ONE of Wales’s premier chamber orchestras has been using music to help youngsters cue up a possible career in science and engineering.
As part of an outreach programme designed to inspire the technocrats of the future, Ensemble Cymru has visited three primary schools in Conwy and Gwynedd helping children to appreciate and understand music and the science and engineering behind how it is produced.
Ensemble Cyrmu was founded in 2001 by its present artistic director, Peryn Clement-Evans, to champion the cause of chamber music in Wales and beyond.
Over the past few years it has reached over 20,000 in Wales alone through its national tours, television broadcasts and a CD. It is also resident ensemble at Bangor University, where it is based, and also at Venue Cymru in Llandudno.
It performs in groups of between one and 20 musicians and as a registered charity puts any surplus from its appearances across Wales straight back into work experience schemes and workshops for schools.
As part of the Reaching Wider Programme, a Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCW) for Wales strategy in which Bangor University is a key player, a team of professional musicians from the ensemble has visited three primary schools – Ysgol San Sior and Ysgol Tudno in Llandudno and Ysgol Talysarn in Caernarfon.
They played some favourite pieces for pupils, including the themes from the Star Wars and Harry Potter films, and during a series of workshops involving between 70 and 120 year five children from each school encouraged them to make their own string instruments and then accompanied them as they performed their own song.
Peryn Clement-Evans explained: “The aim of the visits has been to inspire young people to look at science and engineering through the medium of music.
“We’ve had them looking at the instruments we use, such as the cello, trumpet, piano and clarinet, and the science of how they produce the sound they do.
“We then got the children to work as groups on building their simple string instrument from a box and elastic bands to see more closely how it worked.
“Later, with the help of Jenny Pearson, a vocal workshop leader and singer, they produced their own song, entitled Let There Be Music, which they performed together at the end of the school day.
“It was all about performing and being part of something professional.
“It was the first time the ensemble has been involved in something like this but it has worked very well and I think the children also had fun being part of it.”
Peryn, who played clarinet at the workshops alongside Nicola Pearce on cello, Pippa Scourse on trumpet, Sioned Roberts on clarinet and Sioned Webb on piano, added: “The workshops have also been interesting for us as musicians because we’ve had to do our own research into how our instruments actually work.
“The message we tried to get over to the children was that science and engineering can be an interesting career path for both boys and girls.
“It was also really great to hear from a number of the girls that they are interested in being engineers when they leave school.
“It’s been about opening doors that wouldn’t normally be open.”
Cellist Nicola Pearce, who has played with the ensemble for the past three years was part of the workshops, said: “It’s been fantastic getting the children to experience music first hand in collaboration with science.
“It’s been inspiring for them not just on a musical level but also from a scientific point of view and I’ve really enjoyed visiting all the schools.”
Amongst those who took part in the workshops at Ysgol Tudno in Llandudno was 10-year-old Brodey Barron from the town.
He said: “We made a string instrument out of a box and some elastic bands and then played a few basic notes on it.
“Before that we heard the orchestra play some really good pieces of music like the Wallace and Gromit theme.
“It was a lot of fun and I learned quite a bit about how music is made.
“My favourite instruments are the drums and piano and I’d like to learn to play them one day.
“When I leave school I think I’d like to be an engineer building bridges and cars.”
Equally impressed with the sessions was Libby Langshaw, also 10 and from Llandudno, who said: “We made the string instrument and were able to strum it like a guitar to hear what sound it made.
“The music played for us by the orchestra was very well done and the best was the Wallace and Gromit music.
“My favourite instrument is the piano and I want to learn to play it one day.
“Since last September I’ve been learning the violin and my music teacher says I’m doing quite well.”
Another ensemble fan was 10-year-old Maddison Austin from Deganwy who said she has a few possible careers in mind, including an artist, a musician or an archaeologist but thought it might eventually be the third job as she likes the idea of digging up interesting objects from the past.
She added: “I enjoyed the music very much and at home I like playing the piano. I’m now on book one and have my own keyboard at home to practice on.
“I think it’s been a fun and very useful day.”
Their year five teacher, Derfel Thomas, said: “Learning is much better for children when they can interact with the subject and that’s exactly what they’ve been able to do at the workshops.
“To see and hear the instruments and how the music is made and to look at the science behind it is so important and I’m delighted Ensemble Cymru were able to come and spend some time with us.”
Ian Connor, the director of North and Mid Wales Reaching Wider Partnership which is based at Bangor University, said: “The Reaching Wider Programme is a Wales-wide HEFCW strategy, established as an initiative in 2002, to widen participation and access to higher education, supporting social inclusion and upskilling.
“It has been responsible for developing activities to encourage social inclusion and raise awareness and aspirations among young people and adults to widen access to higher education.
“Bangor University is a key player in the project and is involved in a range of different activities across the region.
“The visits of Ensemble Cymru to schools in Conwy and Gwynedd have been part of the programme and aimed to share the excitement of using science, engineering and music in our everyday lives with the children.
“We are delighted to have the assistance of such a highly talented and dedicated group of musicians in the programme.”