Since it was founded in 2018, Scotland’s award-winning Nevis Ensemble has specialised in bringing music to unexpected settings and remote communities, playing at railway stations, on island beaches, in care homes and prisons and once from the summit of Ben Nevis itself.
But the coronavirus pandemic, and the social isolation imposed across the country in an attempt to slow the spread of infection, has prompted the 40-piece orchestra to reflect even more creatively on how to interpret its rubric of “music for everyone, everywhere”.
The group has now launched the Living Room Ensemble, with the aim of putting together a series of performances by musicians, and music lovers, across the country, played at home and then broadcast together online.
The Proclaimers’ classic from the 1988 album Sunshine on Leith is the first Living Room Ensemble project. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian
Over the next month, the orchestra is encouraging people to submit videos of themselves playing instruments, banging pots and pans, singing along or dancing to the same piece of music, with footage then collated for a special online performance. Musicians and non-musicians are welcome to take part, and sheet music can be downloaded from the group’s website. First up is the roar-along Scottish classic I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by the Proclaimers.
Co-artistic director Holly Mathieson explains: “It’s usual for our gigs to involve people who are dealing with isolation already, whether that’s asylum seekers or prisoners or people living on remote islands. The fact that everyone is now isolating adds another layer to the work, but it’s still in essence about getting people involved and inspiring small creative acts.”
Faced with the mammoth orchestral difficulty of making sure that everyone is keeping the same time in different locations, Mathieson is considering use of a “click track”, which participants can listen to while they play, to keep to a standard beat.
The Living Room Ensemble project is less about creating a perfect work of art, adds Jamie Munn, the orchestra’s chief executive, and more about new ways of participation at a time when coming together physically is no longer possible. “All arts organisations are realising how much good technology there is available to create art online,” says Munn. “Musicians especially are exploring the available technology and discovering there’s a lot that can be done outside of the standard performance in a concert hall.”