At the end of January, the Royal Opera House welcomed a group of blind and partially sighted people for a special open orchestra rehearsal. In partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) members and extra players from The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House played a 16-piece arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, under the conductor David McCallum.
The orchestra was set up in the centre of the Clore Studio and the audience sat around the players in a large circle, moving around the room regularly so that they could listen up close to different instruments.
Throughout the rehearsal of The Firebird, David talked about the plot of the ballet, demonstrating how the score vividly tells the story through musical motifs and repeating themes. He flagged moments in the music that described the magical world and creatures of the Immortal Kastchei, as well as the point when the feather is plucked from the Firebird.
After listening to the closing scene, the audience and orchestra enjoyed chatting together about the demands of playing for an orchestra.
One of the blind or visually impaired participants said: “It was a rare privilege to sit amongst the orchestra while they played The Firebird. I have the CD, but now I listen to the music with a totally different ear after having sat close to the harp and then the drums and then the trombone on one side and the cello and double base on the other.
“It was truly a magical experience and I really enjoyed speaking to the members of the orchestra who were extremely accommodating in letting us feel and, in the case of the drums, play their instruments.”
David McCallum added: “I think this Outlook day was the most successful RNIB collaboration to date and the members of the orchestra were exceptional in both their playing and their commitment to the project. It was also encouraging to see a substantial RNIB audience clearly enjoying and ‘participating’ in the event.”
Following the success of this day, the RNIB and the Royal Opera House are exploring the possibility of doing similar workshops.