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Photography by Sheila Burnett

RCM alumna’s world premiere brings young musicians together at the Royal Albert Hall

Wednesday 20 March 2019

Over the past two months the Royal College of Music (RCM) has proudly welcomed hundreds of children through its doors for massed rehearsals in the lead up to the world premiere performance of CONVO at the Royal Albert Hall on 7 March 2019.

Performed by an instrumental ensemble of 120 young musicians and a massed chorus of 900 primary, secondary and SEND (Special educational needs and disability) school pupils, the ambitious new work, composed by RCM alumna Charlotte Harding, explored the evolution of music and communication through the ages, from past to present to future. The performance was conducted by Ben Palmer and RCM alumnus Matthew Hardy.

Charlotte Harding: 'From our Earth’s beginnings, to the connected world we live in today, music has always been a universal means of communication. Bird songs to love songs, ancient scores to film scores, Morse code to coding, CONVO explores how music gives us all a voice and our lives a soundtrack.'

Commissioned by strategic partners from Tri-borough Music hub, Royal Albert Hall and the RCM, the performance marked the culmination of a two year project to embed music within school life for all local pupils irrespective of background.

The project reflects the ethos of the strategic partnership of providing pupils from the local authorities of Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster with access to high-quality music education opportunities, to raise standards, support musical progression and ensure a broad range of outstanding musical opportunities for pupils, parents and the community.

During the year one research and development phase of CONVO, Charlotte Harding, supported by teams of RCM students from the RCM Sparks programme, led a series of workshops in primary, secondary and SEND schools and with Tri-borough Music hub ensembles, to gather pupils' input into the large-scale new composition. This creative approach was integral to the process and generated enormous amounts of content.

Charlotte Harding continues: 'CONVO has been a continually inspiring and rewarding project to be a part of and I’m so proud of the final piece we created together. The massed ensemble brought CONVO to life in the most spectacular way and filled the Royal Albert Hall with their voices and incredible musicianship.'

Throughout the project, Tri-borough Music hub, Royal Albert Hall and the RCM also worked with partner organisations Sonic Pi (live music coding), Inspire Works (drumming and percussion), and the English Folk Dance & Song Society (folk music archive resources), who were involved with both the creative development of the piece and the live performance.

In year two of the project, RCM Sparks student mentors provided weekly support to the Tri-borough Youth Orchestra rehearsals. The involvement of RCM students in projects such as this not only inspires a younger generation of musicians, but also provides meaningful and practical experience to prepare a vibrant new generation of music educators for the future careers.

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It is the hope that CONVO will inspire a generation of pupils and their families to continue to engage with music, to explore creative ideas for communicating and provide inspiration for many more people.

Hayley Clements, Head of Learning and Participation at the RCM comments: 'The Royal College of Music is extremely proud to have been a strategic partner in a project that has offered children from all backgrounds to be involved, from start to finish, in the creative vision of a unique, inspiring and high standard project'.

Fran Warren, RCM student adds: 'CONVO was a hugely uplifting experience, not like anything I had been involved with before. Being part of the initial workshops two years ago and then seeing the final production and remembering parts of the music created by the children was such a joy. Everyone on the stage was full of happiness, it will be something I won’t forget.'

To find out more about the College’s learning and participation programme, please visit the RCM Sparks section of the website.