Have you ever questioned your own existence?

Manchester Camerata is one of Europe’s leading chamber orchestras based in Manchester.

Several years ago the team realised that their audiences were dwindling and that they needed to do something different if the orchestra was to survive.

They sat down and questioned their own existence. What was their purpose? What was their revised vision and mission in a rapidly changing world which looked very different from the world of 1972 when the orchestra was founded?

They revised their core purpose ‘to create inspiring experiences through music that connect with everyone every time.’ And in order to achieve this have, over the last few years redefined what an orchestra can do.

Manchester Camerata has shifted from just classical music to offer a bold range of musical experiences; from their Hacienda Classical gigs, where they cover acid house anthems in a range of venues, to opening the pyramid stage at Glastonbury 2017 as well as playing live film soundtracks and performing in rock venues.

Since its bold reinvention in 2014, Camerata has tripled its audience.

Camerata in the Community

An integral part of Manchester Cameratas’ work is to use music as a tool to develop skills that improve quality of life for people of all ages. The work is research-led and driven by the needs of participants, working alongside national agendas around arts and health, and cultural education.

The community programme started over 20 years ago through work in schools as some of the members of the orchestra with children wanted to be able to use their musical skills to engage with young people. A couple of years later, they developed the ‘Songlines’ project for young people with Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) alongside the Royal Exchange Theatre. This opened their eyes to how music can help people with extra needs to express themselves and be creative.

That inspired the creation of programmes of work with older people in 2006 which involves the composition of music, theatre and visual art with people in care homes, hospitals, day care centres and other community venues.

In 2012, Camerata began working with Music Therapists as part of their Music in Mind programme for people living with dementia and their carers. Research and evaluation are at the heart of this programme and a partnership with the University of Manchester has enabled a PhD student to conduct a research study  to create a multi-sensory tool to measure the ‘in the moment’ musical experiences for people living with dementia. This research will become available in 2018 and will inform Camerata’s future delivery model.

In an evaluation conducted by HKD Research in 2015 – 2017 assessing the impacts of Music in Mind in six care homes in Greater Manchester, Manchester Camerata discovered that the project made a positive impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of people with dementia. It was shown that these benefits increased the longer that a participant engaged with the sessions and regular attendance led to an improved mood, reduced levels of anxiety, reduced levels of repetitive behaviour, an increase in social interaction levels as well as an increase in confidence to express oneself musically.

Some participants have even reduced their medication and need for other health services as a result, and the music sessions have also helped make carers’ daily tasks easier to undertake.

Music in Mind has now gone international and the team have been to Japan twice as part of the British Council’s Arts and Ageing Society programme to give Japanese musicians the skills and knowledge to use this approach in their local care settings.

Robbie and Chris

Robbie and Chris have attended Manchester Camerata projects since 2015. Robbie said;

“My wife Chris had only recently been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s when we were told about a music and visual arts project run by Manchester Camerata. We didn’t know what to expect but we liked singing so thought we’d give it a go.”

“Over the next 12 weeks or so, we really looked forward to those weekly sessions but still had no clue as to where it was all leading. As the ‘mystery tour’ unfolded, we had such fun singing and making music with other people – before we knew it, we’d created a fantastic piece of visual art and composed songs to go with it, all with the help and guidance of people from Camerata, who seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as we were!”

“What remains as a powerful memory is the smiles on peoples’ faces, the laughter and the realisation that this sort of experience can bring forth creativity and energy from people with dementia that they didn’t know they had – and actually, it was exactly the same for the carers taking part. We’re already looking forward to the next one!” 

Challenges

There are always challenges to doing something new. Planning and balancing the demand for projects with the capacity of management and practitioner teams is a difficult but positive issue. As the population ages and people live longer with more complex needs, more care staff will be needed. One of the ways the team is tackling this is through a training programme for carers and activities coordinators in care homes and hospitals so that they can continue delivering music sessions once a Music in Mind project ends.

In 2017, Manchester Camerata facilitated 11,500 people to write their own music, including young people in schools and people living with dementia, ASC and those who are socially isolated. In the future, Manchester Camerata will continue to build on national agendas and work alongside research institutions to be at the forefront of delivering arts practices within health and social care and within the education system.

The advice from the team at Manchester Camerata for anyone tackling something new is…

  • Respond to the ideas and wishes of the people you are working with; its much more likely then to have a positive outcome if you put them first and don’t assume that they ‘need’ your services.
  • Have courage and conviction in piloting new ideas.
  • Building relationships is absolutely key.
  • Constantly assess and adapt your programmes to ensure that they continue to benefit all stakeholders
  • Audience development is an organisation-wide endeavour

Thanks to Lucy Geddes and Paul Davies at Manchester Camarata for sharing their experience.

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