Super Art and supersónic

Announcing the results of our supersónic art competition

Those of you who follow our posts and announcements (all of you, surely?!) will know we ran a little art competition last month on the theme of “supersónic” – our brand new orchestral summer school, coming up next week. We had a number of entries, and are delighted to announce the results and display the top three here, in all their vibrant, multicolour, supersónic glory.

Our judge – famous artist, author and presenter James Mayhew, and star of our forthcoming “Fireworks and the Firebird” coming up this November 5th – was very complimentary about all the artworks submitted. But he had no doubt about the top selection, and about the overall winner.

So, an enormous thank you to all who entered, and congratulations to the winners. Without further ado, they are:

  • First prize – Samantha M, age 10 – who wins a £10 book token and will conduct a little piece in our final supersónic concert (3pm, Sat 25 July, Woodlands Community College, SO18 5FW)
  • Two runners-up prizes – Jessica L (age 12), and Byron H (age 13) – who each win a £5 book token

And finally, here are the three, beautiful, prize-winning entries – presented in a lovely scrolling mini-gallery . . .

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Little Swans

A few weeks ago, són held its opening event – Little Swans, a concert for young string players. It was a wonderfully informal, small-scale concert, nice and low-key so as we could have some fun on stage, in a simple environment. We chose the venue and repertoire carefully so everyone was relaxed. And, of course, we checked with all the participants – parents as well as the youngsters involved – that we could use the photos you see above and below.

Because són is just starting, we need to get going and gently raise our profile. We’re also keen to get people on board as we begin our journey towards bigger, and even better, concerts for children and young adults. So Little Swans was an ideal opportunity – both for són to develop our skills, and for this group of talented children to show theirs.

One of the many lovely things about Little Swans was the live-streaming, via our website. We had an audience of over 150 people watching at some point, stretching from families in Mexico and Hong Kong, to relatives just up the road. It was great to know that we were able to connect nieces and nephews with people across the globe, doing our little bit to keep music all-inclusive and ever-accessible. Whilst we’ll never keep any of our live-streams available online for more than 24 hours, we’ll update this article with a little glimpse of some of the fun in due course.

At this time of year, as summer term nears its end, teachers and ensemble directors put on concerts all across the country for their students – the culmination of a hard year of work and preparation. As we write, the yearly Music For Youth Festival is just beginning in Birmingham. So it’s deeply gratifying to think that we’ve done our tiny bit, too: offering young players a chance to shine in public, an opportunity to dress up, show off a bit, meet and smile with their fellow musicians, and perhaps forge new links with new friends. We even held an associated art competition, based around the same theme of swans, complete with judges and prizes too. Here’s a great example:

And – yes! – són are planning more events like this one… The feedback we’ve had from those who came along to Little Swans – as well as viewing online and via social media – was extremely positive. There are now plenty of performing opportunities for young musicians – but you can NEVER have too many chances to make music with others, and another little concert, as our fabulous Little Swans showed, can only add to their musical lives.

Why not subscribe to our newsletter to find out about future education events?


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són at Cheltenham - with the Miraculous Mr Mayhew

The són team enjoyed a morning as guests at an education project of the Cheltenham Festival last week. We watched James Mayhew weave his wondrous work with two classes of Yr3 children at Lakeside Primary. We also performed as James painted, providing some live music for each session. Out of interest, James has written his own warm words about són‘s visit to the Cheltenham Festival here.

Basing his workshops around two masterworks from the first set of BBC Ten Pieces – Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain, and Stravinsky’s Firebird – James showed he was the consummate story-teller: involving and utterly captivating. He held the attention of the youngsters, at the same time as bringing a tear to the eye of the grown-ups in the room. And that was just his telling of the story – the music, and James’s painting, were yet to come.

What strikes us about James isn’t simply that he’s a technically brilliant, vibrantly colourful and vivid artist. Of course, he’s exactly those things and that’s why he’s loved and respected across the country. But what makes him utterly unique is how he shapes the unfolding painting, pacing it to perfection along with the contours of the music. He times every little nuance, just as a ballet dancer or opera singer would do on stage. Each new musical paragraph is met with a change of tempo from James, as he paints with renewed vigour, or calmed pace, as befits the musical journey. He not only accelerates and crescendos with the music, but depicts the characters entering and leaving the drama – often on one sheet of paper, board or canvas. Quite incredible.

We witnessed two classes, each held in rapt attention – to both James and the stories, the art AND the music – for over 90 minutes each. Our live music-making was only a small contribution to this event. Yet it adds an additional element to the day, allowing the youngsters to see real, living, breathing musicians. And of course, every doorway to the senses is a valid way for these children to connect with the power of music. It doesn’t matter whether they’re touched by the sound of the violin, by the wash of colours on canvas, or by the feel of their own pastel crayon on paper – or by all of these things. What matters is that they’ve noticed, they’ve paid attention, and they’ve experienced.

