Tech Column: Orchestras Live

Becky West
Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Becky West, regional producer (North) at Orchestras Live, outlines an exciting multi-part digital resource for early years featuring music and dance.

Claudia Lee

Orchestras Live is a national charity working with professional orchestras to provide vital opportunities for children and young people to engage with live orchestral music for the first time. Our work is driven by the belief that orchestras are for everyone – and everyone should have the opportunity to engage with the magic of orchestral music regardless of their age, background or location.

Digital access

Digital engagement with children is a key priority area of work and exploration. We’re currently working to create access to first-time orchestral experiences for the youngest children via digital media. Musical Journeys: A Day at the Pond/Mausam, our first digital project for early years audiences, is an engaging cross-genre exploration of life at the pond through music and movement.

The pandemic brought home to us how digital media can transform our ability to reach people with whom, for reasons of location, we find it harder to have face-to-face encounters. Digital has huge potential to reach rural communities and sustain orchestral offers, particularly in education settings, where the costs of travel are a significant barrier to accessing live cultural events.

Teaming up

In collaboration with our partner, NYMAZ (a youth music development charity working with children and young people in North Yorkshire), we've been exploring how to use digital media effectively to reach early years audiences in that vast county. Within our live activity programme, there are many rural areas and families that are difficult to reach. NYMAZ already worked with music hubs to live stream to schools across the country through their successful Connect: Resound programme. By creating new content specifically for early years, we believed we could engage with many more young children.


We trialled a live stream of an Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) TOTS show – designed for under 5s and their families – in January 2020, and asked some of our music hub partners to evaluate how it worked in an early years setting. The key finding was that materials for practitioners’ advance preparation and exploration of the show's theme were essential to maintain children's attention and interaction, as were prompts for live interaction. A live show on screen wasn't effective in itself.

This convinced us that what was needed was a made-for-digital orchestral experience for young children, and we set about identifying creative partners for the venture. OAE bought their extensive experience in live TOTS shows and worked with artists from South Asian Arts-uk (SAA-uk) to create films that support music-making with young children from a range of communities. Musically, the films explore western Baroque and South Asian classical music, using the narrative South Asian kathak dance form to bring the music to life on screen.

We used a short bitesize film format that introduced musical material and themes at a gradual pace to help children build familiarity and learning towards the finale – a ‘live’ celebration performance film. The films would remain available to settings to support repetition and allow exploration at a pace appropriate to their children. We involved a focus group of practitioners to test drafts of the films with their groups, a process that informed editing and demonstrated that the concept worked. A detailed resource pack was created to support practitioners to embed musical and cross-curricular learning in their setting.

Musical Journeys

The result is Musical Journeys: A Day at the Pond/Mausam, a digital adventure featuring music and dance that explores the richness of a pond environment, through an enchanting storyline by Hazel Gould. The pond theme emerged from discussions about seasons and times of day in western/eastern musical traditions, and provided a clear, recognisable setting with a range of characters and moods to explore musically. There are four films, and the final one, Rain/Barsaat, which includes an original composition, was recorded in a barn – complete with a real pond outside!

The films are accompanied by a fully illustrated resource pack with clear links to the Model Music Curriculum and Early Years Foundation Stage, enabling practitioners to use the films effectively in their setting. Drawing on focus group discussions and teaching knowledge, the activities are designed to support fun musical learning and creative play and are themed by age range to support differentiated learning. Practitioners can use the resources to support their music delivery, either for short activities or an in-depth creative half term exploring the wonders of the pond, extending the film's relevance and life beyond a single showing.

We have partnered with several music hubs which are using the films with early years settings. While many settings are, understandably, concentrating on reducing screen use post-pandemic, the experience so far encourages us to continue to work with hubs to embed the package in their practice over the long term.