Our work in schools has always been central to our mission, and our objective is to take music out to areas that would not normally have the opportunity to experience it, particularly to areas of economic and social deprivation. We have concentrated our work in local primary schools in the Oxford estates, and in local special schools in both the city and the county. We recently won the ‘Oxfordshire Charity of the Year Award’ for our work in schools and hospitals.
All our workshops are developed on an individual basis, at the school’s premises, by specially trained musicians of the OP working in close collaboration with the teaching staff, to reflect the individual needs of each school at that particular time. The workshop might reflect a particular curriculum need, or be used to elaborate a general theme or project that the school is working on at the time. The workshops are always highly participative, using voice and percussion instruments, with the objective of tapping into the latent musicality of the children even though most of them will have had no musical experience. The workshop will usually end with a performance of a piece of work composed and played by the children themselves in front of the rest of the school and parents.
Wherever possible we will try to link the chosen theme with current OP concert repertoire to give the children the opportunity to visit the Sheldonian and hear the piece in concert or at a rehearsal.
Currently our main focus for primary schools is the Blackbird Leys estate where we are running further workshops in the summer.
We are a regular presence at the Mulberry Bush School in Standlake, a national provision for severely emotionally disturbed children. The staff and carers commented that the children showed significantly higher levels of engagement (everything is voluntary) than in any other externally delivered projects. The only negative according to the headmaster was that ‘the children will be really upset tonight because the players have finished the project and won’t be coming back tomorrow!’ We are introducing similar work in another special school, Northern House in Summertown, where a local primary school will be collaborating in the project.
We have also been active beyond Oxford, reflecting our broader geographical coverage: we are developing new relationships in Aylesbury and Northampton, where we ran programmes for the first time last year. In the autumn, working jointly with a number of Aylesbury schools as part of the Britten centenary, we plan a performance of ‘A Young Person’s Guide to…..’ in this case the Eroica, at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre as a prelude to the OP’s own performance of the Beethoven symphony there on 12th October.
An exciting new initiative is a collaboration with the Dragon School where young string players of varying ability levels from local primary schools, will be invited to take part in workshops run by our players in June. We plan to extend this concept to include children playing woodwind, brass and percussion instruments.