping! Globalement, c’était absolutement fantastique!

RSNO Young Ambassadors 14:15 – Sophie Lewis

Young Ambassadors Forum #3
Today was the third forum for the RSNO Young Ambassadors. Our focus was on connecting young audiences to centuries-old music which is something we all feel is important. We started off with a roundup of all we had done in our communities, which was interesting as everyone had been really busy and had made great progress. We decided that because a lot of us wanted to go to organisations and schools to talk about what we do that it would be a good idea to plan out a presentation that we could all use. This was good fun as everyone had great ideas as to what to put in and it allowed us to get a bit creative. After this, we brainstormed ways in which we thought we could connect young people to old music and turned our thoughts into questions that we could later ask the audience. We also got our Young Ambassador badges from Megan; my blazer will look great now!
During our market research with the audience, we met some really helpful people who had some great suggestions and ideas, which is always encouraging. I love getting out and speaking to the audience and when they are so receptive and willing to chat it makes the experience even better.
The programme for tonight’s concert – A French Feast – was one that I had been looking forward to a lot! Perhaps, as a cellist, I am biased but it was one of the best concerts yet! Daniel Müller-Schott was incredible; I was completely in awe at the way he played the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto. The technicality of the piece and the passion he played with both amazed me. When this then led into the Fauré Elégie I thought I was in music heaven. The Elégie is one of my favourite pieces for the cello and as I am currently studying it in my music lessons it was amazing to hear it live and played so beautifully. Being sat close to the stage, you could really feel the emotion, and as a cellist I really connected to that as I’m sure many of the other Young Ambassadors did. The encore that Müller-Schott played was a great surprise and rounded off a beautiful section amazingly. I was inspired to go home and practice myself; much to my families dislike! I loved every part of the first half and would gladly sit through it again and again and again.
The second half of the concert was equally as amazing. It amazed me how together the orchestra was in Ravel's La Valse. You just got swept up on the music and let the orchestra take over. The conductor's comments on the music really put you in the right frame of mind to listen and this was great to hear. It was a shame to end the concert, to be honest, I could have listened all night!
Sophie Lewis, Young Ambassador 14:15 for North Ayshire

RSNO Young Ambassador 14:15 – Rachel Hendry

Review of Buniatishvili plays Liszt at the Music Hall, Aberdeen on Thursday 29 January 2015
The concert opened with a piece by Schumann. This isn't a composer whose work I am very familiar with, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The piece was Overture, Scherzo and Finale. I liked the elegant opening section but I really loved the lively Finale.
Next was the highlight of the evening. The pianist, Khatia Buniatishvili, played Liszt's Piano Concerto No2 in A major. Again, this piece was new to me, but I really enjoyed it. I loved the way it didn't have 3 separate movements but three contrasting sections with the same beautiful melody running through it. I thought Khatia was amazing I couldn't take my eyes off her hands as she played – her performance was spellbinding! After the gentle opening I was quite surprised by the harsh, crashing style of the finale. After the interval we were treated to two more beautiful pieces of music; Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner and Symphony No1, Spring by Robert Schumann. I enjoyed the soft gentle sound of the Idyll, but I really loved the more dramatic Spring, which was a wonderful end to a lovely evening.

RSNO Work Experience: Chris Wesley, Dunblane High School, Dunblane, Stirlingshire

For the past three days I’ve been at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra gaining valuable insight into the management of an orchestra. The main focus of my short time here has been to create graphics and posts using the social networking site Tumblr for next year’s Springfest, a festival of music in Dundee. I’ve hugely improved my skills in programs such as Photoshop and created promotional graphics and information to inform the public of concerts during the festival.
I also sat in on an improvisation workshop from musicians of the RSNO. It was incredibly interesting to listen to such unique styles of playing and how each instrument blends together to create beautiful sounding harmonies and rhythms all whilst even the musicians are out of their comfort zone as improvisation is rarely used in their repertoire.
On my last day, I listened to a rehearsal for the St Andrew’s Party concert with Scottish duo Phil & Aly. This was great to listen to as traditional Scottish music wasn’t a style I was very familiar with. It also included students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a drummer, which was quite unique.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at the RSNO and everyone I’ve met has been very friendly and welcoming. I know if I decide to try a career in music or in orchestra management there are great opportunities available such as apprenticeships here at the RSNO.

