Bringing the Company and community together through music participation

Ex-Young Artist, Catriona McDermid, recently joined the Company as a freelance Music Education and Participation Advisor. A self-proclaimed ‘Yorkshire lass’, music arranger and freelance orchestral musician, Catriona also champions free access to music, leading the participation work of both her ensembles: Magnard Ensemble and BBC New Generation Baroque Ensemble, Ensemble Moliere. Here Catriona tells us why she feels such projects are important, what makes a good workshop and a little about what she hopes to achieve this year.

“My first taste of participation work was as one of the Company’s young artists. It was the morning after performing The Rite of Spring with the RCM Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, a thrilling (read: scary!) experience that I was still reeling from when I headed off to my first school.

Fast-forward six years and here I am back working with the Company, this time offering training and mentoring to our talented young musicians so they can deliver high quality participatory sessions, largely within schools. Alongside my eclectic career as a chamber and historical performance musician and freelance orchestral bassoonist, since finishing my masters at the RCM in 2016, I’ve been fortunate to get involved in a lot of education work for organisations, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphonia Cymru Orchestra and Wigmore Hall. This has enabled me to take the joy of music out into a range of community, education and health and social care settings.

I recently helped deliver two participation projects with the English Touring Opera (ETO) – a fabulous organisation that helps make opera inclusive and accessible to everyone across the UK. The first wor

kshop at a school in Hackney was intense, with the pupils choosing a historical figure, then composing and staging a mini opera around it in just two days. They chose Queen Boudica – a fitting choice as our opera singer on the project had flame red hair! The second workshop was in Bournemouth and the students chose Guy Fawkes. Both workshops were amazing fun.

Through the ETO I’ve also been working with the Headway charity to help improve the lives of people with brain injury through music and art. We had eight participants at the last workshop, some of whom were initially dubious about the idea of opera, but they all ended the session claiming it was “absolutely brilliant” and asking if we could return.

There’s a view amongst many opera newcomers that it’s all screaming voices and shattering glass, so it’s great to shatter those views!

While I love performing, I get a massive thrill from seeing a pupil or adult that’s normally unmotivated or disengaged become engaged and expressive as though someone’s flipped their ‘on’ switch. Music education plays a massive role in supporting the curriculum and in teaching life skills such as focus, teamwork and thinking outside the box. It’s also helped me become a better musician, by teaching me to think on my feet and become better at improvising. I’ve also gained confidence in public speaking.

When I started doing education work there was little training; it was largely a case of sink or swim. Now the focus is very much on training, as however amazing you are as a musician, running participation workshops and projects calls for a vastly different set of skills. Luckily there are some incredible music animateurs out there, such as Rachel Leach, who I’ve been able to learn from through my work with the LPO so I will be passing on those experiences. My aim is to help our young artists avoid repeating my mistakes, but it’s OK for them to make their own!

By the end of this year, I aim to have carried out three training workshops for young artists, and mentored three young artists, working with them throughout the course of one project so they’re fully supported along the way.

Follow Catriona’s participation work on twitter @CMcdermid_


Interview by @suzywillmott