Making connections

Executive Director Barbara Eifler reflects on how – despite borders on a map – leisure-time music groups in different countries face similar challenges and by connecting, may find solutions.

As MP Jo Cox famously said in her maiden speech to parliament: ‘We have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’ We’ve been making connections through our project Exploring Music Making with lots of leisure-time music groups from different genres. A common refrain is emerging – an appetite for connecting with other music groups, of curiosity about other kinds of music and an interest in learning from each other.

Make Music Day, the international celebration of music on 21 June each year, is also about connecting: connecting us to new musicians, new participants, new audiences, new groups, new partners in our locality – and to others just like us across the world. My most memorable images from the 2017 Make Music Day are four blokes playing a riotous saxophone set in Victoria Embankment gardens in London juxtaposed with four decorous Japanese ladies with the same instruments in a quiet square in Kyoto.

I was reminded of what unites us when I spent three days in Pecs in Hungary last month, as the newly nominated representative for Voluntary Arts on the European network for national voluntary arts organisations, Amateo.

Here I suddenly found myself in a room with about 50 other Europeans from Finland, Croatia, Austria, Denmark, Czech Republic and more, articulating some of the same issues we discuss in the UK.

Dutch choirs need more men – sound familiar? How do you raise the profile of voluntary arts activity in Slovenia? What is the secret to a successful ‘Night of the Choirs’ in Budapest?

I wasn’t expecting to learn a lot, but I did. And not just that everyone everywhere puts their trousers on one leg at a time, but practical tips on how to develop Make Music Day and other activities to showcase what music groups do.

There was a fascinating introduction to the ‘Singing Europe’ research report which reckons there are at least 37 million singers across the continent, a useful document to support advocacy on behalf of singing.

It was commissioned by the European Choral Association (ECA) which Making Music is now about to join, in order to make more helpful connections for UK vocal groups with their counterparts in other countries. One of the benefits for members will be reduced-price access to the annual choir festivals organised by the ECA.

I also learnt that other Europeans feel equivocal about the term ‘amateur’, that in Hungary there’s a folk group equivalent of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ (the frocks aren’t as good though) and that Austrians also have televised choir competitions.

So, whether abroad or in your local area, don’t forget to connect with other music makers - it will always be worth your while. Here are some pictures of me connecting with some Hungarian folk dancing and in the New Year I’ll be connecting with the very special Orchestras for All which supports young people with complex lives in making music. You, too, can join their Musical Chairs project on 24 February!

Or have a look at all the other wonderful opportunities available in 2018.