Ben See, SYO and the composing committee questionnaire

Following on from part I where Ben set an exercise to find the words for the Training Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra, part II takes a look at the people and personalities behind the instruments in the Main Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra.

Stoneleigh Youth Main Orchestra (MO):

The MO is massive - there’s about a hundred of them! My first challenge was to devise a way to harvest their ideas and create a channel for communication. I decided to start a ‘composing committee’ (CC for short): one representative from each section volunteered to help and so the committee was born. I put together a short questionnaire for committee members to take to their respective sections in an attempt to learn a bit more about the individuals I would be working with.

I wanted to get a feel for their musical tastes, as well as finding out what they hoped to achieve from the project, and also whether they had any ‘wildcard’ hobbies or talents.

The results of the questionnaire were insightful and exciting but, perhaps unsurprisingly, a real mixture. I had hoped that the results might help me find a starting point or vague direction for the collaboration, but actually it left me a bit scrambled! 



After a bit of reflection I realised that maybe the questionnaire had (indirectly) taken me in an interesting direction. If my piece wanted to successfully reflect SYO then it needed to embrace and showcase the diversity of interests and talents within the group. I started brainstorming some ways in which the players might be able to bring some of their own personality and individuality to the music. 

In my first workshop with the MO I prepared a music map for each section. This was a short section of scored material surrounded by a series of ‘possibilities’. These ‘possibilities’ were a guide, or loosely scored material, which either needed some form of interpretation or required an element of improvisation. The players had to get creative, feed in some of their ideas, and respond to the instructions in their own style. It was a challenging exercise, but all of the sections got stuck in and there were some brilliant responses to the material.



My piece for the main orchestra is going to be called ‘fingerprintplurals’. The piece takes its themes from ‘We Want’ (written with the TO) and the players will develop those ideas in lots of different ways. The main concept behind the piece is that each individual performer can leave his/her fingerprints on the music.

I want the musicians to stamp their identity all over the material and make it their own.

There will be elements of improvisation and the score will encourage the orchestra to make decisions and shape the piece. I’m also keen that the score is only part of the process, and so I’m planning to write in a few phrases which get recorded and then become the basis of a remix project. I would love ‘fingerprintplurals’ to showcase the massive range of talent and creativity within the MO. 

I’m so grateful to all of the players, from both orchestras, for being imaginative, daring and getting stuck in. It has been a blast!

Missed Part I of Ben See's blog? 

Read it here