It was in 2015 when Louise founded the ARCO Project along with her students at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in collaboration with what was then the Cape Gate MIAGI Centre for Music in Soweto (now the Morris Isaacson Centre for Music). ARCO has provided regular distance-learning opportunities, international and national for talented children in South Africa, whom for multiple reasons, do not have access to the same level of musical education as we do in the UK.
Weekly individual instrumental lessons, mentoring, and string quartet coaching are delivered by a group of around twenty current students, recent graduates and staff from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire via video conferencing systems. Regular events occurring within RBC’s String Department, such as master classes, workshops and performances are streamed live to South Africa for the benefit of the MICM students. ARCO student and staff teachers from the UK travel to South Africa several times a year to teach “live” - an immersive musical experience, building on and solidifying skills learnt throughout the year.
2017 saw the launch of ARCO Exchange, with selected ARCO students being hosted in the UK. ARCO has forged links with many festivals and courses across Europe and within South Africa, including Lake District Summer Music, Pro Corda, European String Teachers Association, Young Grittleton, National Youth String Orchestra, Colourstrings, Cecil Aronowitz, South African National Youth Orchestra and Lionel Tertis International Viola Competitions and Festivals in order to facilitate the attendance of ARCO MICM students.
At the end of 2019, the project facilitated its inaugural national exchange. Thanks to Birmingham City University all MICM ARCO students were able to participate in an exchange trip to Rustenburg Girls High School in Cape Town with performances at the world-famous V&A Waterfront. This included orchestral workshops, collaborative rehearsals, flashmobs and the sharing of ideas between like-minded young South African musicians.
ARCO is five years old, with two major award nominations to its name, several BBC broadcast appearances, a Carte Blanche documentary, huge social media presence, numerous publications, videos, thousands of photos and most importantly over thirty young children in Soweto and even more students and staff in the UK whose lives have been changed forever!
ARCO is just spreading its wings, opening two new satellite projects in Chennai, India and providing online tuition for other talented young musicians in other parts of South Africa. This comes after recent successes that saw RBC staff and students work intensively with AR Rahman’s Sunshine Orchestra in Chennai, and eight of the Sowetan ARCO Students perform at the acclaimed Voorkamerfest in Darling 80km north of Cape Town.
Darling – a town supported and made famous by the political satirist and actor Pieter Dirk-Uys, is within striking distance of Cape Town yet lacks teaching expertise to provide the necessary education for the children in the community. ARCO will be working with “Darling Music for All” to start a project from January 2020. The eight ARCO students from Soweto performed a critically acclaimed programme at the Darling Voorkamerfest 2019, featuring speech, instrumental and vocal singing and drew the attention of the crowds, artists and press from across South Africa.
The Sunshine Orchestra are a string orchestra created and funded by the Bollywood music sensation A.R Rahman in 2009. This unusual and highly motivated group of young string players work together for 6 hours a day almost every day, trained by Srinivasa Murthy. The ARCO Project hopes to provide all the students in the orchestra with 1:1 teaching, something which they currently do not have access to. They play for many of the current Bollywood movies, tour and also specialise in classical music.