Breaking Down Barriers for Young People to Enjoy Orchestral Music

Paul Rissmann with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Image Source: ASO
Graham Strahle · April 10, 2017

What orchestras arguably need most of all these days are skilled, talented and enthusiastic individuals who can bring the experience of orchestral music to young people. Oddly, they tend to be a small and rare bunch. This is because their abilities need to be spread so widely, across education, conducting. composing, and perhaps above all, communication.

Paul Rissmann is an acknowledged leader in the field. Scottish born, he holds the unique positions of Animateur at the London Symphony Orchestra and Children’s Composer-in-Residence for Music in the Round, the charitable chamber music organisation in Sheffield, England. Over the last half dozen years, he has been visiting Australia regularly to present educational shows with several of our main city orchestras – the MSO, TSO and ASO. He has also taught high school students in NSW in a ‘MAKE’ project that gets older school kids to compose their own music using principles in well-known orchestral scores such as Stravinsky’s Firebird and Petrouchka.

Charismatic and enthusiastic in manner, Rissmann’s emphasis is on participation: he gets audiences to join in with orchestral performances through a range of activities including singing, clapping and rap. He believes these help break down the barriers for those who are new to live orchestral performance. “Young people seem to be fascinated by the orchestra yet for many, the ritual of classical music can at first appear quite alien,” he said ahead of appearing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Education Week in 2015. “I think there is something really special for a child, not just to come and listen to the orchestra, but to be invited to perform with them as well. Orchestral music shouldn’t be regarded as elitist or exclusive —it’s for everyone.”

Rissmann uses screen projections to reinforce visual imagery in the music and help teach basic elements of notation. “Using projection, I have also taught an audience of 2000 primary school kids to read music in around ten seconds and then have them perform one of the percussion parts perfectly in time with the orchestra,” he explains.

He presents a range of concerts and educational activities with the ASO and WASO in May and June. Visit their websites for details (here and here). Rissmann will also give lectures on music pedagogy at the University of South Australia and at WASO’s Patrons & Friends’ special evening events.

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