Education and Community
Head of Community, Manchester Camerata
What does a Community department do?
You might know it as Learning and Participation, L&P or Outreach, but the role of an orchestra’s Community department (as we call it here at Manchester Camerata) is to bring its music-making to people in non-traditional concert settings, such as schools, care homes, youth centres, hospitals, libraries, even garden centres.
My role as Head of Community for Manchester Camerata is to represent and lead a team of project managers and our professional musicians to deliver creative music-making projects, workshops and long-term programmes of work.
That could be writing new songs with people living with dementia in our weekly Music Café; bringing the benefits of our Music In Mind programmes to residents in care homes; helping primary and secondary school students to learn more about Vikings, hip-hop or 50s comics (unrelated – although I’m sure it can be done); to training family carers, healthcare professionals and teachers in how they themselves can use music to benefit the people they work with. Either way, we first consult, then collaborate and create with our ‘community’ to understand what they actually want from us as an orchestra.
What skills do you need?
Because my role here at Manchester Camerata is so varied – speaking at an online Arts and Ageing Forum for 500 Japanese musicians and healthcare professionals one morning to working out the budget needed to deliver a series of intergenerational song writing workshops for 3 care homes and 2 schools the next – the main quality of being Head of Community I’d say is to be organised. But it’s not just that!
Here are what I think are the top 5 skills (cue chart countdown-style build-up music) you need for this kind of role:
At 5: Empathy. Being able to put your ‘audience’ first, thinking about what other people would like/need. For me, it’s all about breaking down those assumptions about - and barriers to - orchestras and music, and really connecting with people, whoever/wherever they are.
Then at 4: Creativity. Not just in the traditional sense of dreaming up new collaborations but the ability to think creatively to help find solutions to problems or pre-empting them. This was a useful skill in the pandemic when we had to think of new ways of reaching people in the community: we’ve ended up training carers with music therapy-based skills (something that has now developed into something altogether more exciting! Read about that here).
Coming in at 3: it’s that Arts and culture organisational favourite, Multi-tasking! You could be attending research meetings at the University of Manchester or having a dance with Joe in the residents’ lounge, no two days are the same. Being able to keep To Do lists is a must! You’ll have quite a lot of projects on the go that need overseeing too, as well as checking budgets, keeping tabs on stats for official reporting documents, transcribing videos for colleagues in Marketing…
And at 2, Communication: I don’t mean being able to fire off 400 emails a day (although that helps). Keeping in touch, networking, listening to and helping out in your team, as well as speaking to heads of healthcare, educational and cultural organisations, advocating for your organisation at seminars or conferences, to being the friendly face that meets anxious family members at a new dementia event: ideally, you’ll be able to find a way to connect with them all.
And still at Number 1, no surprises, it’s that old faithful: Organisation. Forward-planning, timekeeping, being able to keep across your (and your team’s) diaries, being able to have loads of things on the go all at once and compartmentalising things are all essential ways you need to run a successful department. And I would never be without my trusty hardback A4 spiral-bound Oxford notebook (yes, other more modern ways of keeping lists are also available).
How I got into Community work
My first job after graduating from the University of York with my Music degree was… working as a conference organiser and in-house bulletin sub-editor at the Institute of Psychoanalysis. The obvious choice, I think you’ll agree (apparently mentioning in interview that I once worked in a crisp factory as a summer job helped to secure the job). In at the deep end, I was suddenly having to organise flowers, flyers, guest speakers and a dinner-dance at The Savoy for over 400 world-renowned psychoanalysts as well as subbing a very formal journal using my as-then non-existent Windows skills. Not to mention having to learn to type ‘psychoanalysis’ (trickier than you think).
However, the one thing this first job made me realise was that the main skills you needed for all jobs were to be organised, be able to multi-task and get on with people. Fast forward about 3 years, and I was working at the BBC in Manchester as a magazines sales admin officer, having moved there to be near my old uni mates...where I networked my way into a new job (I say networking – if you can count being “the voice of Thom Yorke’s mum”) and was then offered an assistant producer role for a daily show on Radio 2.
I stayed there for the next 15 years, becoming producer of a national daily radio show on Radio 2 and 6Music and then as an exec for other radio programmes. This brought with it a very good insight into how audiences work, and how important it is to really communicate with people outside your immediate sphere: you soon find out if people don’t like what you’re doing (they switch off): fortunately for the show I worked on, they never did…
Why I work in the Community department of an orchestra
Since I was little, I’ve always seen the way that music can really enhance lives. My mum worked as a physio for the elderly, and she brought me along to play carols on my keyboard or accompany her choir. I always remember seeing the difference that playing music in care homes and hospitals had; not only on residents but also their carers: they became really engaged, and the atmosphere suddenly transformed (a bit like when you went on a school trip I guess).
So – fast-forwarding yet again, in true time-travel style – when I was playing in a string quartet in a care home one Saturday a few years ago, I realised that *this* was what I wanted to do now: engage with a real-life audience instead of a radio one.
Through my work at Manchester Camerata, I’m now able to actually see the results of our work through our dementia music workshops and carer training programme, which is one thing of which I’m really proud.
I get to meet amazing people; not only in our orchestra, but in Gorton in Manchester, our organisation’s base, and then all around the world, and connecting with people from all different walks of life in ‘the real world’. Using the power of music as an excuse to help bring people together.
I might not have had the obvious route into ‘the Arts’ but I’m so happy to finally get here!