Updated: Nov 4
IF you are a particularly lucky sort of person, and you find yourself wandering through London on a sunny weekend, you might just encounter an unusual spectacle. A gathering of dancers? Sometimes. A collection of noise-hooters, whistle-blowers, wood-scratchers, metal bangers and electric-pumpers? Often.
On a platform raised just above the rest abounds a strange gymnast who shakes and shivers almost convulsively.
It is, in fact, an orchestra.
Such a strange phenomenon when examined closely. Yet it has been a part of human civilisation for well over a quarter of a millennium. ‘The Orchestra’ has continued to exist, though society has transformed exponentially. From large noble courts to industrial warehouses, and now a world hidden behind screens. It has, for some reason, stood the test of time.
An orchestra has a home: the concert hall. A place where one would always expect to find such a neatly polished and refined machine. It can be examined, heard and considered best in such a focused context - surely? How could a vessel, which has stood firm through centuries of appreciation and understanding, be truly respected elsewhere. It is too valuable, too precious, too… untouchable.
Or, perhaps not.
Street Orchestra Live (SOL) was founded in 2016 with a mission to bring music to ‘everyone, anywhere'. Such words may challenge any classical zealots, but the ensemble forms part of the argument that classical music is not an artefact to be admired in a museum. Indeed, it is not meant to be in a museum at all. It is a constantly shifting phenomenon whose ontology is long disputed. Its positive impact, on the other hand, is without such dispute. It entertains and moves us. It changes us. It curates and accompanies the narrative of our life.
This definition is taken quite literally through the work of SOL. The orchestra performs anywhere that is not the concert hall and meets people in the narrative of their life.
As your daily routine takes you to a bustling shopping centre - there you might encounter some Mozart. A stroll around a park in the outskirts of the city - you may be met with a splash of Mendelssohn, a nod of Ives or even some Led Zeppelin.
You stop and you listen. Your everyday reality is met with something which is not every day and yet enters into the everyday. It has become part of your journey and part of your reality. For a moment, it accompanies you.
You listen: you engage. At that moment something changes. At a base level, your day has changed. Perhaps, too, this interruption changes something more substantial. How can such a spectacle exist? You may be angry or frustrated that this has come in the way of your day, or you may be moved. You could be challenged by the fearlessness of these strange wood-scratchers and wind-blowers. Then again, you may be inspired by their passion, their determination, their joy.
Music means something.
That meaning may not always be good. We need only take a glance at the lives of our dearest canonical composers to see this: Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Britten. Life is not a straight line, and art offers empathy for such a winding journey. Quality of life, at the time that many of these composers existed, was more objectively negative than in contemporary society. It was a time of high infant mortality, a lack of medicine, and of course none of the technologies which have enabled time for creative professions as we see today. Music offered a way out of this reality and into a world of possibility.
Though life in modern Western Europe is undoubtedly more comfortable, we are still human. Though society has developed to try to eradicate our suffering, and we constantly put in place structures that minimise risk and disaster, we cannot avoid the simple fact that we are living breathing organisms. We have brains and emotions; decisions to ponder, mistakes to make. You cannot eradicate the essence of humanity.
Running parallel with this essence is the existence of art and the possibility this offers to express and reflect humanity. We need to be able to express that which is within us, and we also need to be able to see and experience it being expressed. Whether this is in words or colours, shapes or sound. All come alongside our humanity and validate it. ‘You are not alone’ - 'you are enough’.
You have a right to be human.
‘The Orchestra’ is perhaps one of the most powerful evokers of such meaning in our lives. A collection of people who have come together united by a single goal. To express and communicate a shared vision. Each undergoing a hugely complex task, after years of honing their craft. Fine-tuning one skill, with the purpose - at this moment - for it to be offered towards a bigger picture, and for the benefit of others. 80-100 of these exceptional artists come together in one space to communicate something.
This ‘something’ begins with the thoughts of a sound artist who provides their instructions on paper. But it only lives once it is brought to life by the sound producers themselves. Indeed, the whole picture can only exist when all offer their individual part of the puzzle.
From this point, the vehicle brings its own voice into the equation. We have a roadmap and its use necessitates interpretation. Even with every effort towards integrity and exactness in adhering to the written map, the sound is full of personality.
Finally, there is an audience to whom this is gifted, and who are brought into consideration as those receiving the communication. Musicians bring their own story, pulling behind the story of the conductor, weaving together many threads, to present a vision, a picture, and a vast, unrivalled sound to an audience.
Nothing else is quite like it. There are few comparable human achievements; achievements that bring together so many facets of humanity - both internally and externally - together in one united cause. The list of positive qualities is never-ending, and the impact on those who listen is similarly infinite, though much harder to prove.
Music matters: the orchestra matters. It matters that we can see and hear art that speaks to us. Meeting us at a basic level: our humanity. It matters that we have a living breathing, working representation of large-scale teamwork and sacrifice for a common goal. It matters that we can encounter sound which challenges us and surprises us. That we can encounter art that we cannot predict. It matters that we can experience beauty and brokenness in a world that is beautiful and so very broken.