An interview with: Manchester Camerata

learning_our_moss_sideLast month, we blogged about Manchester Camerata’s work with pupils in Moss Side in Manchester, where they composed an original piece of classical music called the Moss Side Symphony – a blend of classical music, rap and African drum beats, designed to challenge negative stereotypes about this part of the city. We were so impressed with the work the group did with school children in the area that we caught up with head of learning and participation with Camerata Nick Ponsillo to find out more.

2MF: How did the Moss Side collaboration come about?

Nick Ponsillo (NP): Jane Delfino (director of enterprise and internationalism at Manchester Academy) and I were introduced mid-way through 2012 and we realised that the match between Manchester Academy’s aspirations and Camerata’s Learning and Participation ethos was strong so we jointly devised a project that would encourage an even greater working relationship between the primary schools and Academy but in a way that empowered the young people to lead the creative direction of the project themselves.

2MF: What was the inspiration for the Symphony?

NP: The inspiration came from the idea of celebrating Moss Side as a vibrant, diverse and cultural place to live and grow up.

2MF: Will you be doing any more performances of the piece?

NP: So far the premiere was a unique performance that will last long in the memory of everyone that took par,; performers and audience alike.

2MF: How did the children respond to classical music?

NP: The children and young people used music as a creative learning tool to create and perform their own new piece. This project wasn’t about classical music, in fact it took in a broad range of influences and experiences that the participants brought with them, from steel pans to Polish beat-boxing. When people use music as a creative tool they begin to lose the idea of different classifications that we use to pigeon hole music, seeing, hearing, composing and performing the different influences simply as their own music.

2MF: Do you think it’s sparked a long-lasting interest in the genre?

I think it’s definitely sparked an interest in using music creatively. The children, young people and staff at all the schools will no longer feel that they can’t do music and I’m certain that they will see Manchester Camerata as their orchestra and one that they will want to listen to in the future.

2MF: How else will you be working with Moss Side residents/children in the future?

NP: We delivered a number of projects with Moss Side residents over the past year and I hope that this one in particular will be the catalyst for an ongoing annual and inclusive event .

2MF: Would you be interested in working with the Two Moors Festival to boost classical music study in schools?

NP: I’d definitely be interested in seeing how we might be able to use music as a way to positively engage people of all ages and encourage a sense of personal and social development within all members of our communities.

2MF: What other projects are you involved in with schools in the north?

NP: There are a number of different projects with schools and all based in cross-curricular learning through creativity. Projects range from half-day workshops that create a new piece of music from a famous speech to fully sung operas about the Holocaust, Great War and Victorian mill workers, which are all created by the children that we work with. Projects are bespoke and developed in partnership with the schools that we work with so the projects are only limited by our joint imaginations.

2MF: Why do you think there’s a bit of a barrier to classical music education?

NP: This is a big question and one that many people decidedly more qualified and eminent than me have tried to answer! From my perspective there are a number of barriers that different people experience. For example, it could be that individuals had a bad experience of music in school that carries over into their adult life which might also inform their child’s view of music. However, if I was forced to focus on one area I think that would be how classical music presents itself and the way in which people within classical music talk about it, which can be totally alien and alienating – it certainly can be for me. If you listen to Camerata’s music director, Gabor Takacs-Nagy, talk about music he thinks about creating an emotional connection between musician and audience. Music is with us from before we are born to the very end of our lives, sitting deep within our memories and connecting us to emotions, smells, tastes… We all have the ability to make some sort of connection to all types of music, including classical, but the path to this with classical music often feels blocked.

Once somebody can make that connection, in whatever way possible then the barriers are broken. Camerata’s Youth Programme and the REmix project takes classical music and fuses it with the influences and experiences of young people who are not classical musicians to create brand new music. Through this process the barrier has been smashed and these young people are much more open to listening to and using classical music within their lives and music making. Music of all types is a live art form and we connect with it best when we hear, see and experience it in a live context.

2MF: How can people get involved with the Youth Programme?

NP: Camerata’s Youth Programme and the REmix project takes it’s inspiration from 1970s New York hip hop and is an opportunity for young people to take part in creative music-making projects that fuse their experiences with classical music to their own create new music. Alongside this is a Youth Forum, which is a collective of young people from across Greater Manchester who guide and develop Camerata’s youth engagement – they are now responsible for the development of the Youth Programme and have already started to devise and deliver projects with us as well as act as ambassadors at events, concerts and board meetings.

There is a rolling application process for the Youth Forum, which is an open process. For people wanting to take part in Youth Programme projects, keep an eye on the website.

2MF: What advice do you have for young musicians intent on making a living through music?

NP: Be committed, be prepared for knock backs, be resilient and don’t underestimate the amount of hard work that it takes to succeed. The musicians I know are unbelievably dedicated and have been for many, many years.

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