They may become artists, painters or illustrators. They may become story-tellers. And they may become musicians. Perhaps most importantly of all, if they already sing or play an instrument, they might just begin to build bridges in their imaginations between what they learn on their violin or clarinet, and the music and art they experienced that day. And that’s where the magic lies!

Possibly the most poignant story of the day wasn’t actually told by James at all. It was told by one of the teachers, following the final session. She explained that she’d just seen a particular youngster, one who has real difficulties opening up, suddenly produce work filled with real character, exuberance and colour. As enthralling as James’s stories are, this is the kind of story we must keep telling each other, as artists, musicians and educators.

Don’t forget James’s own blog about the day which you can read here – and you can book tickets to James’s Pictures at an Exhibition, part of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival of Music here. Plus, there are collaborations between James and són are in the pipeline for next academic year, so keep an eye open!


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BBC Ten Pieces

During the very early stages of the són project, we were thinking a great deal about the BBC’s Ten Pieces initiative – not least because it’s created such a buzz amongst music educators and schools. It’s been getting people interested in both the musical repertoire AND in the idea of classical music in general. These are great things, of course – they’re amongst the noblest things we musicians and educators can be doing! At són we’re working closely with schools and hubs regarding their own approach to the Ten Pieces sets – to the content, the repertoire and to the scope it brings for primary (and now secondary) schools to develop their inspiration.

Following the sad passing of Katy Jones (the original leader of the Ten Pieces project) earlier in the year, we did wonder how people in the BBC’s Ten Pieces department would respond and work towards the newer set of musical items – the long-awaited “Ten Pieces Secondary”. Well, they’re finally out there now, having been released only a matter of days ago. Already són have been in discussion with educational leaders, publishers and others about the possibilities, liaising about future plans. It’s a good set of pieces, eclectic and varied, but does need a charismatic and innovative approach to get youngsters of Key Stage 3 age really inspired by it.

And, because it’s a BBC venture, it has clout, kudos, and real substance – ie enough solid, core support materials so as teachers, animateurs, presenters, conductors and arrangers can follow it through. Workshop leaders have loads of scope to bring latent talent to the surface via Mars from the Planets or even, now, Shostakovich 10.

Quite a few naysayers let rip as soon as the new set of Ten Pieces were announced. Even at són HQ, we admit we were a bit puzzled by some of the choices and wondered what could, and what wouldn’t, work. Now that a little time has passed we realise, in truth, it doesn’t really matter. Because the only limiting factor is people’s imaginations. Yes, resources go an awful long way, too – if the budget is tight, then mounting a performance of Bernstein’s Mambo with a pro band may prove tricky. But, nothing is really unsurmountable. What’s crucial is that people aren’t limited by the choices of pieces, but instead choose to use them as a springboard, connecting more and more youngsters with incredible music.

So, why stop at the scherzo from Shostakovich 10? Why stop at the Mambo from West Side Story, and not seize the chance to entrance youngsters with probing assessment of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in music? Why only the Verdi Requiem – when one can get teenagers hooked via Mozart, and even Duruflé?

We all complain about the youth of today, or the state of education, or (especially, lately) of music education. But this isn’t a political manifesto – we’re an orchestra, after all, not a forum for deep debate! Yet one thing which will never change is the tangible thirst youngsters have for something inspiring, ANYTHING INSPIRING. Whether it’s football, X factor or some weird stuff called Shostakovich, if it’s delivered in a passionate way then it’ll strike a chord with even the most hard-hearted of teens. If it’s presented, played and performed with plenty of skill, integrity and understanding, and – above all – by people who love it and would do anything to show others how incredible it is, then it’ll reach its goal.

Children, teenagers, youngsters – they haven’t changed at all really. At team són we’ve collectively been working with young people for around 35 years between us. Yes, plenty of change in the system in that time, and the manner of delivery, but the kids still love amazing things just as much as ever. Of course they do – it hasn’t stopped being any less amazing! It’s simply a matter of getting it TO them – and the BBC Ten Pieces, both Primary and now Secondary, deserve our applause and support for making that a tiny bit easier.

són believe firmly, passionately that if – through any one of our concerts, or education events – we make only one youngster return to their trombone studies, pick up a recorder for the first time, or start singing – ANYTHING – then we’re doing it right. Surely, as musicians and music-educators, this is what we’re looking for?

We’d love to hear your thoughts – please leave us a message on the disqus comments form below, or you can email us direct here.


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