Recently, AYO Momentum Ensemble wrapped up two weeks of workshops with four schools in Sydney and Port Macquarie. Under the leadership of musicians and educators Belinda McFarlane and Oliver Shermacher, the ensemble worked with students across primary and secondary levels. It was an inspiring and heart-warming two weeks which culminated in a performance at The Glasshouse!

Momentum Ensemble on stage at The Glasshouse with Belinda McFarlane and Oliver Shermacher.
Credit: Lucy Humphries
A group of musicians and school students perform on stage.
Credit: Lucy Humphries

Before the performance, flautist Elissa Koppen enthusiastically described the energy of the program mentors: ‘[Bindi and Ollie’s] passion for what we’re doing is just out of this world and it’s contagious. I really appreciate the guidance I’ve been given. It’s been such an invaluable experience for us as musicians, for the teachers, for the kids, for the community.’

Violinist James Armstrong singled out the advantages of the small workshop structure of the project: ‘It’s really special to go into classrooms with 30 students, and there’s 13 of us, so there’s the opportunity to actually connect with students and work closely with them. It’s wonderful and exciting to bounce ideas off each other – kids are so creative!’

A group of musicians and school students perform on stage.
Credit: Lucy Humphries
A group of musicians and school students perform on stage.
Credit: Lucy Humphries

This two-sided flow of inspiration was also noted by the teaching staff who observed the different stages of the project. ‘It’s been a wonderful experience for the students to rehearse at school and then actually move into a professional space on stage!’ Bella Mistry, Director of Performing Arts at St Columba Anglican School exclaimed. ‘It’s opened their eyes up and they’ve also made great connections with other interested music students in the community.’

Wonderful takeaways from this for our students are… to be able to think on the spot and collaborate their ideas and refine their ideas. But the most important thing is they feel a sense of achievement, having been able to play in the space, being valued by their older music gurus from the AYO and be encouraged by them to give them that energy and empowerment for composition.’

A group of musicians and school students perform on stage.
Credit: Lucy Humphries
A group of musicians and school students perform on stage.
Credit: Lucy Humphries

There was a common thread in the comments made by school students after the project concluded: the feeling of a safe creative space where they felt free to express themselves musically and move outside of their comfort zone.  

‘Although we were used to using reading music, I found playing by ear a welcome challenge that made the end result feel all the more personal.’

‘I really appreciated how nice everyone was and how encouraging they were. It was definitely out of my comfort zone to perform without music but they made me feel confident and were very supportive, even if I made a wrong note. It was so much fun!’

‘The Momentum Ensemble musicians were welcoming and considerate, and demonstrated genuine enthusiasm for their work which translated to their performances and teachings.’