New Music Makers – Red Note Ensemble

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

New Music Makers (NMM) is an integral part of Red Note Ensemble’s mission to create equality of opportunity for all to engage with innovative and experimental new music-making at the highest levels of excellence. It functions with the belief that music pupils are not the composers of the future; they are composers now and addresses two key issues – 1) how to inspire and support composing/inventing with young people in schools and 2) how a professional ensemble working in partnership with a school can create a genuine, practical legacy, supporting a school to take the work forward independently.

The project, working with Nat 5 – Advanced Higher Music pupils and their teachers, is a series of workshops that introduce pupils to composing, through our 10-minute challenge, then develops their compositions before they are performed and recorded informally for their exam portfolios. The aim is that by the end of the project, the school team will have been supported and equipped with the tools to re-stage the project themselves in future; and that in families/friends who attend the informal performances, we begin to reach new audiences for new music.


How did the project come about?

Many high school teachers will readily identify that delivering the composing element of the curriculum is the area in which they feel least confident. Many will resort to teaching quite formulaic processes which will deliver work suitable to gain the necessary pass mark for the exam; but leave less room for pupils to genuinely explore and find their own creative voice. It’s a tricky balance.

In September 2013 we were invited by the city of Glasgow to undertake schools’ workshops in the manner of our long-running emerging-composer-development series Noisy Nights.

For the schools’ version we partnered with King’s Park Secondary School in Glasgow – a very ordinary high school, working with students who were taking their Higher Music exams in the following spring. The key element which we introduced to the school workshops was a version of the 10-minute Composing Challenge. This is something that we started at the adult Noisy Nights and has proved hugely popular. Essentially, it involves handing out music manuscript paper to members of the audience in the interval and asking whoever wants to, to write a piece for the ensemble in 10 minutes. In the adult version a selection are then performed at the beginning of the second half. Typically, there are upwards of 30 submissions to each adult Noisy Nightproject, and many people have had their very first compositions performed in this way.

The initial schools project went very well. All of the resulting pieces were played at a public recital in Glasgow City Halls, and two were performed live on Radio Scotland. There was a great deal of interest from government and national education bodies. From here, a process of consultation, collaboration, and practice led to the project in the form we have it today.


What made this project special?

NMM has two fundamental principles at its heart. One – the belief that young people in school are not the ‘composers of the future’ – they are composers now. Maybe less experienced and still exploring how to use different sound sources and communicate their intentions, but still composers; and Red Note takes very seriously its remit to support the creative development of all people making new music. Two – that a project should do more than just deliver in the moment; it needs to leave a genuine, tangible legacy. By running the ‘tandem’ method of project delivery, school music teachers are genuinely supported to develop the confidence to re-stage the project themselves.


What other projects do you have on the go at the moment?

Red Note continues to extend the reach of the NMM project across new local authorities. In addition, we are developing a longer-term partnership with Oakwood Primary School in Easterhouse (an area living with multiple deprivations), with the aim of properly embedding ourselves and our music in the local community, and supporting the growth of creating music-making in the school. The next strand of that project will involve each class in the school with creating a songbook, aided and abetted by composer Brian Irvine.

We are beginning to roll out a ‘bottom line’ commitment to our AEP work which will see every Red Note performance project have at least one session of outreach work (or some form) attached to it – we believe we are the first ensemble in Scotland (and possibly the UK) to embed the two strands of our work so inextricably.

We continue to develop our relationship with Artlink and Cherry Road resource centre, Red Note’s upcoming Spring tour will involve AEP sessions in the community of each venue and we have plans to embed our AEP work so deeply in our performance programme that one will inform the other in terms of where we play, to whom and how so watch this space!


Who are the up and coming Scottish composers to keep an eye on?

There was a wee guy in Primary one at Lochend School in Easterhouse who impressed us a lot, and there are some super young composers coming out of Glasgow Uni, Edinburgh Uni, Aberdeen and RCS.


What would your ideal project be?  The dream project (with a dream budget!)…

This is tricky – the longer I think about it, the more bells and whistles get added. This had better be a big budget! A total town takeover - Red Note (plus students of the Red Note Advanced Academy) takes over a whole town. And equally, the whole town takes over Red Note. For at least three years, so there’s time to get to know each other. Work alongside – and learn from -  musician of all genres and none. There’d be side-by-side opportunities, composing with/for/by everyone age 0+, the chance to get messy with new sounds I the way we all used to get messy with paint when we were two years old. There’d be inspiration for making new music from science, other art forms, and the local environment; and responses to new music using all of these. There’d be making music with and for people who are too often excluded from mainstream culture (whatever that is); the very young, the very old, people with disabilities, new Scots, people who feel their face doesn’t fit. For people who love new music and people who loathe it. And a mass-engagement Red Note/community performance to finish. This would involve scorchingly exciting and entrancingly beautiful new music. And also Red Note musicians alongside impossible numbers of people from the local community, plus…outdoor lighting rigs, huge community-made puppets, fireworks, screens (because there’d be local film-making involved). And there’d have to be a circus big top in there somewhere too. (No reason really, I just really like a big top). And we’d involve people from other communities across Scotland via video link-ups which actually work and have no latency issues. And when it was time for us to move on, the Red Note Advanced Academy would be able to stay on and continue the collaborations really long term. And then we’d make it an exchange programme and take Red Note and our community collaborators maybe over to the continent to share/exchange new music with other communities… And…and… (How’s that dream budget looking…?)


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