UP! Orchestra

by Jim Pinchen

Surrey Music Hub’s Inclusive ensemble has been in existence for around 5 years and to date has already achieved much. The group have performed at the Royal Albert Hall, The ISME Global Music Education conference in Glasgow, The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and have collaborated on international projects with young people in Mexico and Brazil.

The Orchestra is an ensemble designed to be accessible for young people of all backgrounds and abilities and is particularly interested in welcoming young people who have been unable to access music education because of their life circumstances and lack of suitable opportunities on offer locally. UP! Orchestra is led by an incredible team of professional musicians whose aim is to ensure each participant has a meaningful musical experience regardless of ability, musical interest, vocal style or instrument. The team is experienced in supporting young people in mainstream settings as well as those who have mental health, disability, behavioural, ESL (English as a second language) needs and young people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.

The Music

Music made at rehearsals is created by the participants under the guidance of a musical director and the music support team on the ground. Historically UP! has always prided itself on creating new music that the young people have agency, voice and ownership over and throughout the years a variety of music has been created that reflect the diversity of the group. This music is always quirky and fun but also slightly anarchic and covers a wide range of genres including rock, pop, world, reggae, hip hop, classical and more!

Our young people have a range of needs and all share a passion creativity and for making new music. Many are non-verbal and on the autistic spectrum, some are mental health referrals, a few are unaccompanied minors and we also have highly experience grade 8 players.

Making our first pop video!

When we consulted young people, who attend our Saturday Music Action Zone about what they would like to do next as part of the AMIE project all agreed that it was finally time to make a high-quality recording/pop video of the project. This was important to the group and the parents and carers many because this would give everyone something to remember about the orchestra when not at rehearsals and it was expressed that the was crucial for those with learning disabilities who are less able to remember experiences when outside of the rehearsal or performance environment.

As an organisation we have always strived to provide the highest quality performance experiences for the ensemble and whilst it would have been more practical to use mobile recording facilities to make our pop video we felt it was important to the ethos of the project that the young people were given a high quality recording experience. In order to achieve this, we partnered with the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM), based in Guildford Surrey.

Building partnerships to secure world class facilities

ACM recently built a new recording studio at their facilities in Guildford. The studio, nicknamed ‘Mini Metropolis’, is based on the world-famous Metropolis Studios, Europe’s largest independent recording studio, which ACM also own. ACM kindly gave us studio space for two days in return for allowing music production students to work on the project. They also connected us to one of their music production tutors, Charlie Morland. Charlie has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry including, Sir Tom Jones, The Script, Rizzle Kicks and Emeli Sandé and this was a real inspiration for our young people. This partnership was crucial in helping us to achieve our goals and the relationship between us has grown from strength to strength since the recording. Surrey Music Hub continues to provide tutors and expertise in ACM’s new Music in The Community degree module as well as providing work experience opportunities for their students.

The Recording

Over two terms we created an original piece of music called ‘Your Eyes’. This piece of music allows for improvisation and creativity for the whole orchestra as well as a catchy chorus for everyone to sing along to. We also decided to record one of our favourite African warm up songs as a kind of outro to the video. This provided a special moment for young people, tutors, parents, carers and ACM students and staff to participate and join together for the recording.

For the first day we recorded guide parts in preparation for the young people to play along to and we also invited some of our more able players to record their solos and improvisations. The group consists of a wide range of brass, woodwind, vocal and contemporary instruments but what is of particular interest is the use of technology on this project. We have a couple of young people who have very limited mobility and to allow them to have a meaningful part on the project we utilise motion sensor technology connected to an electronic instrument called Clarion which was developed by our friends at Open Up Orchestras, based in Bristol. The song created will be available soon for digital download/streaming and any money made from the single will go to a local charity called The Big Leaf Foundation.

The Impact

AIME funding has allowed us to create a high quality and ground breaking opportunity, not just for our inclusive ensemble but for all the sessions that happen as part of our Saturday Music Action Zone. For the first time we have been able to offer a world class recording experience to some of our most musically unrepresented young people and crucially allow them to create something that they are able to access and share locally and globally, immediately and long into the future.

As an organisation we have learnt about the potential benefit of utilising online digital streaming platforms, social media and online video sharing programmes. We have also had opportunities to form new partnerships that greatly enhance the quality and range of opportunity that the hub is able to offer.

Our pop video can be viewed here.

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