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OMF Focus Group @ Stoller Hall

Development Manager Charlie Widdicombe fills us in on a recent trip to Stoller Hall!

If you’re reading this blog, you’re very likely to have spent some time watching live music in a concert hall (and if you haven’t, we’d love to change that - please get in touch!).

Do you remember the very first time you saw an orchestra - and do you remember how you felt?

A few weeks ago on Saturday morning, children and parents from OMF’s all new ‘Learn to Play’ scheme spent a unique and intriguing morning at the Stoller Hall. Firstly, we had the pleasure of watching the Chetham’s School of Music Symphony Orchestra rehearse prior to their performance focusing on contemporary Chinese composers in celebration of Chinese National Day (1st October).

A picture of the OMF children painted a thousand words as they stepped into the concert hall at Stoller - a first for almost all of them. They were truly staggered by what greeted them, and the different sounds that emerged from the orchestra. Particular excitement was generated when the OMF children were able to pick out the sound of their respective instrument that they’re about to start learning - be it violin or cello, flute or clarinet.

It was an absolute pleasure to witness the sheer excitement and shock of the children in these unfamiliar yet magical surroundings, especially when we’ve all been starved of live music for so long.

The Chetham’s orchestra is of course exceptional and far beyond the average level of an ensemble for school-aged students - but even so, from the perspective of the OMF children it becomes far more relatable when there is not such a sizeable age gap between those you are observing and comparing to your own musical experiences. We’ve learnt that from Chetham’s students taking OMF violinists under their wing in a mentoring process during our Maingot violin scheme, that ran over the last 3 years. It makes a real difference to a child’s aspirations to have a connection with someone that was in their position not that long ago!

After the rehearsal, the children took part in a singing workshop with Michelle Robinson, a new addition to the OMF and a hugely exciting one at that - we cannot wait to see Michelle’s work as Musical Director of our Children’ Voices choir!

Meanwhile, parents were engaged in a fascinating focus group with staff from both OMF and Stoller Hall. We were very grateful to be joined by Tom, joint principal of Chetham’s, Fran from Stoller, and Nico from Buzz Neighbourhood Manchester.

Each participant, whether staff or parent, shared their musical background and despite the small group size, it was immediately evident that between all of us there was a huge diversity in terms of all things music - from our music education to the genres we enjoy most. Some participants had never seen a classical music concert before, and were unaware of many of the fantastic cultural venues that put on orchestral, chamber and choral concerts.

What ensued was a conversation that truly dug deep into the questions around concert engagement - covering everything from working around taking your kids to football to social media advertising, from concert costs to performance interaction.

This focus group was a first of its kind for Stoller Hall and OMF, but we were delighted with the outcomes. Children were visibly excited by the orchestra and had clearly enjoyed their singing with Michelle; parents had been able to speak at length about their musical experiences and what would make them more interested in returning to more concerts; and we had plenty of ideas about we can engage communities that are typically unreceptive to the sort of events you would see at a concert hall in Manchester.

And we were even treated to a performance at the end...!

We don’t think it’ll be the last of these, so keep your eyes peeled for reflections on our next focus group!

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