BLOG – Heidi van der Swaagh, cello

I have played in more than a hundred concerts with Nevis Ensemble across Scotland in the past year, each one a special and unique experience. But, thinking back on them all, I’d like to share two performances that have stood out to me. 

The first was a concert we did for a primary school on our ‘Burns Tour’. I have worked as a full-time music teacher and taught at after-school clubs, and as anyone who has worked in primary schools knows, it is very hard to get an auditorium of kids to sit still, let alone pay attention for any length of time…

As part of our Nevis performances, we really like to get our audiences engaged and participating, and often it is easy to gauge the “success” of the performance on how much of this we can get. But to the surprise of many ensemble members, that isn’t what happened at this primary school.

Instead, the young audience sat cross-legged through our performance hardly making a noise. Even during the most upbeat and lively pieces where the entire orchestra was singing and dancing they sat in their rows, it might even have seemed that we weren’t managing to engage with them.

But that isn’t what it was! These young primary students are often asked to sit in lines and listen to or watch a presentation, and it is very, very hard for them to do. They become bored, distracted, or fidgety and teachers constantly have to remind them to focus and stay seated. But that morning performance something very special happened: the students sat and listened and watched.

It might not seem like much, but any teachers out there know it is. I know it is. For the 40 minutes that Nevis played, those students were engaged, and involved, they wanted to be there, and because they wanted to be there, they were following instructions and listening so that they wouldn’t interrupt or be sent out of the room. For them this was something special, because a full orchestra had come to give them a concert, but for us it was even more special because a room full of primary school students had given us their undivided attention.

The second concert was during our ‘Reawakening Tour’. Nevis had been invited to help open the newly refurbished Aberdeen Music Hall. It is an absolutely stunning venue, and it was truly incredible to get to play not only in the main concert hall, but many of the surrounding rooms.

This particular performance was in one such room. I can’t remember exactly which one, possibly partly because it was the day after we had participated in Social Bite’s ‘Sleep in the Park‘ but I do remember that the room was entire empty except for the orchestra and one older gentleman. It was a quiet December Sunday morning and people were milling through the rooms; we were giving a couple of performances to visitors through the day.

We were all quite tired, but Jon – our co-Artistic Director – asked us all to rally so that the gentleman could hear our performance. As classical performers we are actually quite used to be the only person on stage in front of an audience, but I don’t think I, or many of the 40 members of the Nevis Ensemble have played a concert where there are 40 people “on stage” and only one person in the audience. It was really quite incredible.

After each piece this gentleman clapped for us showing huge enthusiasm for all of the pieces we played. When we finished he came up and shook Jon’s hand, thanking the orchestra for the music before he left. For me, this was a reminder that music truly is for everyone, everywhere, even if the audience is made up of just one person!