In 2011 Yamaha Music Europe GmbH UK will be running two major projects involving the wonderful Yamaha Silent Strings. These are skeleton electric violins, violas, cellos and double basses and are to their acoustic strings counterparts what the electric guitar is to the acoustic guitar.
One project is with the Hallé Orchestra, based in Manchester, which will run a live performance workshop programme with schools in Oldham and Burnley over the first half of 2011. This project will involve an electric string quintet - two violins, viola, cello and double bass - with backline amplification and digital effects pedals, to control the sound and create something that is distinct from the acoustic sound.
The projects will involve performance from young string players as well as from members of the Hallé, with works specially written by the Hallé's Steve Pickett and Yamaha's Bill C Martin.
A second project is a national electric strings composing project, in partnership with the Bournemouth Orchestras and a string quartet made up of players from their their contemporary ensemble, Kokoro. The competition, whose details will be announced in Spring 2011, aims to encourage composers between 16 and 23 to explore the creative and sonic possibilities of electric strings. Yamaha's Bill C Martin, decribed the idea of the project as "the R&D for tomorrow's classical music. We want people to approach this with a sense of excitement, danger, creativity, humour, risk, and a general awareness of how cool and exciting it is when they are exploring something genuinely new!"
The project is also designed to re-stimulate the enthusiasm of any string players whose interest may be waning a little. But rather than wanting them all to sell their acoustic instruments and play electric ones instead, the idea is to broaden and extend their opportunities and reportoire.
With contemporary classical music remaining a difficult-to-teach part of the music curriculum, particularly in terms of its perceived inaccessibility, this project will provide participants and their teachers with ways of thinking about and approaching new music, which go way beyond one's initial emotional responses - ie whether one likes the music or not. Instead judgement is suspended in order to give composers and performers the chance to truly explore new ideas before value judgements close the idea down.
From the video entries, six finalists will be selected, whose compositions will be performed by Kokoro in early 2012. A distinguished judging panel will then choose two winners, who will receive Yamaha prizes and second performance by Kokoro.
More details will follow on the Yamaha Education Info website in early 2011.
In early July I joined East Sussex Music service's primary curriculum leader, Alexandra Dalton, in Eastbourne for its first electric violin improvising summer school, which welcomed 14 young string players of grade 5 standard and above from the county's schools. Yamaha has a great range of 'Silent' violins and electric violins which we've already seen used most effectively as a way to (re)motivate teenaged string players and provide a range of new creative possibilities which can challenge, stimulate and broaden their approach to string playing. So I was delighted that we were able to support this event with the loan of a range of 4- and 5-stringed Yamaha electric violins for the use of participants who didn't have access to an electric violin.