LSO Discovery goes digital: How we adapted our participation and learning programme for Summer 2020

In March 2020, LSO Discovery, the Orchestra's learning and participation programme, found themselves facing a new challenge: how to bring people together to create music during lockdown. Head of Discovery, Andra East, tells us how they rose to the challenge, and shares some highlights from an extraordinary summer. 

Head of LSO Discovery, Andra East'In normal times, LSO Discovery works to ensure greater access to the music and the Orchestra for everyone. We have partnerships with local Music education hubs, nurseries, hospitals and other community settings and the Guildhall school, together with a home in both the Barbican and LSO St Luke’s on Old Street. Through all this, the Orchestra is able to engage with around 60,000 people aged from 0–100 in a typical year, in nearly 1,000 workshops and performances. Whether we are working with crawling babies at the start of their musical adventures, composers entering the profession, young instrumentalists across East London or singers reconnecting with their voice for the first time since school, the LSO is usually able to bring people up close and personal to the Orchestra. We have been doing it a long time too – this summer was meant to be the focus for the LSO Discovery programme’s 30th anniversary celebrations!

However, in March 2020, Discovery had to adapt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which meant lockdown in the UK and across the world. We found ourselves facing new uncertainties and challenges. For a team that is used to physically bringing people together to make and create music, what could we do?

'This kind of work online is so important during this time – it gives us (both the audience and the performers) the sense of community some of us may currently be missing, it continues the education and sparks interest in not only music, but drama and performance for younger people.' (LSO musician)

Naturally, the incredibly creative LSO Discovery staff team acted quickly: within a month, new programmes of work were being devised and rolled out for the summer term to ensure that we could stay connected with our community. We were able to offer a series of online sessions for families with under 5s; 1 to 1 music sessions between LSO players and members of LSO Create (adults with learning disabilities); and sessions for the young people at Brent Knoll special school.

'We absolutely love the sessions and all your efforts are much appreciated – the sessions are one of the highlights of the week and every time [my son] sees the computer he mimes playing the trumpet as his signal that he would like to do the class!' (Shake, Rattle and Roll parent)

We also organised masterclasses, rep classes and player Q&A sessions for students of the LSO East London Academy and of the Guildhall Masters in Orchestral Artistry course; as well as Zoom meet-ups and singing videos for members of Discovery’s youth and community choirs.

'I have just spent a lovely hour and a half watching them and singing, so enjoyable! The antidote I needed to all the stress around us at the moment.' (LSO Community Choir member)

For ten years, LSO Discovery has worked with the Festival d’Aix en Provence, coaching the students of the Mediterranean Youth Orchestra. Even though the LSO were not able to visit Aix this summer, we were thrilled to be able to work with the students in a tailored online programme of masterclasses and repertoire classes, led by LSO players.

LSO Discovery Lockdown in Numbers

240 Total live online sessions delivered to Discovery participants during lockdown
38 New pieces of digital content or learning resources created for or by Discovery communities
318 Participants engaged with Discovery work across the lockdown period
7 months – 90 years Age of participants taking part in Discovery lockdown activities


Home Learning

Our thoughts went out to the huge number of young people and families having to face home-learning outside of their school environments. So we created new resources for young people, families and schools to use for free. If you haven’t had a chance to yet, it is worth checking out the interactive storytelling chamber concert based on the book Olivia Forms a Band, curated and presented by Rachel Leach. Rachel has also devised new at-home activities and tasks to accompany the six pieces we have on LSO Play, and a creative project pack for families and teachers accompanying the new book How to Build an Orchestra, which was released in April. And Music Director Sir Simon Rattle took part in a special online concert for families, devised and written by Gareth Davies and Victor Craven, Where's Simon.

'The generous resources you've been sending have been very helpful. … we send out a weekly newsletter to families filled with PE, art and music activities for their children to do in addition to the daily core lessons they're being set by their class teachers on Google Classroom.' (Teacher on the LSO Music in the Classroom CPD course)

London Symphony Chorus

The London Symphony Chorus (LSC), long-term partners of the LSO and LSO Discovery, also did not let lockdown stop them from singing. They took part in a video project of Ave Verum Corpus with partner choirs, created a short fun film for social media based on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and led on a new commission by Howard Goodall in support of the NHS, called Never to Forget.

For LSO Discovery, August is usually a time for reflection and catching up with ourselves. Looking back on what has been possible to achieve has been wonderful, and it was a joy to discover that making music with people online can have meaningful impact. It was hugely rewarding to connect with musicians and participants at a time when the risk of feeling more isolated was so great – there were even new opportunities to make 1:1 connections between members of the Orchestra and participants.

Seeing how well we have adapted some of our models for the digital realm has been a pleasant surprise, for players and artists. It has got us thinking about how we can connect with even more people (even when we can open our doors again), especially those who cannot access the LSO’s regular venues due to financial, physical or geographical barriers.

Most importantly, for us this experience has been a reminder of the power of music to connect us to one another and to support us through the more difficult challenges of our lives. As for LSO Discovery turning 30 years old, well, much like many other significant birthdays which took place during lockdown, we hope to find another way of celebrating at some point in the near future!'

You might like

> Find out more about LSO Discovery

> Explore our free digital resources for young people and families

> LSO Discovery Friday Lunchtime Concerts (also available to watch online)

Where can you find us?

Watching YouTube on your TV?

Follow our instructions to access concerts via the YouTube app.
> Follow the instructions to watch on your TV

Programme notes

Our programme notes are available to read digitally for free, and will be available for the whole season.
> Find programme notes