SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES: Changing and Exchanging Perspectives on Opera, Music and Dance Education With Young Adults
19-21 April 2018, Bern, Switzerland
In collaboration with Konzert Theater Bern
What is young people’s relationship to the arts? How can we promote young audience development? How can we ensure that young people’s voices are heard? These were the three questions that the RESEO and Theater Konzert Bern teams asked themselves in Belgrade, Serbia back in April 2017 as they began planning RESEO’s Spring Conference 2018. One year later the two teams convened again in Bern, Switzerland alongside 40 delegates from all over Europe to explore arts education and young adults aged 16 to 22.
Day one: Getting to Know Each Other, Defining Success and... Large Amounts of Fondue
At the sound of Monica's enthusiastic gong, the RESEO Spring Conference in Bern began in earnest. Delegates were warmly invited to make themselves at home by Konzert Theater Bern's General Director, Stephen Märki. Our 40 delegates from 12 countries felt truly welcomed by the team at Bern and the conference manager Monica who were introduced to us by our outgoing Chair Lucy Perry.
In a conference focused on working with young adults, Konzert Theater Bern's own theatre pedagogue Jan Theiler introduced the "Pure Music" project run specially for our conference. Four young adults would collaborate with a string quartet to change everything about a concert experience except for the music, and we would see the results ourselves at the end of the conference.
The conference then split to attend immersive workshops with Tuula Jukola-Nuorteva (Finnish National Opera & Ballet) in joyful singing or with Barbara Balba Weber (Hochshule Dee Künste Bern) in sharing insights into engaging young people with new music. A fascinating series of presentations of best practices was then given by RESEO members Ruben Zahra of Soundscapes with “PARADE & the Velvet Gentleman” (Malta), Rhian Hutchings of Operasonic with “Deeds not Words” (UK), Michèle Cart of Compagnie Opéra-Théâtre (Switzerland) with “West Side Story” and Maria dos Santos and Inês Silva of Companhia de Música Teatral (Portugal), showcasing different projects that have successfully engaged young people with music and creativity.
© Nathalie Jufer
The afternoon began with an inspirational workshop-presentation by Darren Abrahams, coach and 'change maker', who helped us question what the meaning of success, who can determine the measurements of success and even what might happen if we remove the necessity for 'outcomes' - questions that stayed with delegates throughout the conference. We were treated to a performance of "HUMANOID", a youth opera-in-progress by Bern creatives Leonard Evers (composer) and Barbara Tacchini (director-dramaturg) as well as a vigorous dance workshop from Denis Puzanov.
It was then time to explore Konzert Theater Bern itself with a guided tour of the facilities as well as a walk to the viewing platform with a beautiful view of the Alps. The Bern team had arranged a traditional fondue dinner, which was accompanied by a spontaneous piano-karaoke. Though Konzert Theater Bern has a reputation for taking artistic risks, perhaps they will think twice before inviting Omar Shahryar to make himself at home... Hopefully they also enjoyed the rendition of Celine Dion's greatest hits!
Day Two: Making Mandalas, Mental Health and Work in Progress
After an evening of melted cheese, we were all raring to go on Friday for day two of the RESEO Conference. The day kicked off with a practical session led by Darren Abrahams. Darren led participants through a creative exercise in which they were invited to think about what success meant to them and create their own mandalas. Darren then asked us to present them to their groups and create one group mandala. Finally Darren asked each group to put forward one word from their mandala.
After lunch the group moved back to Konzert Theater Bern for the second keynote. Alison and Greg Daubney spoke about mental health and well-being and their experience with young people and music making. The introduced delegates to a number of resources, including a publication called Performance Anxiety – a practical guide for music teachers, and a conceptual framework of lifelong learning – the ALPS model of artistic learning and sustainable engagement. It was interesting to consider the experience of young adults as a point in a journey that had come from their early years and will continue on into the later adult life.
© Nathalie Jufer
The final session of the day focused on the delegates themselves as Rhian Hutchings opened up the RESEO Production Space. Delegates were asked to pitch to lead a conversation about something – a show they were making, a context they were working in, or an issue they were facing. Six discussions took place exploring topics such as training apprentices to sharing productions on terrorism across Europe. Delegates also discussed how they would like to continue these conversations online between conferences.
In the evening delegates were treated to the high drama of Il Trovatore in the beautiful main theatre at Konzert Theater Bern. There was betrayal, passionate love and tragic death – a perfect end to the day!
Day Three: Exploring New Formats, Shaping Postitive Approaches and a Brand New Chair
The third day of the conference began with a wonderful dance warm up which gave delegates permission to be free with our minds and bodies, running across the room arms wide open, leaping and spinning with huge smiles on their faces. It was a fantastic start to the day.
The room then transformed into a concert space as imagined by Laura, Elisa, Florian and Jan who had spent two days working with the Colla Parte quartet as part of the Pure Music project. Rugs, bean bags and cushions were strewn across the floor and the quartet played from each corner of the room (and the balcony!). They then performed in the standard quartet formation. What followed was a fascinating discussion about the choices the young people had made, and how the experience felt for the individual members of the quartet, all who found it challenging in different ways. It felt like the start of a much bigger conversation for the quartet and Konzert Theater Bern and we hope this can continue long after the conference.
The workshop “Agility - transforming one’s vision into successful impact”, led by Sonja C. Leuenberger, a position and leadership expert with experience in the business and corporate world, accompanied participants through a self-discovery and self-empowerment journey. The session provided a moment of reflection on one’s vision and strength and, finally, shaping one’s own positive approach, know-how, power, energy and resources in order to be the best self possible. To this end, the workshop leader explained the mechanism of the elevator pitch to the audience.
A first exercise showed the limitations and obstacles of non-visual verbal communication, although dealing with abstract forms only. The following, lengthier exercise paired participants who had not talked to one another before (therefore did not know anything about one another), who then proceeded to describe their counterpart using first sight impressions, while the person who was being described jotted down the information received. The exercise was meant to give new impulses for personal self-assessment in order to increase one’s professional impact.
Finally, the pairs filmed each other while stating what they are best at, and how they can put that into practice in 2018. It offered the participants the chance to perhaps rethink the way in which they view themselves as professionals, and to even reimagine the image they project to the outside world, their skill sets and abilities as a result of the exercise.
Once we picked up our packed lunches we were able to browse a project fair, meeting lots of local organisations who are working across opera, music and dance education. This marked the official launch of a new guide to activity in the region by KTB and the room was buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. Many connections were made, groups were invited to visit other countries as a result, and delegates were treated to an impromptu dance performance from one of the groups!
The day ended with a session reflecting on all that we had experienced during the conference, and the announcement that Rhian Hutchings had been appointed Chair of the RESEO Steering committee.
Main photo © Phillip Zinniker