The Bigger Picture

What makes Britain ‘philharmonic’?

While naturally we all applaud and enjoy following the nation’s wealth of professional musicians, the greater part of musicians in the UK are in fact non-professionals. Choirs, symphony orchestras, brass bands, wind bands, string orchestras – even less familiar entities like saxophone orchestras – abound nationwide. They gather weekly in every region, drawn together by all the rewards that come from making music, and brighten their communities with everything they do.

Our friends at Making Music – the UK’s principal organisation supporting leisure-time music-making – represent over 3,600 such groups comprising around 200,000 music-makers. At the RPS, we want to celebrate everything that makes the nation musical, and going forward that includes shining to a light on more such musicians, so vital to our collective musical ecology and prosperity.

In November 2021, the RPS Inspiration Award became a lasting new fixture of our annual RPS Awards, newly honouring such non-professional groups and, uniquely, voted for by the public. This year it was presented to Bristol Choral Society and their boundless Music Director Hilary Campbell.

We plan to get out and meet more such groups, to find out why they’re special to their members and their community, and tell their story here on our website, as we do for many professionals, established and arising. What’s more, where we can, we want to bridge two worlds and take professional musicians to make music with their non-professional counterparts, given we’re all part of the same community, with a shared belief in the power of music.

Recently, we took acclaimed baritone Roderick Williams to meet Dorking Choral Society in one of their regular rehearsals: a timely encounter as they were rehearsing Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, a work with which Roddy has had a close association. He sang with them and shared his expertise not just on this piece, but on singing in general and excavating the treasures of the text. This short film captures the occasion, and features members of Dorking Choral Society talking about what singing means for them and why more people should join such choirs.

We very much look forward to visiting more non-professional groups, as means permit, in the months ahead.

If you’d like to find a friendly, welcoming musical group you could join in your locality, head to Making Music’s website which is a great starting point.

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