Playing: Symphony no. 8 (Op.88) in G major by Antonín Dvořák
BBC Radio 3

Family Orchestra and Chorus take the stage

Learning Co-Ordinator

Maida Vale Studios recently witnessed one of the biggest Family Orchestra and Chorus workshops we’ve ever had, with around 170 family members turning MV1 into a carnival of grooves, tunes, rhythms and singing! Under the leadership of Lincoln Abbotts (our former learning manager , now in a similar role at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) who jumped, danced and enthused his way through the day, we created a suite of brand new pieces, all based on the repertoire of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers in the 2013/14 season. This was a particularly special occasion as, for the first time, the full forces of the BBC Singers joined and led the chorus. Add to the mix ten members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and we had crack team of inspirational professionals helping the families brew up some amazing sounds.

What I particularly love about the Family Orchestra and Chorus is that it truly is an ensemble that anyone aged 7 and above can take part in, regardless of their musical background. This meant that initially reluctant first time singers, enthusiastic beginner flautists, aspirational percussionist mums and experienced viola players all joined in to play together. It’s also such a lovely chance for groups of families and friends (old and new) to play together - everyone had the opportunity to play or sing, and be part of something that sounded great. We were also delighted to be joined by a group from Dulwich Gingerbread, as well as lots of family groups and individuals, both experienced hands at the Family Orchestra, and a lot of new people trying it for the first time!  

The Singers kicked off the day with a spellbinding performance of James McMillan’s Gallant Weaver, a gorgeous a capella folk-inspired song which really set the tone for the day of the standard of musicality we were going to reach. The BBC SO players answered this by introducing the orchestra to one of the grooves we would all learn by the end of the day, which got feet a-tapping and Lincoln dancing (not for the last time that day!). And then, standing in the footsteps of all the great orchestras, musicians and ensembles that have ever played and recorded in the famous Maida Vale One studio, it was the chance of the Family Orchestra to follow suit… And, boy, did they measure up! Right from the outset, the rich and confident sound of that first chord of 170 people playing and singing all together, made me and the rest of the learning team grin with anticipation of what we’d be recording at the end of the day.

The day was a mixture of tutti rehearsals with everyone together, and sectional rehearsals. During the sectionals, each group devised and rehearsed their own short piece, based on the orchestra’s repertoire for the season. Over the course of the rehearsals, I heard musical references to Shostakovich, Dukas, and Thea Musgrave. Of course, including a much needed break for lunch, tea and mountains of Maida Vale macaroni cheese, the day whizzed by, and before we knew it, 4pm was upon us! This meant only one thing: time for Broadcast Assistant Peter Jones to turn on the red light, and record the pieces. This was the first time everyone got to hear the sectional pieces the other groups had devised, and there were a lot of impressed and astonished faces. 

And then, after everyone joined together in playing a final stonking groove, the end of the day was sadly upon us. After such a fun day, we very much hope to see all the participants soon, either at a BBC SO concert or another workshop, and we’re always looking for new participants to join us, so to find out more about BBCSO Learning events, and what’s happening next, email

Thanks to everyone who took part for all their hard work and enthusiasm. As you can hear in this sound collage of the day, it certainly paid off!

BBC SO and Singers' Family Orchestra and Chorus participants talk about the latest event


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