“The children had learnt something, that the universe they inhabited was bigger than they could ever have imagined”, the narrator slowly shuts his book. We’re watching the end of The Moon Hares, the community opera performed by pupils from Acland Burghley School (ABS) alongside Gospel Oak and Kentish Town primary schools, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
Having already run workshops with over 700 children at the school, the orchestra’s collision with ABS has expanded the universes of hundreds of young people in Camden, as well as teachers, parents, and the musicians themselves.
Nick John, Acland Burghley’s head teacher, reflects on this gift of cultural capital, “it’s a way of closing the gaps between students and improving the educational offering for everybody,” he says. “To host such a wonderful organisation in Camden is a great privilege.”
As anyone who has been a teenager will know, growing up can be a tumultuous ride. “It’s as exciting and invigorating as ever,” continues Nick, “but it’s a challenging world. The idea that you can prepare for things is being blown out of the water; you have to be a lifelong learner, able to adapt and change all the time.”
He explains how the arts can act as a remedy of sorts, “creative dispositions – inquisitiveness, perseverance, collaboration – can enable young people to find their way through life’s complex problems.”
One Year 11 student tells us how taking part in The Moon Hares did just that. “I didn’t really like talking to people. Being involved in this project meant I had to talk. I got to know people and then I became more comfortable speaking. It was a way of breaking through.”
Music can be an invaluable emotional outlet, as another Year 11 pupil reveals “I think a lot of kids find it difficult to express themselves, and music helps us do that.”
Cuts to the arts sector are making this form of self-expression increasingly difficult to access. Although orchestras and schools cannot solve this problem alone, Cherry Forbes, the OAE’s Education Director, is adamant that through continuing to offer what they can, the orchestra can bring some magic with them. “Then if that magic spirals, it can show others how important music is in the curriculum, from academic prowess to wellbeing.”
A pupil in Year 10 with additional needs describes how this magic feels for her. “It cheers me up when I’m down. Being part of the orchestra has made me really happy.”
What has the impact of the move been so far? “We’ve called this Year Zero because it was meant to be the big launch year, but Covid has slowed it down,” says Nick. “I think it’s probably even harder being an orchestra in lockdown than it is being a school. Every time I started to feel sorry for myself trying to run a school, I’d just look at what they’ve had to deal with.”
So how has the OAE coped? “Our word this year has been ‘flexible’”, Cherry tells us. “We never say this is it. It’s just these are the possibilities. Then we build scaffolding and from there it can go in any direction really. I’ve also had to clean a lot of music stands – they’ve been starting to rust.”