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: Alistair Hewitt

During my work experience week at the RSNO, I had a great time working for my department and helping out wherever I could. Throughout the week I had many jobs to complete of various different types.

I made an online record for the adult chorus members, I cleaned the trumpets and trombones and moved instruments and packed them in the car for the petting zoo. My favourite part of the week was on Friday, when I had to upload software to the iPads. I love working with technology and computers, so this was quite enjoyable for me, even if it took quite a while. If I had to pick the worst part of my week, it would be the cleaning of the brass instruments. I found this repetitive and monotonous and I got tired of it quite quickly. Another thing I found repetitive was making the online records for the adult chorus, although I didn’t mind doing this, in fact the time seemed to go by very quickly when I was typing up the records.I feel I have acquired new qualities and skills throughout my week here. I have had to work independently a few times and this was something I was not used to. I had to use initiative if something went wrong too. I had to work by myself, and I had to organise my work on my own. This was a very different experience from being told what to do every day at school. I had to be very organised and I had to have good communication with my colleagues. These were skills that I did not have much experience using, but after a week filled with opportunities to use them, I feel I have improved a lot in these aspects and I feel much more confident.

In general, I have really enjoyed my week here at the RSNO. I had many different jobs to do so I didn’t get bored, and the week went by very quickly. I have enjoyed the experience of being in a workplace and the week has helped me grasp an idea of what I want to do after I leave school.

Alistair Hewitt – Barrhead.

Alistair 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.

RSNO Young Ambassadors 14:15 - Megan Lawson

Fife RSNO Young Ambassador Megan Lawson describes Metamorphosen in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Friday 24 October 2014.

I had heard R. Strauss’ Metamorphosen many a time on YouTube but to hear it live was a totally different experience. The unusual layout of the strings was a very different thing to see indeed. Many of the people I had brought with me were confused at the fact the orchestra was so small and that they were not placed in the usual manner. The piece started off very well, with the cellos taking the tune over now and again. The piece was very mystical and had a sinister feel to it. I think you have to have an acquired taste for that type of music to enjoy the musicality behind it.

Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio was a very short and beautiful contrast to the previous piece. The fast and lively sections of the piece caught the immediate attention of the audience. As the main tune re-occurs many times in this piece many people begin to recognise the piece. The question and answer sections of the piece were executed perfectly. I really enjoyed this piece.

Concerto for Orchestra - what a way to finish a concert! I love this piece, I have listened to it so many times and it is one of my favourite classical pieces. The five different movements are all very contrasting to each other. The final movement is very lively and upbeat. It is a fantastic ending to an amazing piece.

Overall, this concert was an excellent one. All 3 pieces contrasted each other in very different ways and it was a perfect first classical concert for people to attend.

Megan Lawson

Megan 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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RSNO Young Ambassadors 14:15 - Scott Bathgate

Edinburgh RSNO Young Ambassador Scott Bathgate describes Metamorphosen in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Friday 24 October 2014.

On Friday the 24th of October, I was treated to what was a magnificent concert. This concert featured the works of Strauss with Metamorphosen, Beethoven with his Overture to Fidelio and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. Metamorphosen was a very emotional and inspired by very dark events in the composers life. Strauss began working on the piece after he heard there was a bombing (Strauss living in the time where his home city Munich in Germany was under the Nazi regime) on the historic opera house in Munich which he had known for 70 years. The music definitely reflects this pain as we are introduced to push string sections filled with beauty and slight dissonance. We were then treated to Beethoven's Overture to Fidelio.

Derived from Beethoven's only and unsuccessful opera, Beethoven composed the opera as he enjoyed and admired the work of Mozart's operas but he was critical of the immoral subject matter in works such as Cosi fan Tutte. A very impressive piece with a very vibrant and lively character. It went down a storm with the audience. Finally we are met with Bartok's Symphony for Orchestra. This being the longest piece on the programme was a very vast and very intricate piece. While the title may contradict itself, Bartok purposely titled this piece due to the way he uses all the instruments in the orchestra in a virtuosic and solo like manner. The piece is met with many ideas and motifs which develops throughout the entire piece. One notable point in the piece is when Bartok through compositional technique mocks Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, which he felt was getting way more attention than it should, in the fourth movement. The viola part introduces this theme very briefly before getting mocked by the loud sound of the brass. A very powerful piece which served as a suitable finale to the evening. I thoroughly enjoyed the night and so did the audience.

Scott Bathgate

Scott 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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