The City Lit Percussion Orchestra

It seems fitting to publish our first exciting news of the year during the Unesco Week of Sound 2024, which is currently being marked worldwide. January also happens to be our anniversary month – The Evelyn Glennie Foundation having been set up in 2023 – and we are delighted to be celebrating our first birthday alongside Evelyn’s new appointment as Patron of the City Lit Percussion Orchestra.

The Patronage was agreed last week, when Evelyn was at City Lit in London to meet some of the players and lead one of their workshops. The CLPO is part of City Lit’s Centre for Learning Disability Education, working in partnership with the Royal Academy of Music. The Percussion Orchestra provides an opportunity for students to interact with various instruments and learn to play percussion, as well as compose music as a group. This level of accessibility and engagement is very much in keeping with The Evelyn Glennie Foundation’s ethos, creating opportunities for diverse groups to listen, to themselves and each other, and to become involved in collaborative conversations, with percussion and sound as a common language for social cohesion.

The Percussion Orchestra session started with a social circle focussed on the nature of the class and the meanings of interpretation. The group, alongside Evelyn, then performed a rendition of Terry Riley’s In C.

This was followed by a masterclass from Evelyn, in which she shared the importance of ‘finding your own sound story.’  She also explained how to use sound both vertically and horizontally to develop an individual style. An exploration of new percussion techniques and tools led to the introduction of a few unique homemade mallets and implements drawn from The Evelyn Glennie Collection. Feeling inspired, the group decided to work on the creation of their own mallets and instruments at a future gathering.

“Our much-anticipated Percussion Orchestra session with Dame Evelyn Glennie exceeded our expectations in every way,” explained CLPO tutor Alex Thomas. “Meeting Evelyn and sharing ideas and experiences of making music before the afternoon class was so honest and inspiring. The whole experience is something we will treasure.”

The session ended with a group improvisation led by Evelyn and percussion student Zach Mitchell, who has worked with the CLPO for over a year, as well as solo improvisations from Academy harpist Bonnie Scott. Adam Collins, a recent graduate and long-standing volunteer musician with the orchestra, then led the group on harp and tuba, opening the proceedings up into a lively group jam, encouraged by Evelyn.

‘To meet all the members of the Percussion Orchestra, witness their wonderful achievements, feed off their focus and dedication and to learn so much from the sheer sensitivity, commitment and expertise of tutor Alex Thomas and the three Royal Academy of Music musicians meant it was a day I will not forget.’ Dame Evelyn Glennie, Founder Trustee, The Evelyn Glennie Foundation and new Patron of the City Lit Percussion Orchestra

“It’s wonderful that Evelyn has agreed to become the Patron of the City Lit Percussion Orchestra. Her extraordinary artistry, creativity and understanding of the relational aspects of music making bring such inspiration for everyone, orchestra members and visiting Academy students alike.” Julian West, Head of Open Academy, the Royal Academy of Music’s community and participation department.

“I was in awe. Starting out with percussion at 14, Evelyn’s pieces were some of the first I learnt, now here I am improvising beside her.” Zach Mitchell, Academy student.

Dame Evelyn Glennie with Percussion Orchestra Tutor Alex Thomas

All images © Fran Marshall, with thanks to City Lit and the Royal Academy of Music, January 2024

Leave a Reply