As an aspiring writer, I always imagined the job involving one person sequestered away in some tiny room, bent over a keyboard or typewriter, tapping away by themselves; a truly solitary profession.
Of course, the reality is nothing like. While the initial work is carried out in relative solitude, when it comes to publication – turning that manuscript into an actual book – it’s far from being a one-man operation. Most authors will have an agent, who acts as a conduit between the author and the publisher. The publisher will usually suggest an editor to help the author refine and polish the book, there will often be marketing people involved. Pretty soon, it becomes evident that the process is a team effort.
Even with my self-published work, I rely on a proof-reader to correct my mistakes, and I often use beta-readers to go through the manuscript and address more conceptual issues – is it enjoyable? Does the plot hang together? Are the characters likeable? That kind of thing.
All if this benefits me as a writer, not only with regards to that particular piece (very important), but as a whole. Things I’ve learnt from working with my publisher on Playtime’s Over, my first traditionally-published book, have undoubtedly made me a better writer all round. Corrections received from my proof-reader have alerted me to the common mistakes, and ugly writing habits, I habitually make (most of them involving commas) and make me alert to them as I’m writing. I’ve just recently signed a publishing agreement with a second publisher for a new book, so this will be another person to work with that will hopefully highlight new improvements I can make in my writing – another member of my team, working together to create something more than I could achieve on my own.
Charles Hazlewood, in the first episode of his new series Reinventing the Orchestra on Sky Arts (currently free-to-air), focuses on the orchestra as a team. During the episode, he references a quote from former Manchester Utd manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who said “I remember going to see Andrea Bocelli, the opera singer. I had never been to a classical concert in my life. But I am watching this and thinking about the co-ordination and the teamwork — one starts and one stops, just fantastic. So I spoke to my players about the orchestra — how they are a perfect team.”
Not just led by the conductor, every member of the orchestra, when it’s working properly, is listening to, and watching, every other member. Their individual skill is a vital part of the puzzle and, even on their own, they are capable of producing a beautiful sound. But together, what they are able to create is transcendent. One of the most truly magnificent examples of what we can produce when we work together.
This is one of the key aspects of the Sistema in Norwich programme. Students come to us, not just to learn to play an instrument, but to learn to play together as part of an orchestra. Our student programme involves four sessions a week (across two evenings), and only one of these four sessions is based on straightforward tutoring about how to play their instrument. Those instrumental sessions combine with the Music theory and ensemble sessions to achieve the overall aim of forging an orchestra, creating something that is more than just the sum of its parts. This is why our return to face-to-face delivery this term, in our new base on Colegate, has been so vitally important to the programme; playing together in the same room is the very essence of what we do.
And these skills go further. In his programme, Hazlewood also speaks to paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who makes the point that as an athlete she needs others to help her achieve, even in a solo sport. Furthermore, as a wheelchair user, she is reliant on the assistance of others to do simple everyday things like access public transport. And he also talks to a CEO who draws parallels with the world of work and how companies, when they’re achieving, do so as a result of people working together in that seamless way. All of us, regardless of our occupation or circumstances, are reliant on working together to achieve our goals.
Whether our students continue with music beyond Sistema or not, the skills that come from learning to be part of an orchestra are the sort of life skills that will stand them in good stead, whatever their ambitions in life.