Catherine Arlidge, Sub-Principal Second Violin of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, teacher, animateur and winner of the RPS/ABO Salomon Prize gives an overview of her work in music education.
My fundamental passion is possibly bigger than the definition of ‘education’ – it is to connect new audiences to classical music. And the way in which I make that connection is by performing with the CBSO in the world’s concert halls, by teaching young instrumentalists and also by finding ways to give new audiences their very first experiences of a live, classical performance. These three types of activity are utterly interconnected and each feeds the others.
Like every UK orchestra, the CBSO boasts many small ensembles that regularly visit schools. My group is a string quartet ‘The Stringcredibles’ and we have numerous shows and creative hands-on workshops in schools most weeks, most recently connecting to the BBC 10 Pieces.
We ‘curate’ our concerts in quite an unusual way – with a clear focus on the meaning behind the music. We always use a visual, digital component and often readings and commentaries, to bring value to the performance beyond our technical and musical skill. Many of our performances focus directly on areas of the National Curriculum both for music but also, as music is such an effective learning tool, we use it to focus on many other areas of the curriculum, beyond music.
Possibly our most exciting project to date has been Stringcredibles Apprentices – we recently selected 16 young instrumentalists and trained them to create vibrant, interactive performances for children.
Our mantra in teaching them is:
Pitch – know your audience and what they need from you
Pace – create a sequence of pieces that captivates the listeners throughout
Perform – practise your stage presence, your physicality and your speaking, as well as your instruments and ensemble skills.
The learning journey these students had been on prior to Apprentices was very much focused on mastering the technical and stylistic skills of playing an instrument. We widened out that learning process by asking them:
“Why are you playing what you are playing? And why should we listen?’
You can have all the technical skill in the world and yet if you communicate nothing it is worthless. We found that by focusing on their ‘musical dialogue’ with the audience, their playing becomes much more characterful, their physicality becomes more engaging, they are less inhibited by the fear of making small mistakes, they allow themselves to enjoy the performances more and this all helps to keep the audience with them.
For me Performing, Teaching and Learning are all an intrinsic part of being a musician, and every one of these three disciplines are interlinked. I know I am a better musician for having a breadth of activity as part of my daily life.
Written as part of Ensemble Philharmonic