Founded in 2016, the Symphony for Life Foundation is a charitable organisation set up to give children in Western Sydney the chance to learn to play a string instrument; children who for various reasons wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise.

Their vision statement is “Playing music transforms lives”. Look on the Symphony for Life website and you’ll find testimonials from children who have found that playing music has boosted their self-esteem and confidence, enabled them to become better organised with school work, and helped them forge friendships. One child who suffers from chronic pain now uses music as part of a pain management strategy.

Symphony for Life

A Symphony for Life Term 2 concert in 2019. Photo courtesy of Symphony for Life

But with COVID causing lockdowns in 2020 and again now in 2021, the children – who live in Western Sydney where restrictions have been particularly onerous – ­have not been able to meet and play together in person. However thanks to a new project called Symphony for Lockdown they will be gathering together online, with professional musicians, to perform a new work composed especially for them.

The Symphony for Lockdown initiative came from a group of employees at Macquarie Group who have been supporting Symphony for Life. The initial idea was for musicians in Macquarie to join the children in Symphony for Life to play in a virtual orchestra as a way of supporting those children during the lockdown. Professional musicians were invited to take part, via a link on the Symphony for Life website.

Around 60 children who are supported by Symphony for Life will perform a piece composed especially for the occasion by Emma Greenhill called Animals of the Orchestra. Written in three short movements, the composition references three animals, each of which represents one of the many cultures and countries of origin of the students: the Bengal Tiger represents India, the Golden Silk Orb Spider represents Tonga, and the Kookaburra represents Australia.

“Emma is a violinist, a composer and a really good teacher,” says Karen Carey, a member of the Symphony for Life Board and part of its Program Committee.

Animals of the Orchestra is designed as a fairly simple piece. It’s well written and it’s beautiful. It’s about four minutes long, with three short movements, so it’s aimed at the students’ level, and you add the other [professional] musicians and it should sound fantastic.”

Symphony for Life

A Symphony for Life COVID modified program in 2020. Photo courtesy of Symphony for Life.

Carey says that members of the Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, as well as the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, have volunteered and will feature alongside the children in the digital performance.

“When we told the children what we were doing they were really excited because around 170 string players have signed up to play, so it’s pretty exciting,” she says.

The young students have been practicing and workshopping the piece together online. Each will be sent a guide track and instructions about how to record and upload their performance, which will be edited together for the digital event.

Carey says that Symphony for Life is exploring the idea of commissioning other composers to write pieces next year relating to the different cultural backgrounds of the children who play in their orchestras. “I think it’s good for the children and their parents to show that we are conscious of the communities that we are working with.”

Symphony for Lockdown is scheduled to be streamed on 14 October at 7pm. For more information visit the Symphony for Life website.

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