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Within Reach
Music Teacher

Within Reach

Posted Thursday, 3 November 2016   |   582 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) Opera and ballet are not top of most teachers’ lists for school visits, but a new initiative at the Royal Opera House aims to change that, reports Femke Colborne

How many teachers would consider taking a class of children to the Royal Opera House? It’s a prospect that probably seems out of reach to most, even if they do live in London or within commuting distance of the venue. But the organisation’s latest wave of education programmes is giving thousands of children across the UK the chance to experience the sights, sounds and spectacle of the Royal Opera House without even having to leave their hometowns.

It’s all thanks to a new education strategy ratified in March 2015 and now coming to fruition through a series of interactive programmes in schools around the country. The new approach has been spearheaded by Jillian Barker, who was appointed as director of learning and participation in June 2014, and Kim Waldock, general manager of learning and participation since June 2015. In February next year, Waldock will introduce some of the new programmes to teachers through an interactive workshop at the Music & Drama Education Expo, giving them the chance to try out activities and find out more about how they can get involved.

She admits that opera and ballet are not usually first things that spring to mind when it comes to children’s educational activities. ‘A lot of teachers think opera and ballet are out of the reach of what’s relevant to most children,’ she says. ‘You say opera and people see a 20-stone woman with horns singing Wagner. But that is only a very small part of what we do here. I want to find ways of changing that attitude. I love looking at a piece of music and thinking: “How could a teacher use this to engage children?”’

Waldock joined the Royal Opera House in June 2015 from Australia, where she had been working as director of learning and engagement at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Before that, she spent 22 years as a music teacher, initially as a classroom music specialist and then as an examiner and member of syllabus committees, often hosting teacher training workshops and speaking at conferences. She decided to make the move to the Royal Opera House last year because ‘I had conquered the opportunities in Australia and I was looking for a chance to learn more’.

She immediately felt inspired by Barker’s vision for the Royal Opera House’s education provision. Although the organisation already had a number of successful education programmes – such as Chance to Dance and the Youth Opera Company, which both give young people the opportunity to perform in opera and ballet productions – most of this work was happening around London and the south east. But with the possibilities opened up by digital technology, there was no longer any reason  why that should be the case.

‘It was very centralised and a lot of energy was going into serving a few people,’ Waldock says. ‘We had been offering a high-quality service to schools in London, but we wanted to move beyond being London-centric and give the same quality of opportunity to schools around the UK.’ The team also wanted to reassess the way the organisation interacted with teachers: ‘The Royal Opera House was not one of the places teachers thought to go to when they needed support. We needed to make that link, given all the resources that we have here.’

Barker and Waldock immediately set to work on devising a new approach to education that both harnessed digital technology and engaged more closely with teachers to reach as many children as possible. And so, in September 2015, ‘National Nutcracker’ was born. This ten-week programme for Key Stage 2 introduces children to the Royal Opera House through a series of videos and activities designed to inspire imaginative thinking and build skills. By the end  of the programme, the children have created their own dance performance inspired by&n

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