RSNO Work Experience: Eilidh Allison, Alva Academy, Alva, Clackmannanshire

RSNO Work Experience, November 2014
by Eilidh Allison, Alva Academy, Alva, Clackmannanshire
Day 1
On Monday, I helped Christine – the RSNO's Chorus Manager – print sheet music and fold them into booklets. It was good to see what is needed to be done to prepare for rehearsals. It has made me appreciate the time and effort teachers put in to preparing our lessons. I also got the chance to listen to the RSNO Junior Chorus.
Day 2
On Tuesday, I created a survey using survey monkey, an online evaluation tool. I then watched the orchestra rehearse. I really enjoyed watching the orchestra as I had never seen a professional orchestra perform live before.
Day 3
On Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to watch Nicola Benedetti rehearsing with the orchestra. Watching Nicola perform was amazing and made me want to go home and practice for hours!
Day 4
For the final day, I helped prepare for the concert in Dundee. I am very much looking forward to the concert tonight to hear the orchestra perform.
Overall I have really enjoyed my work experience at the RSNO and been given many amazing opportunities. I hope to attend a number of RSNO concerts in the future.
Eilidh was part of the RSNO's Work Experience scheme, arranged by the Learning and Engagement Department. All views expressed by Work Experience participants belong to those of the individual and are not representative of the organisation. For more information, visit the RSNO website.

RSNO Work Experience: Chloe Hooper

RSNO Work Experience
Chloe Hooper, St Ninian's High School, Giffnock                 
Day 1
My first day at work experience was fairly normal. Meaning I spent 15 minutes trying to find the place; panicked when we found out we travelling in a circle and stressed out when we actually managed to find the building! I’m just thankful that I managed to arrive on time. Looking back, the first five minutes seem like a blur: the tour, the introductions and the trailing up and down the steps leading to different floors. There were a number of steps that lead to even more rooms, looking at the building from the outside you wouldn’t believe how big the space actually is. I drove straight into the work that was given to me by putting away instruments and doing inventory. It was one job after the next and I liked it that way. Everything came easier to me that way and I was comfortable getting on with my work.  I know however that the first day would have been the hardest. It’s easy to feel out of place. There are people who have worked here for years with experience that I can learn a lot from. Going from a fourth-year pupil, sitting in maths jotting down notes, feeling like you're just going through the day, to an office job is strange.  What made it easier was the kind people I worked with.
What I thought I knew I now know; I got a great placement which will teach me a lot about myself and will help me when the time comes that I need to make choices for my career. On the first day, I managed to work efficiently in a professional work environment while overcoming any challenge I was faced with. Which, in this case, is easier done than said since the hardest part of my day was figuring out how to update an iPad (since I’m just terrible with technological stuff the update ended up failing). Overall I can honestly say my first day was a good one.
Day 2
Today I attended a staff meeting which gave me a better insight to the company. I learned about their perspectives and the direction they're steering the company towards. It was interesting to see the department managers giving updates on their teams. I enjoyed hearing about their programs for young people and their workshops for schools. It was fascinating to hear about the upcoming events from a behind the scenes point of view, and learn about the preparation that goes into each event. What interested me the most was hearing about the green team. The green team is successfully reducing the impact the office has on the environment by reducing waste and encouraging staff to make use of public transport or park and ride schemes. It was refreshing to see the results.
Today was also the day I gave updating the iPads another go. Sadly it failed again but today has given me the experience of what office work mainly consists of. Whether it's scanning documents or watching updates, I have to consider if this job is suited to who I am, which is good thing considering this is what work experience is about - taking a look into where you want to take your life.
Day 3 
Today, Louise (RSNO Learning Manager) gave me the opportunity to sit and listen to the orchestra itself. They were practicing different pieces for their upcoming concert. During their rehearsal, I knew I had to be quiet and tried not to draw any attention to myself. Attempting that I hid, sitting myself in front of the seats to listen. I couldn’t explain what it was like to hear but if you haven’t heard them I recommend that you come to listen. It's not to be missed!
The most challenging thing I did today, or maybe even this week, was moving instruments around the building to prepare for workshops. Since I have no upper body strength it was a challenge even lifting three xylophones in the first place (!) but I did choose it rather than taking two trips. I think this was my favourite day out of the week. Three days into my placement and I have gotten to know the place. I know where my desk is, I know the login for my computer, I know the area and if I thought coming here was difficult then sinking back into my original routine for school will be harder.
Day 4
Day four - a Thursday - was uneventful at work, but I suppose that is most days when you have a desk job since you’re at a computer all day. To be more specific, I was asked to update the iPads software from a 7.0.04 to an 8.0.1.  I couldn’t say it was fun at all, but it didn’t bother me. I got stuck straight into it and time flew by fast.  Today felt shorter than any other day this week and that’s probably why I’m stuck for words writing about today. This week is almost done!
Day 5
These past few days have flown in when I expected them last longer. I have a better picture in my head of what I want to do with my life and what I definitely don’t want to do. Which is a great benefit towards making decisions for my future and yet I don’t feel different at all. Are you supposed to feel more mature? Capable? Confident?  I’m not quite sure. I’m grateful for this week. I’m grateful to the RSNO and everyone I worked with in the Learning and Engagement department, and grateful for my teachers helping me find this placement.
I learned valuable lessons and enjoyed working.
Looking forward, I’m excited to leave school one day and make something of my life.

