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University of York Baroque Ensemble Online Project

Posted on 24 June 2020

We are delighted that students who play with the University of York Baroque Ensemble are continuing to keep up their rehearsals during the lockdown via online means!

The Ensemble appears in various forms, from chamber to orchestral and many playing on period instruments. The group is made up of about 16 players in total, led by Lucy Russell, Rachel Gray and Peter Seymour.

The group were due to play as part of our York Early Music Festival this year and have recorded a short clip of their rehearsal of Purcell's Rondeau from Abdelazer.

Thoughts from Rachel and Lucy – Baroque Ensemble Directors

We've been in touch with ensemble leaders Lucy and Rachel who have kindly shared their thoughts with us on their new way of working and collected some thoughts from students about how this has benefited not just their playing but their wellbeing too.

During the lockdown, it has been interesting to see how music educators and leaders have navigated the challenges of reinventing rehearsals online. What is so interesting to read about from Rachel and Lucy, is that in amongst the practical challenges and the distance, they have found a deeper connectivity with students, working on a more one to one basis at times but also have found a greater connectivity as a 'team'. Here is what they had to say about their experience:

'From my perspective it has certainly been a challenging time, taking me out of my 'comfort zone', but I am privileged to be part of such a great team with Lucy and Peter, as well as with the students themselves, and it is very rewarding to see how the team spirit has flourished this term. Lucy and I have agreed that one of the surprises of online sessions has been the benefit of seeing the students one at a time, and this is definitely something we intend to continue once 'normal' service has been resumed. We are able to address bespoke issues for each player, something which isn't really possible in the usual rehearsal set-up.'

'There has also been the opportunity to share in more detail the historical background to the musical forms, in particular those of fugue and of dance forms, the understanding of which is so important in informing our performance style.'

'Of course, the limitations of online music-making has been frustrating for us all - time lag, sound quality and intermittent internet connections being the main issues. Nonetheless, necessity being the mother of invention, we have been finding new ways to connect both musically and socially, which, it seems from the students' accounts, has certainly been helpful from a wellbeing point of view.'

Thoughts from students 

Here you'll find some feedback from the students about how their continued online rehearsals have helped them during the lockdown. One of the many benefits this has provided them with is a sense of structure to their week. With many students doing well over ten hours of ensemble rehearsal during a normal week, this has provided them with a bit of 'normality' while all their performances and busy rehearsal schedules have been reduced. In addition to this, the social aspect of connecting with your ensemble members has been a huge loss to many and so keeping that contact has reduced isolation for the students. Both of these areas, routine and isolation, have been a source of worry for all those working from home

Jessica, final-year student

This project has given us a creative outlet while facing disappointment with the cancellation of many concerts. The weekly rehearsals and lessons have brought a very welcomed sense of normal routine, and I feel that we have grown closer as a group. It is a joy to still be bringing music to people even if it is through a different medium.

Jin, PhD student

The Baroque Ensemble has very special meaning for me, not only because I'm playing in the ensemble, but also I have been here from 2016, and I have witnessed a lot of it. It's also the starting point of my baroque violin study. Despite members leaving and joining every year, it's like a home for many of us. Honestly, I felt disappointed when we were informed that our concert was cancelled because we had already worked so hard for the concert and the pieces we were due to perform are so beautiful and exciting. Luckily, during the lockdown, we have found new ways to have rehearsals and perform online, and I have to say I was inspired more by them because Lucy and Rachel's wonderful demonstration videos and our mini-lessons make me pay attention to more detailed things and adopt a higher quality of playing. I'm quite looking forward to our first online concert of Purcell's music and hopefully, there will be some surprises!

Bethan, first-year student

Baroque Ensemble has been one of the only music ensembles to continue during the lockdown. This has made it a really special part of the week for me. It's been so nice to be able to meet up, see familiar faces and continue to share music during this time of crisis, and I think it is more important than ever that this goes on in the current environment. I am so excited that we still get to share this with other people even if it is not in the form of a live concert!

Tilly, final-year student

The one-to-one online lessons were really beneficial (even if they were just 15-20 mins long), as we would have never had opportunities for this private tuition if rehearsals were still taking place as usual! Lucy and Rachel's feedback was very helpful and constructive, and they got to know our playing in much greater detail as a result of these one-to-one lessons!

Naomi, first-year student

Having Baroque Ensemble through the lockdown has been a constant link with the University and am ensemble. Being able to play with a group and get specialist teaching miles from each other has been really rewarding and has been something that has formed a structure to the week.

Susan, MA student

An enjoyable aspect of playing with a group of musicians is that there is a vital connectivity with fellow players. It is possible to maintain visual eye contact so that we can read and respond to the live situation. The fact that we can hear each other also means that we can modify our playing according to the live dynamic, and the performance itself will be singularly unique. It will be impossible to replicate the experience exactly, but it is exciting to repeat and experience a whole new performance afresh.

Olivia, first-year student

The instructive videos that Lucy and Rachel have sent to us were very helpful as they gave me something to focus on in my practice and helped me get in the right style. They also allowed me to play along with the other parts to see how everyone should fit together. One to one sessions on the repertoire have proven very beneficial to me as they enable specific feedback on things I need to work on and what I should do during my practice, for example, articulation, holding the bow higher up and using less bow. I have enjoyed taking part in the recordings because it has given me something to work towards. Our rehearsal sessions have helped provide a sense of structure to my week, as we are still able to interact with our peers on a weekly basis.