Orchestra 360 (Brighton) – Musical Excellence, Planning Together and Cake by James Redwood
Orchestra 360 (o360) is an inclusive ensemble. What that means for me, is that musicians of all abilities, experiences and tastes are welcome. It’s my job as the music leader to create musical structures which allow everyone to feel welcome, heard and musically engaged.
Most of the pieces we make together start from scratch using ideas offered up by the group. And because we have such a huge range of musical abilities, most of the pieces are built to give easy-access options for the least experienced musicians in the room. That often means a groove or chord sequence which fits well with the white notes on a keyboard or tuned percussion so that people can join in, confident that whatever they play will fit with the rest of the music that’s happening.Sometimes we’ll create a riff or pattern which participants learn. Sometimes people will improvise freely. But whatever they’re playing, it’s really important to me that they’re engaged, switched-on and playing the very best they can.
Now for that to really work, it’s also important the everyone else in the room is also playing at the top of their game. That extends not only to the more experienced participants, but also to the professional musicians in the room. And in o360, I’m very lucky that that means a group of four or five outstanding professionals all playing their socks off.
Of course, there is always a complicated balancing act involved, but playing as well as you can doesn’t have to be the same thing as showing off. In my experience, when the professional musicians are playing their best, so do the participants – whether they’re playing a single note, or a complicated chord sequence or melody.
For this model to work, it’s vital me for as a music leader to be surrounded by outstanding supporting musicians. And that’s exactly what I get at o360. The musicians can change from week to week, but one thing they all have in common is impeccable musicianship, a passion for collaborative music making and a drive to make every single improvisation, composition and cover the very best that it can be.
There are several things that allow this to happen. The first is that Emma Collins (co-inventor of o360, project manager and supporting musician) is an extraordinary match-maker, bringing together musicians from a range of musical traditions who compliment, support and celebrate each other. The second is the wrap-around structure which gives us time before and after each session to plan, prepare and debrief. This means that when the participants arrive, we can all pull in the same direction and when things go awry (which they often do) we know there is a time and place to share the things we found hard in the session.
And the third (and perhaps most vital) ingredient is cake. It just so happens that Emma and I are keen bakers and between the two of us (with notable guest bakes from the rest of the team) we have so far managed to provide something home-made for (almost) every single session. Perhaps this sounds frivolous, but we’ve actually found it to be a really important ritual to sit down together before heading back to our lives, to reflect on what we’ve done, things that worked and things that didn’t, as well as changes we need to make for next time.
I do plenty of good work on other projects which have no pre-planning or debrief (or cake). But the time that we spend together as a team always makes our music-making better. I’m a greedy person – I want every single musical interaction I have to be as brilliant, exciting and excellent as it possibly can be. And at o360 I get exactly that every time we get together and for that I feel exceedingly grateful.