Checking through my Barbican programme the other day I noticed a heading “Family Music Intro Concert” by the BBC Symphony Orchestra which offered a free talk and tickets for the evening concert for each family member for just £5 (accompanying child up to 16 years old essential.) Last Friday the orchestra were performing the following programme: Martinu's Symphony no. 2, Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs, Mahler's Adagio from Symphony no.10 and Strauss' Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche. I went along to the workshop with a somewhat dubious 15 year old daughter, and emerged 45 minutes later with an energised, engaged young woman!

The workshop was led by animateur Fraser Trainer who is both a graduate of Guildhall and a composer in his own right. He has a great deal of experience in leading workshops and managed to combine enormous enthusiasm for his subject with as absence of patronising talk. This appealed to virtually the whole audience of mixed age.

The complex programme of work being played at the concert resulted in a smaller than usual audience for these family intro tickets: there were around 50 of us, of whom around 15 - 20 were 16 or under. Children were invited to bring instruments which gave me a little trepidation but this proved quite unnecessary. The audience contained an impressive number of young musicians mainly aged between 8 and 14 who brought a surprisingly high number of brass instruments to the workshop, as well as the odd violin and recorder. Early on Fraser established a rapport with all the children by asking them to play an “A” note on their instruments. This was achieved with ease by everyone other than the tenor tuba whose pitch required a great deal more thought.

I was intrigued as to how Martinu's 2nd Symphony could be brought into focus for children and adults ranging in age from 6 to 60, but it was managed very adroitly. Fraser divided us by instrument and made us layer rhythms on top of one another. In doing so he showed how the symphony could be deconstructed and thus made it easier to hear these layers when played together in performance. It was a really great technique.

Far less time was spent on the remaining three pieces. But credit has to be given to BBC Symphony's horn player, who galvanised the wilting audience at the end of the 45 minute session by asking everyone to blow a raspberry. The reason was to demonstrate Till Eulenspiegel's theme tune when he had done something naughty which ends in a note sounding remarkably like a raspberry. Unsurprisingly, this went down very well with our audience every one of whom will have recognised the theme when it was played later in the concert.

Throughout the workshop there were small snippets about the various composers and their techniques which brought them to life. We learnt that Martinu “...tried not to destroy the nerves of the listener” in this symphony with his clarity and restraint while Richard Strauss, was a blissful composer for the horn since his father was one of the foremost horn players of the day and he really understood well the dynamics of the instrument.

I did muse as to why these wonderful, informal workshops were restricted to those with children. At we often get queries from people wishing to “get into” classical music without really knowing how and these range in age from post-university to post-retirement, suggesting that there are lots of more mature people who want to be able to appreciate classical music too.

I would throroughly recommend these introductions to anyone who can beg or borrow a child to accompany them. I also hope that I will soon be able to recommend them to those unable to find a child, because the workshops stand up extremely well as ways into classical music for people of all ages. Since these events offer you the chance to hear first class classical music for just £5 for a joint workshop and concert ticket, they are fantastic value and I think they deserve to be sold out as soon as they come on sale.

This series is organised by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, are led by an animateur with support from the learning department of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and illustrated by two of the musicians from the Orchestra who will be playing in the following concert.

Photo credit: Simon Jay Price