Lessons in learning from the Halle Orchestra

Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to attend a wonderful concert as part of the Halle Orchestra’s 155th Season. It was moving and inspirational for a number of reasons beyond the obvious enjoyment of the audience and the virtuosity of the performers which one would expect from one of Britain’s world class orchestras.

This year alone the Halle has been shortlisted as a double finalist in the 2013 BBC Music magazine awards for performances of Wagner’s Die Walkure and Elgar’s The Apostles which have both received high critical acclaim. For those who want to vote for the Halle to win the awards you can hear their performances by visiting www.classical-music.com/awards and vote by February 28th. What these recordings and awards do not do however is tell the full story of the Halle. Like the WEA the Halle has become an iconic brand well-known and liked in its community, and respected for the work it does to stimulate the involvement of both adults and young people in the arts. Under its current chair, Sir Mark Elder and with support from a wide range of sponsors and volunteers, combined with the considerable talents of its management team led by John Summers it is able to reach new audiences and inspire the next generation of artists and concert goers. The Halle also has a number of education sponsors including Manchester Airport, Pinsent Masons and Siemens.

Through a scheme called “adopt a player” children from inner schools in Manchester and the surrounding catchment area attend a concert and take part in a creative music project. For many this will be the first time they have seen many of the instruments and certainly the first hands on experience. They also get to meet members of a professional symphony orchestra and visit one of our finest concert halls.

Each of the classes is assigned its own Halle musician who has already met the children, can talk about their lives and careers and perform a piece on their instrument.

They then act as a coach to groups of children so that the children themselves can create their own composition.

The finale is a performance involving the teachers from the local schools, the children and the Halle musicians.

As well as the adopt a player scheme the Halle has a long tradition of involving and engaging both adults and children in music as a way of stimulating and encouraging a passion for learning – giving the important signal that classical music is accessible to everyone. The orchestra itself is the epitome of effective teamwork, creating something special and unique through collaboration. The skills the children are learning from these adult performers are vitally needed by employers and are not always sufficiently developed in a conventional schools environment. The Halle is taking education to the learners, performing a vital function within our education system and creating a new talent pool for us all to draw upon.

As I watched Andrew Gourlay, the Halle’s relatively new assistant conductor bounce on his toes to achieve an amazing and stunning performance, I was struck by the power of the Halle example and the profound difference this orchestra makes in the North West of England. It has kept true to its roots, but is genuinely multi-national. It always aspires to be the best. It has dedicated musicians, some of whom have been in the Halle for the past 20 years and it has excellent management and leadership. Most of all the Halle is reaching out to the next generation.

If only the whole of our educational delivery could be this challenging and exciting.

Ruth Profile

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