Animate Orchestra participates in Lewisham Live

This spring, young musicians from Animate Orchestra worked alongside young dancers from Trinity Laban’s Youth Dance Programme to create a brand new piece of music and dance inspired by the theme of string theory. This was performed as part of the three week Lewisham Live festival on Tuesday 18 March in the Bonnie Bird Theatre in the Laban Building. Two members of Animate Orchestra describe their experiences of participating in this exciting collaborative project:

Prospera Dukes Ross (aged 11)

When I first started this project, I only had my experience using music technology to work with. I didn’t know what string theory was and hadn’t the faintest idea how we were going to work with the dancers!

But that has all changed… For a start, string theory is massive, and yet so small it cannot even be seen under a microscope. Smaller-than-microscopic strings make up every atom, every particle; the universe in its entirety. We created our music around the four elements of string theory: Strong Nuclear Force, Weak Nuclear Force, Gravity and Electro-Magnetic Force. With the help of new friends, a quick brainstorming session, and an ever helpful tutor, my experience switched from not-so-good to brilliant in a matter of hours.

The element of string theory the music technology group were working on was Strong Nuclear Force. We used screams, sirens and explosions -what you’d get if an event like Chernobyl happened- and then got to work making and recording sounds. We makey-makeyed (a type of computer keyboard that you can connect to a computer via a USB cable and then wire up with objects containing zinc) a vibraphone with a vocal sample we’d constructed. I then created a soundmap on Soundplant, played with the Borderlands app that allows you to record and manipulate sounds, and pressed dangerously red buttons in rhythm. We learnt that the dancers based their work mainly on cues in the music and the fact that we warmed up together meant that we learnt a bit more about how they warmed up. In turn, they learnt about our methods of getting ourselves ready to play. We also had the opportunity to watch their dances with and without our soundtrack.

I would definitely do this again; the people, tutors and music created were phenomenal and I had the time of my life, especially on the night of the performance!

Marisse Cato (aged 11)

Sunday 19 January

The first day I would say was the best. Everyone was all together – dancers, musicians and tutors. The musicians got a taste as to what it would be like to be dancers. We were split into groups, each brainstorming ideas about what string theory reminded us of. We then got into our orchestral sections to come up with melodies and riffs that could make up our Gravity piece. I play the bassoon, though I must admit that saxophones always have the best and catchiest tunes – they stick in your head for months after the performance.

Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 February

We spent these days in Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music at the Old Royal Naval College. The site is absolutely stunning – with the Thames and the Cutty Sark nearby, the opportunity of just being there is wonderful. The ideas brainstormed were used for the Electro-Magnetism piece and the Gravity piece. Different sections linked up beautifully; base riffs, soaring melodies, clashing, creating a magical atmosphere that all music should have. The Electro-Magnetism piece was in sections that represented the movement of the photons that are used in Electro-Magnetism. One of these was coils: melodies passed round from instrument to instrument to represent those coils. We then built on those ideas to create our final piece. By the end of the day, the brass section was being most creative, using their instruments in ways not traditionally used for classical music. For example, they lightly blew into their instruments to create a vibrating airy sound that changed the punchy gravity atmosphere into a mysterious, unknown vibe, sending charges through the air.

Sunday 16, Monday 17 and Tuesday 18 March

Following a month long break, I worried about remembering all the ideas we had pulled together in February. It is amazing how most things popped back into our heads once we got together. Another full day of hard work demanding my full concentration; this is my idea of a worthwhile career. These days were at Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Dance and they were all about perfection and precision. The dancers were amazing. They actually got involved with the music as well, performing a small singing part. Tuesday was performance day. Seeing the other dancing acts that were performing – wow! They were of all ages; from primary school children to young adults. We had to perform our original music from memory and it truly was an amazing experience performing in the Bonnie Bird Theatre.

To conclude, there are so many things I have learnt. A new game, how to cooperate with dancers, how hard it is to dance and how many hours you must practice to become any good. The list is endless. Playing the bassoon was a great opportunity as I learnt how other instruments with a similar base range can collaborate with me as a bassoonist. I also was shown a new instrument; the tromboon. It is when you replace the mouthpiece of a trombone with the crook of the bassoon. It made an… interesting sound. Every Animate project has provided a very different experience, widening my perspective of how music can be used. This particular showcase has inspired me to explore further the world of dance. I can hardly wait for the next Animate workshop!

Animate and the musicians of the future

Animate Orchestra summer 2013For many Higher Education Institutions, the summer is a time for quiet campuses and holidays. At Trinity Laban however, when we said farewell to our term-time students, we welcomed many more learners into our summer schools. Our leading programme, Animate Orchestra is one of the summer programmes and returned to South London with two local courses held for young musicians living in Greenwich and Lewisham during the holiday. Both courses took place at Trinity Laban’s Dance Faculty, in the Laban Building, which was taken over en mass by more than 60 excited young people and their instruments, all ready for a week’s creative music making. Animate Orchestra, a partnership project between Trinity Laban, the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) and local music services, employs LPO musicians and music service staff, as well as a lead animateur, who all work with the young musicians to help them create their own music. The ‘theme’ for these two summer courses (chosen by the young people) was James Bond Music, in particular that of John Barry – and both groups began by spending time listening to, and then discussing, the various techniques Barry used in his compositions.

The Lewisham course saw the children split up into various mixed ensemble groups, whilst the music technology students got to grips with some very cool ‘Bond-style’ gadgets, making musical instruments from seemingly innocuous household objects. The technologists (agents Q, Y, E and I) produced some fantastic new sounds using Makey Makey’s – an invention kit which turns everyday objects into sound touch pads. LPO flautist Katie Bicknell and trumpeter Rob Willson assisted the wind and brass sections with their compositional ideas, whilst project leader Jason Rowland spent time with the rhythm section working to get that classic ‘Bond sound’ just right. The result when the different groups brought their ideas together was fantastic.

The Greenwich course – which took place later in the week – saw the young musicians explore the ‘special effects’ side of film soundscapes, including the use of Foley effects (the art of mimicking footsteps or rustling clothes) and background sound effects (imitating atmospheric sounds such as rain and wind). A few of the children then had the chance to create their own effects using specially placed microphones and amplifiers. One young musician had the idea of filling a mic’d bucket with gravel and using a heavy wooden plank to strike it with varying force and speed. This allowed the player to create a wide range of different footstep sounds (approaching with caution, running quickly, tiptoeing) which brought to the piece several different layers of tension. Several other children were then asked to create their own storyboards and came up with some truly amazing ideas – including one which involved Bond making a Houdini-like escape from a fantasy circus (pinned to a burning spinning wheel and surrounded by crazed elephants no less!). Creating music for these inventive stories was the responsibility the young people themselves, and with guidance from their tutors they came up with a brilliant final piece. The addition of the Foley effects during the performance was greeted by the audience with much enthusiasm and applause.

After four days’ creative music making the Animate summer courses came once more to a very successful end, and as the young musicians packed up their instruments the phrase ‘when is the next course?’ was heard repeatedly during final registration. Thankfully, however, there isn’t long to wait. Whilst the end of summer brings an end to the holidays, so too does it bring the approach of the new school year and the next Animate course – and to that we say, ‘bring on the autumn and the October half term!’

To find out more about Animate Orchestra and its courses, visit

Thank you to our Learning and Participation (Music) team for contributing this entry to our Learning blog.