In non-pandemic times, Live Music Now South West organises regular concert tours to a group of special schools in Devon and Torbay, working with the local music hub. Although schools were fully open during the Autumn term of 2020, we hadn’t been able to organise any in-person performances: many schools were closed to external visitors, and the logistics of finding local accommodation for musicians whilst respecting government guidelines would have been prohibitive. However, we knew from feedback from schools that they were still keen to have live music, and so we worked with the Hub to find a solution.
Coming up to Christmas, we decided to go fully festive, and invited Back Chat Brass to come up with a 45 minute performance to bring some musical Christmas cheer to the schools. We looked at various platforms on which to host the concert: using Facebook Live (as we do for our regular Live Music in Care series) wasn’t an option as this would be blocked by many school platforms, and YouTube posed similar problems. Devon and Torbay Music Hub suggested using a platform called Click Meeting (similar to Zoom), which they have used successfully to deliver online sessions to schools.
The Hub promoted the performance via emails, phone calls and social media, and schools could book the free concert via a simple link. They also sent guidance to schools covering safer singing and advice on how to set up the classroom.
The concert took place on 11 December, and was attended by classes from six schools – an estimated audience of around 300 pupils. Back Chat Brass packed the concert full of fun activities and familiar songs, so there were plenty of opportunities to join in. Pupils and teachers could ask questions and request shout-outs via the chat function, and one of the most significant outcomes was how the concert brought together different groups from the same school – due to Covid restrictions and bubbles often pupils and teachers in the same school don’t get the chance to interact, so this was an opportunity for them to enjoy something together:
“The atmosphere as I looked in on different groups was great. It really felt like we were all in a shared experience and there hasn’t been much of that with staying in our own bubbles…thank you!” Combe Pafford School
We held a similar event in January for schools in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole region – the first of our Musical Mondays concerts for this group of schools, organised in collaboration with SoundStorm music hub. This was organised as a Zoom Webinar and featured LMN duo Mishra. We were joined by classes in school and pupils with their families at home, and really enjoyed receiving everyone’s questions – via the Zoom Q&A function – and putting them to the musicians. Mishra even managed to respond to a last-minute request, when one pupil pointed out that it was Burn’s Night and asked for a Scottish tune, so they added in a lively reel as an encore. We plan to make this a regular series, bringing together pupils and teachers from schools across a hub region, in the hope that music will be a way to enable them to connect with each other during isolating times.
Tips for holding an online concert:
– We tested the technology beforehand to make sure that everyone knew what they were doing, and that the visuals and sound worked well. We used a venue with a good internet connection, so that we didn’t need to worry about the signal dropping out mid performance.
– We wanted to make the process as simple as possible for schools, so once they had registered their interest all they had to do was click on a single link and they were in the concert. Most schools used Smart Boards to stream the concert, so that pupils could watch on a big screen.
– We found that starting the concert with an activity worked really well. In this case it was “vote for your favourite Christmas jumper”! This helped everyone get used to using the chat function, and meant that they felt more comfortable asking questions later in the concert.
– Everyone loves getting shout outs! Back Chat Brass had someone to monitor the chat throughout, and this was really helpful as it meant the band could concentrate on playing whilst also being very responsive to comments and questions.