Interview: How to make an orchestral community online

Orchestra founder and manager Adrian Bullock tells us how Making Music member group, the Enfield Community Orchestra, got ahead of events caused by coronavirus by creating a new way of running their activities and keeping their members connected online.

Tell us about the Enfield Community Orchestra and how it was run before the coronavirus outbreak?

Enfield Community Orchestra is a non-profit charity amateur orchestra for musicians of all levels, formed in November 2017. We believe that music helps to encourage community spirit, build connections and boost the growth and development of people in many ways. Before the coronavirus outbreak, we would meet on a weekly basis and perform three concerts per year. Our membership has gradually been growing since we started, and we currently have 30 members.

What’s the age range and what sort of jobs/daily activities do orchestra members do?

We have members ranging from 22–70 years old. Our members have a wide variety of jobs including graphic design, IT, legal cost, and massage and aromatherapy to name a few, but the vast majority of our members are teachers and a small number of our members are retired.

How and when did the idea to go online first come up? 

Our orchestra has a heavy emphasis on community, therefore we realised that there has never been a more important time to come together and support each other, virtually of course. So, after we cancelled our rehearsals with just two weeks to go until our spring concert on 2 April and it was clear that the situation was not likely to return to normal any time soon, we knew that we needed to act quickly in order to support our members during the pandemic. The Online Music Centre was launched on the day that our spring concert would have been held.

Who is leading on this project?

One of our trustees, Hayley Butchart. Due to her established background in graphic design, Hayley took the initiative to produce the Online Music Centre and is working closely with me on it. Our MD Eddie Morgan is supporting us with this by providing content, including videos of himself introducing the challenges.

Which online platforms are you using?

The Online Music Centre has been built within our website. We have also been using WhatsApp, Google Meets, Zoom, YouTube, Facebook and email.

What sort of challenges will you set and who will set them each week?

The weekly ‘challenges’ we have created so far are: setting new music to build our repertoire and prepare for our next concert, a Virtual Pub Quiz, Music Theory activities and individual practice guides. We also have created a 'Useful Resources' area which has a list of helpful practice tools, like the ABRSM Speedshifter, where our members can play along to a backing track that we provide and adjust it to their own practice speed – this was the nearest thing we could find to simulate playing along with an orchestra. In addition to this we have collated a number of music events that are publicly available to watch from home for free into a handy online calendar.

Will there be opportunities for the group as a whole to take part (or smaller groups?)

Our members will practice their music individually but come together for the social challenges in both large and small groups.

Did you already have a bank of individual practice resources or did you create these?

We created all of these from scratch as a result of the current situation.

You have also set up ways for members to communicate with each other socially to see how they are doing – how will they do this?

We already had a WhatsApp group in place but not all of our members had the facilities to join, so we have added a ‘Chatter Box’ feature in our Online Music Centre so that all members can interact with each other.

Why did you think this was important?

Music is only one aspect of the service that we provide to our members. The social connections that are built during our weekly rehearsals are so important, now more than ever, especially for those who are more vulnerable during this time of social distancing and isolation.

What has the reaction been from your members?

We have had a fantastic response from our members who have all received this new online space with great positivity: 'Speechless – This is wonderful, thank you so much, you are such amazing people, thank you again,' Anthony S, Violin. 'Thank you so much for everything, so much to do, really appreciate it,' Julia S, Violin.

Is this something you think you might continue with after the lockdown?

We will certainly keep some aspects of this music centre available once we return to normal rehearsals, but you simply cannot beat meeting up and playing together in person, which we hope we are able to do soon. 


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Has your music group recently started online rehearsals in light of COVID-19? If you are part of a Making Music member group, don't forget to join the Facebook Making Music community group to share your worries, online triumphs (or set-backs!) and thoughts about the present or future.

More information about the latest online activity, along with top tips for making music online and staying connected, can be found in our resource.