How Opera North is adapting its musical projects for an online lockdown audience

Image description: a woman playing a Yamaha piano
Photo by Siniz Kim on Unsplash

Music has an incredibly important impact on our everyday lives, for people of all ages. Lockdown restrictions have prevented us from visiting live theatre and sharing our love of music with each other. Here’s how one of the country’s leading arts organisations, based in Yorkshire, is reinventing its workshops and projects to captivate the minds of young and old music lovers alike.

Opera North, an opera company based in Leeds, is offering four new musical digital projects aimed at all ages, starting from as young as five years old. These projects aim to improve people’s wellbeing, aid learning, and to provide connection with others – something that has been lost during the pandemic.

Little School of Music

As a break from traditional home-schooling lessons, Opera North’s ‘Little School of Music’ offers a series of free interactive videos which have been designed to encourage families to explore music together. The educational videos, which are available now on their website and will be regularly updated with fresh content, have been created by Opera North’s ‘In Harmony’ team. This team previously offered music-making workshops, activities, and performances to primary school pupils in deprived communities.

The videos are aimed at children from five to 11 and will help to keep them entertained through lockdown. They include activities such as:

  • ‘Musical Hand Kite’ (5+) – Teaching children how to create a homemade hand kite and to try and match the kite’s movements with the sounds that have been provided.
  • ‘Rhythmic Challenge’ (7+) ­– Encouraging children to use different parts of the body (and objects around the house) to follow a rhythmic pattern set by the team.
  • ‘A Musical Adventure in Space’ (9+) – Allowing children to draw a storyboard for a space film based on the piece of music set by the team.

Families are encouraged to share their creations on social media using the hashtag #ONLittleSchool.

Orchestra Academy Online

During the February half-term (15–19), Opera North is providing free masterclasses and workshops led by members of the orchestra of Opera North. The Orchestral Academy Online is designed for musicians who are between ten and 18 years of age and studying an orchestral instrument at grade 4+. Whilst these workshops shouldn’t replace regular instrumental study, each session will focus on a specific instrument or orchestral section and aims to suggest tips and techniques to young musicians, giving them guidance in their learning experience.

Opera North will also be offering introduction sessions for young musicians interested in starting to learn an instrument. For musicians studying at a higher level, there may be an opportunity for one-to-one sessions with an orchestra member, in which players can play a piece and receive feedback.


With live performances not permitted due to current lockdown restrictions, Opera North’s ONe-to-ONe will give people the chance to have a song or instrumental piece chosen and performed live (via Zoom) by a member of the orchestra of Opera North. This unique project is designed to bring entertainment directly to people’s home. Whilst there are no confirmed dates for this opportunity yet, Zoom slots will need to be booked in advance on the website when released; recipients will only be allowed to listen to one performance.

From Couch to Chorus

Also, for a third time, Opera North is virtually assembling people from around the world to take part in their ‘From Couch to Chorus’ project. Approximately 2,000 people participated in the previous projects – beginning in July and reprised with a Festive Edition later in the year. Over 90 percent of participants said that the project improved their wellbeing, so the spring edition is highly anticipated.

Beginning on 24 February, From Couch to Chorus: Sing into Spring is taking place over the course of four weeks, where people of different musical abilities will learn a number of operatic pieces from Jennifer Sterling, a professional choral director adept at teaching both children and adults, with help from the chorus of Opera North. Attendees will be learning and singing excerpts from Verdi’s Aida, Dvořák’s Rusalka and Mozart’s Idomeneo and this will culminate in a session where everybody will come together online to sing as part of a virtual chorus.

These highly anticipated online projects will stimulate the much-needed music comeback during a time where arts companies are particularly struggling with being unable to meet in person to rehearse, perform, and teach in a physical environment. This may be the best way forward for arts companies to offer their knowledge and insight to people and keep the industry alive.

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