RSNO Work Experience: Alison Hedley, Gryffe High School

Every year, our school gives S4s [fourth-year pupils] a week of work experience to go wherever we want. I chose to go to the RSNO because I am very interested in carrying music into my career and I wanted to have a taster of what it would be like. The first day I came in, the staff were extremely welcoming and nice, they gave me a tour of the building and I met all the staff. I then settled down into a computer and started with some tasks that needed completing which involved making spreadsheets, typing up information and doing errands. This was definitely a new experience for me, working long hours and in a desk the whole day.
The second day I came in, I settled into preparing booklets for going out into schools which took up most of my morning but it paid off as I was allowed to have a large lunch break. In the afternoon, I carried on with this task then once I had finally finished I started preparing and checking flutes and clarinets that were going to be used in a workshop later that week. This is an essential job, if one instrument has a missing part then it means it can’t be used and one person is missing out on using it. The highlight of my day was looking at all the instruments, as I don’t play the clarinet or flute it was nice to get a close up look at them and see how they work.
The third day I was invited to go and watch the orchestra play as it was one of their rehearsal days. I got to watch them the whole morning and it was amazing to watch them rehearse and hear them play and hear how the conductor interprets the pieces, how it affects the orchestra’s playing. I could have watched them the whole day, but I had other jobs to complete! The afternoon was kept very busy, I cleaned the trombones which sounds really boring, but was actually a lot of fun surprisingly. I then scanned a folder full of important pages which needed to be completed very quickly, and then I worked out how to ‘bind’ music booklets together so I wasn’t in my desk the whole day! The highlight of my day was without a doubt watching the orchestra rehearse; you don’t see it every day!
The fourth day I was invited to assist a workshop in Perth which was a great opportunity. Katherine Wren, who is a member of the orchestra, was running a viola workshop in the Concert Hall in Perth. The students who came were Grade 4/5 violin players but were very interested in playing the viola as well. As a keen violin player myself, this would have been a great opportunity to go to which I would definitely have signed up for if I had the chance. It was great to watch them learn a new instrument as the viola produced a lovely sound. The Perth Concert Hall is an amazing building which I looked around for a while; when the workshop finished, Katherine then popped off to a rehearsal for a concert with the RSNO which she was playing in that evening. The highlight of my day was definitely seeing Perth which is a very pretty place and being at the Perth Concert Hall which is an amazing building and being out of the office was fun as well.
This is the last day and I am writing up this blog post and then I am going to carry on with some documents which I didn’t finish on Wednesday. The highlight of my week was definitely watching the orchestra and also going to Perth. I am really glad that I chose the RSNO to do my work experience with as it is a great place to do your work experience if you are wanting to do your career in music and hopefully this won’t be the last time I see the RSNO as I look forward to coming back here and doing lots of their courses.

