Animateurs May Be The Next New Thing For Australian Orchestras

image Title: John Webb leading young musicians’ workshop in Sydney
Graham Strahle
| April 26, 2017

While in Australia over the last week, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields gave a three-day Create, Cultivate, Orchestrate! workshop for young musicians in Sydney. Coordinated by the NSW Department of Education’s Arts Unit, which we cover here, it involved 38 children from schools across that State in a project to create their own piece for orchestra, culminating in a lunchtime performance at the Sydney Opera House.

Leading this project was animateur John Webb from the UK. He described the process of composing the piece as one in which the group of children all contributed ideas in a continuously interactive fashion. “It’s not pencil and paper, it’s trying things out, practically, aurally. Seeing if you like them, altering it if you don’t and then gradually building up melodies and accompaniments,” he told the ABC.

Now this term animateur will be an unfamiliar one in this country. In its orchestral usage, basically it refers to a person who introduces typically younger audiences to orchestras and guides them through creative projects in which all are encouraged to participate. The role is different from that of teaching and presenting demonstration programs because it aims towards active as distinct from passive learning.

In the UK, the animateurs emerged in the 1970s and 80s, and are now frequently seen in that country. However, they are still relatively new in the US: the Philadelphia Orchestra was the first orchestra there to appoint an animateur, in 2004.

Several UK-trained animateurs have appeared with Australian orchestras since 2015, as Emily Dollman has observed in her recent PhD thesis on education programs in the orchestral sector. These include Paul Rissmann who, as we reported earlier, returns here in May and June for projects with the ASO and WASO.

Eventually we may see animateurs employed on a more regular and consistent basis, as they can serve a very important role in widening an orchestra’s reach into the community. Anthony Woodcock, former president of the New England Conservatory and founder of Scolopax Arts, gives a good account of the role of animateurs here, and explains how they can promote community engagement more successfully than regular concert marketing is able to achieve.

No doubt this will be a topic of much ongoing interest for our major orchestras in the years ahead.

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