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OMF - The Lockdown Story

Patrick Shepherd is a producer and the events administrator for OMF. Here, he shares an exclusive window into the behind-the-scenes business at the virtual OMF HQ.

In the beginning...

I was at the pub with my friends, when it was announced that bars would close. That day was when I realised that this lockdown thing was really happening and just quite how serious COVID-19 was. Living alone in Manchester, I made the decision to go back to my parents’ house in Guernsey and was unbelievably lucky to get the final flight out of Manchester before they were cancelled. Since then, I have been working closely with my friends and colleagues, and we’ve been relying on Gmail, Zoom, Excel, and various audio & video editing software to keep the show on the road.

At first, there were teething problems. Conversations that in person might take five minutes would turn into impenetrable email chains and the team were struggling to effectively communicate. I wasn’t sure what my job would be as there were no more events to administrate, and it was clear that we needed a serious re-evaluation of how things would operate in this brand new situation.

One of the hardest things was the sudden lack of interaction with our wonderful musical groups. We really missed Women’s Voices, Children’s Voices and the Maingot Violinists, as well as all the other collaborators and friends that we'd grown used to working with so closely. We are a music charity who can’t see the people we wish to make music with!

But then...

Of course, the OMF team snapped into action! In the first few weeks of lockdown, we had created learning resources for our Maingot Violinists and Children’s Voices choir. Meg Thompson, Tory Clarke and Eleanor Austin created some wonderful videos ranging from warm-ups, tuning help and songs for everyone to learn with. I certainly enjoyed those. You can still access these if, and I strongly recommend checking them out.

Throughout March and April, we created a series of 1 Minute Music Challenge videos to celebrate music making during lockdown with friends of the OMF. We loved seeing the OMF community remaining strong and enjoying music-making despite the obvious limitations. A particular favourite of mine was Musica Antica Rotherhithe’s performance of a short extract from Cavalli’s La Statira. I was delighted by how they managed to create such a passionate, interactive performance from two different houses, and as a self-confessed audio nerd, I thought their recording was excellent! Check it out:

Also worth a look is the finale of our 1 Minute Challenge, with all the submissions compiled into one big montage! We were so lucky to get so many videos from all over the world - Manchester, Harpenden, Brussels, Oslo, London, Leeds, Cambridge, Belgium, Norway, and Luxembourg to name a few!

Another way we saw music-making thrive during this period was with the wonderful creatives over at Collabavirus. Organised by Jay Plent of Manchester-based band, Scatterchild, a collective of like-minded musicians and producers collated their samples and ideas to create a wonderful collaborative album called Collabavirus. We were lucky enough to be part of this project and all proceeds have gone towards OMF. Collabavirus has raised over £100 for us already, which could support a workshop for children with Special Educational Needs and Disablities as well as a hour-long choir rehearsal for Children's Voices or Women's Voices. If you would like to the listen to the album, get yourself a copy for £5 from the Collabavirus bandcamp page.

By this point, the OMF team were starting to feel more confident. We were taking the global setback in our stride and carrying on regardless. We were lucky enough to acquire a bursary from the wonderful Curious Minds Organisations, and the OMF team were able to do a bit of upskilling! I’m currently completing the first module of my CIM Digital Marketing Diploma after learning lots of new, useful skills with the fantastic Target Internet. Charlie has been taking some brilliant fundraising courses, and the wonderful Jo has taken some management courses, which we’ve all reaped the benefits of. We now have a regular fortnightly meeting and an optional hour on Wednesdays - routines and structures that have certainly helped make remote working run more smoothly.

Perhaps this improvement and excitement surrounding our adapting to this new way of working has been aided by some awesome Zoom socials! We’ve got together a few times with the lovely OMF group leaders and teachers, different friends and collaborators to have some brilliant sessions, playing games, drinking and chatting. It’s not the same as seeing each other after concerts and at rehearsals, but it’s been a lot of fun! If you have any tips on good Zoom party games to play, do let us know. I think we’ve exhausted all of!

Going Forward

At the moment, we’re really enjoying working on our three digital projects happening throughout the summer:

1. AgbekoCreate!

We’ve teamed up with the awesome Agbeko and software developers, Peera, to create an awesome mobile app that was released on the 6th July. If you haven’t already heard, the app is designed to get kids aged 6-100 making music from home - just watch the weekly interactive music sessions made by Agbeko and send in your own musical ideas via the app! It’s so much fun, and I know because I had a go at the first one:

Here’s video #2 about writing lyrics, so be sure to check that out, and maybe even send in your ideas! You can download the app for iOS devices here and for android, here.

2. Mapping Migrant Voices

Another amazing app by OMF and Peera! This project is all about celebrating the music of migrant communities and sharing them through an interactive musical map of Greater Manchester! The app is still in the development phase (sneak preview below) but we're looking forward to collecting and transcribing these oral histories. From mid-August, anyone will be able go to the Mapping Migrant Voices site to discover the awesome and eclectic music happening in this great city. Keep your eyes peeled for this – not to be missed!

3. Have Your Say

We’ve teamed up with Journey’s Festival International and City of Sanctuary for this project. Journey’s Festival International 2020 will be largely digital this year, and to celebrate this, we’re creating three video-poems based on the three themes of the festival: The world we live in; how we see the world; and hope and celebration. To make these poems, we’ve been asking YOU (our OMF friends) to send in your responses to different tasks, and we’ve had some glorious submissions.

At the same time, we’ve been holding some workshops with the City of Sanctuary Sanctuary Seekers, which have been SO FUN! I led the first one where we did a live-coding jam using tidal-cycles. Then we had a thought-provoking workshop with the incredible Linda Brogan, and then a wonderful music-making session with our very own Eleanor Austin. Eleanor has also been holding some great workshops with Children’s Voices where we’ve been writing and singing some songs together using found instruments from around the house and our own creativity! Check out one of our live-coding sessions with Children's Voices!

At Olympias Music Foundation, we've certainly found this strange period difficult and there have been numerous setbacks, but we remain strong and determined to continue to make music with all the wonderful people at the OMF. We were lucky enough to been successful in our most recent application for Arts Council emergency funding and this has really helped us to continue during this time - as have generous grants from The Maingot Charitable Trust, RK Charitable Trust and Three Monkies Trust, and continued donations from our supporters.

The future is slightly uncertain for the arts and, like many others, we are worried about what support we'll be receiving going forward. Will the work we do be valued and looked after? We can only wait and see, and look forward to a time when we can start to create together in person again.

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