RSNO Takeover 2014, Day 1: Artistic Planning

RSNO Takeover is an intensive two-day work experience project which took place at the RSNO Centre on Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 June 2014. Susannah Mack and Scott Bathgate, who have been working in the Artistic Planning department describe their experiences on the first day of the programme.


Susannah Mack – Conon Bridge, Ross-shire
Working with Artistic Planning today has been really interesting and enjoyable.  Our main job was to plan the music for the concert we would play on Tuesday night.  We had a list of 10 potential pieces to choose from, each very contrasting and with different limitations, such as ensemble size or length, meaning we couldn't pick Stravinsky's Rite of Spring due to the number of musicians we would have needed. We also had to consider the balance of the programme, for example we couldn't have Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake when we already had excerpts from his Nutcracker Suite. Too much ballet! Other things we had to consider included target audience, venue, the conductor's thoughts and themes.
After finalising the concert programme, we met with the Marketing, Development and Presentation and Operations departments in order to cover all the important details we needed to consider for the concert to be success.
One of our other tasks has been to plan our own hypothetical concert on the theme of Valentine’s Day, which gave us a good idea of the many things which need to be considered when planning orchestral programmes!
For me, a definite highlight has been to see how all the departments work together and all the individual jobs within orchestra management.  I have loved getting the opportunity to work with so many young people, getting to know people from across Scotland, and finding out how much it takes to put on a concert programme.
Scott Bathgate – Edinburgh, Edinburgh City
I thoroughly enjoyed today's session. I learned through taking the artistic planning course, that choosing repertoire for a concert is not as simple as it may seem.
Through my supervisor Manus (RSNO Executive Producer) I learned that there is many things to take into consideration when making a programme for an RSNO concert. These things include audience perception, target audience, finance and cost, promotion and possible themes to be played with throughout the concert for certain events, such as Valentine’s Day concerts. As well as this I learned how to read short hand for orchestration such as "Tmp" standing for timpani. This has helped me fully understand the inner workings of the orchestra and has given me a more broadened understanding of how much effort is put into RSNO concerts and events.
Today we made the programme for tomorrow's concert while taking all these different factors into account. Tomorrow we plan to make another programme from scratch as well as pitch the full structure of the concert to the musicians including presentations of the departments and how the orchestra will manage itself to go on and off stage in a beneficial way. A lovely day and I certainly learned a lot.
Susannah and Scott are part of the RSNO's Takeover scheme, arranged by the Learning and Engagement Department. All views expressed by Takeover participants belong to those of the individual and are not representative of the organisation. For more information, visit the RSNO website

RSNO Takeover 2014, Day 1: Development

RSNO Takeover is an intensive two-day work experience project which took place at the RSNO Centre on Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 June 2014.Eva Ferry and Kelsa Lee Mcdonald, who have been working in the External Relations (Development) department describe their experiences on the first day of the programme.


Eva Ferry – Mount Florida, Glasgow
Today I was introduced to the development team who gave us an insight to what development means, the work that the team do and how this contributes to the overall event. It was interesting to learn about the different tasks which have to be completed and we got a chance to organise and deal with some of these issues. I worked with the logistics side of things later on in the day which was useful to grasp an idea of what needs to be done before the final event. It was a good learning experience and has increased my interest in this area.
Kelsa Lee Mcdonald – Cowdenbeath, Fife
Today I was working in the development department of the RSNO. I was working with two other girls and a group of women who taught us about life in the development and marketing sections. Through brainstorming and group work we planned tomorrow's concert and I worked with two women to write and deliver a pitch which asked Innocent Drinks for headline sponsorship for the concert. We also attended an Ops [operations] meeting which wasn't the most interesting part of the day, but necessary all the same! Overall it was an enjoyable day and I've gained an insight into what could possibly be my future career.
Eva and Kelsa are part of the RSNO's Takeover scheme, arranged by the Learning and Engagement Department. All views expressed by Takeover participants belong to those of the individual and are not representative of the organisation. For more information, visit the RSNO website.