Association of British Orchestras

Education and Community

Lucy Geddes

Head of Learning (maternity cover), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

How did I get into it?

Working in an orchestra’s Learning department is a career path that has developed significantly over the last twenty years, in line with the integration of Learning programmes as a core part of most UK orchestra’s strategies and increasingly also of orchestras abroad.

I discovered community music whilst at university, during a placement at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. For six months I studied performance and the pedagogy of music teaching, and worked with an incredible clarinet teacher from Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. She introduced me to the orchestra’s outreach programmes and I volunteered at Sistema Aotearoa, New Zealand’s El Sistema-inspired programme, which aims to bring about social change, community empowerment and personal growth for children in Otara, South Auckland.

Every morning of Sistema Aotearoa’s easter holiday course started with a hello song to welcome Maori and Pasifika young people to the sessions. Everyone in the room, who spoke multiple different languages, came together as ensemble right from the beginning of the day and worked towards collective goals through music.

This experience gave me the motivation to take my first steps into the arts sector, which I began through working a variety of part time jobs at concert venues and signing up to be a musician in the British Army. This gave me the challenge of performing to a high standard at events across the UK but wasn’t the role for me.

Whilst retaining a strong interest in El Sistema, I came across Manchester Camerata’s work with In Harmony Telford and Stoke. I began to learn more about Manchester Camerata’s community programme and was successful in applying for the role of Community Projects Officer, and then Community Projects Manager. This busy role involved managing multiple projects in schools, community venues, care settings and housing schemes, and working in partnership with arts, education and health & social care organisations.

Three years later I became Head of Camerata in the Community, leading on the strategy of the community programme and cultivating opportunities for people of all ages to improve their lives through music-making. This included fundraising, presenting at conferences and delivering training programmes for musicians and care staff in Japan, Taiwan and Montenegro. I also supervised a PhD research project with the University of Manchester exploring the embodied experiences of people living with dementia when taking part in music-making.

Now I have taken on the role of Head of Learning (maternity cover) at Liverpool Philharmonic. This exciting opportunity will build on my existing experience developing partnerships within health & social care and cultural education, and provide an opportunity to work with Music Education Hubs, the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Company, Higher Education partners and In Harmony Liverpool.

The main things I've learned so far

The importance of finding your role as a Learning team within your town or city and developing your areas of expertise. It’s tempting to take on every project that comes your way and come up with multiple new ideas, because music has so many benefits across different contexts and with so many different people. But it’s better to have solid expertise in one or two areas than some knowledge of many areas. That way it’s easier for other organisations and local people to understand what you do, why you do it, and how they can work with you.

We still have a way to go to fully integrate Learning and concert programmes. Many orchestras have made great strides in this area, aligning both priorities equally in their strategic plans. However there is still work to be done on the ground to consider how both teams can work most effectively together and learn from each other.

Now, more than ever, it’s important for Learning teams to become proficient with developments in digital technology and social media. Every day young people are creating their own music and accelerating their skills development through digital means. If orchestras are to remain relevant in the lives of young people in the next five to ten years, they should embrace and celebrate these developments. The first step is to connect with this movement and demonstrate to others the impact it can have – there are so many exciting possibilities to explore right now and in the future.

Annual Conference

The next ABO conference will take place in Glasgow from 9 – 11 February 2022.