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Posted on: 15 November, 2022

The Ashford Creative Orchestra Project

What links a centuries-old Kentish folk tune, a modern bhangra piece and secondary school pupils in Ashford?

Well, in the summer of 2022 it was just the one thing – the Ashford Creative Orchestra project.

Working with the brilliant team at the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and their National Youth Folk Ensemble tutors, the project was designed to engage secondary aged students not only with English folk and bhangra tunes but also styles of learning and playing they may not have had the opportunity to explore before.

It all began when Kent Music Area Manager Lucy Duff was exploring ways to bring together secondary schools and pupils in Ashford for the first time in years. With so many players of all ages, levels of experience and types of instruments, what could we offer to give every participant an opportunity to grow and learn?

She found the answer with long-term Kent Music partners in music education, the EFDSS. Working together, a project was devised where students would learn by ear, introducing improvisation, collaboration and new genres of music with opportunities to perform and work with professional musicians.

The project looked at the meeting points between folk music and bhangra music – a popular form of song and dance with roots in India that has evolved in Britain since the 1980s – as well as recognising the distinctive qualities of each tradition.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with National Youth Folk Ensemble tutors and professional performing musicians Grace Smith, Kuljit Bhamra and Sam Partridge who developed a full suite of video resources for teachers and students to engage with. They also delivered in-person workshops in Ashford schools, engaging and inspiring students and teachers as they supported creative music-making, playing and learning by ear.

The project culminated in an inspiring face to face workshop day in July 2022 at the Rylance Theatre at Towers School. While some of the other schools who’d been involved in the project unfortunately weren’t able to attend due to some unforeseen circumstances, the Towers pupils had an amazing all-day session.

Working closely with the tutors and each other, they explored music-making in an holistic way, from morris dancing to tabla drumming, playing by ear and arranging the piece organically.

The final performance brought together instruments including piano, electric and acoustic guitar, drum kits, djembe, tabla, clarinet, violin and flute, and this non-traditional orchestra made amazing music!

Hearing the feedback from students on the day, we couldn’t be more delighted with the outcome. We hope that teachers and students alike will take their experience of learning and arranging by ear into their future music making – perhaps with a new love of folk and bhangra too.

Students who enjoyed the experience may want to join us at our weekly Creative Orchestra at the Ashford Music Centre, where we continue the non-traditional learning experience with compositional elements too. Meanwhile, the EFDSS runs taster sessions, holiday courses, ensembles and more for anyone interested in folk – www.efdss.org.

Thank you so much to all the schools and students who worked so hard on this project, and of course our colleagues at the EFDSS. We can’t wait to hear more from them all in the future!

And so, we invite you to watch the Towers students and the National Youth Folk Ensemble team trying out their debut English folk and bhangra arrangement, created in just one day!