Updated: Oct 16, 2020
As the Olympias Music Foundation celebrates its 5th birthday since its inception in 2015, OMF director, Jo Yee Cheung, reflects on the past year, the challenges to come and everything we still have to celebrate (and fight for).
It's 7 months since the UK went into its first lockdown. For those of us in the North of England, and especially Manchester, there have been barely two consecutive weeks when we've not been in lockdown.
For musicians - everyone from professional performers to youth orchestras and local choirs - it has been an especially hard time, despite the amazing displays of bravery and continued creativity across the sector. At the OMF, it is 5 years since our first ever concert and we are also grieving for a year of cancelled projects and birthday celebrations. In spite everything that's happened since March - the concerts we never played, the young musicians we couldn't see, the abrupt stop to public music-making - the OMF are still here and fighting, and (birthday or no) have plenty to be grateful for and celebrate.
After months of delivering projects such as AgbekoCreate, Have Your Say and Mapping Migrant Voices online, it has been beyond exciting to finally venture outside again and tentatively begin to restart our projects in person.
In July, we were delighted to receive a grant from the Three Monkies Trust to support the delivery of music and movement workshops at St John Vianney SEND school - a project we first piloted in February this year. It has been brilliant and at times profoundly moving to be back in school again and to work with the fabulous young people at SJV, using our bodies and voices to explore how we can express different emotions, as well as different animals in the jungle.
A socially-distanced Children's Voices rehearsal with musical director, Eleanor Austin
Due to the restrictions on group singing, our Children's Voices choir have so far only been able to meet over zoom. Fortunately, Musical Director, Eleanor Austin, has come up with some innovative ways for the children and us to make music together.
Our first socially-distanced Children's Voices rehearsal saw the children build and decorate their very own rain-makers, which they used to conduct one another with - using hand gestures to indicate when to play louder, softer, faster, slower and to STOP all together! Our other favourite activities include 'Pass The Beat Around The Room', 'Do This/Do That' and using special words that describe ourselves to create cool polyrhythms on the OMF djembes.
Women's Voices Choir facilitators, Anna McLuckie and Shelley Smith, preparing for an outdoor choir rehearsal
Similarly, our Women's Voices Choir have been meeting weekly to sing (socially-distanced and outside) and find ways of expressing our feelings about the lockdown creatively, with the help of Musical Director, Anna McLuckie, and Movement Facilitator, Shelley Smith. This term's theme is "confidence", with activities that include role-playing our favourite musicians and channelling their inner confidence when we sing!
One-to-one violin lessons as part of our Maingot Scholarship Programme, taught by violin tutor Megan Thompson
Having spent the lockdown producing online learning materials for our Maingot Violinists, we are overjoyed to be back in school delivering violin lessons in person and over zoom. As our violinists enter Primary School Year 6, and the final year of the programme, we look forward to preparing them for upcoming ABRSM exams and a very special project with The Untold Orchestra in Summer 2021 (more on that to come). Funded by the Maingot Charitable Trust, all lessons are taught one-to-one by our violin tutor, Megan Thompson, allowing us to cater to the specific needs and abilities of each child across different schools.
Screenshot of our interactive "voices" map from the Mapping Migrant Voices website
MMV Interview with Oldham-based Pakistani tabla player, Pringle.
Finally, in addition to working with groups face-to-face, our latest project, Mapping Migrant Voices, continues online, with migrant musicians from across Greater Manchester taking part in interviews with our expert researchers to share the music(s) from their cultures. We've been blown away by the diversity of musical talents we've come across - Moston-based Congolese singer-songwriter, Emmanuela; Indian classical music maestro, Rakesh, in Ashton; to Peruvian-Spanish-Irish-Norweigian singer and producer, Geli (DJ Mayeva), in Oldham. We are still looking for musicians to participate in interviews - if you'd like to share your music and your story on our interactive voices map, get in touch!
Our first taste of live music-making in 7 months, at St John Vianney SEND school in October.
As the Winter approaches, and the future remains increasingly uncertain, music is as important as ever - a way of connecting with one another; a sensory safe space; something that can tie us to the present moment and to the other people sharing it with us. And we have no plans to to stop, with an in-person music practitioner training day with Michael Betteridge; performance workshops with young people from the M13 Project and RNCM Pop Course; community music and movement sessions with Shelley Smith, Anna McLuckie, Awen Blandford, Gemma Bass and Ali Mac throughout Autumn; and our upcoming collaboration with the Untold Orchestra in Summer 2021.
Whether online or in person, via post or new technologies, our incredible team is committed to to continuing to find ways to bring people together through music, constantly finding creative solutions to the challenges of living and making music together in a post-pandemic world. We very much hope you'll join us on this journey. Happy 5th Birthday OMF!
Jo Yee Cheung is the Director of the OMF, working with musicians and practitioners across Greater Manchester to develop participatory projects which champion diversity in music and engage communities in music-making. To find out more about the OMF team and stay up to date with our projects, visit the OMF website, or our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.