ARCO South Africa
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 almost seven 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 sixty 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.
Building on the work in South Africa, in February 2021 ARCO began to work with the 14 string players of the Sunshine Orchestra based in Chennai, India. The Sunshine Orchestra was founded by the multiple academy award winner A.R Rahman in 2008, just two years after the A.R Rahman Foundation was established. The foundation exists to create opportunities for people from deprived communities through music education. The Sunshine Orchestra are a string orchestra, and are the flagship project of the foundation.
In September 2019, Dr Louise Lansdown (Head of Strings, RBC), Anthony Alcock (Section Leader Double Bass, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) and Emily Bogiatjis (RBC graduate) visited Chennai and worked with the Sunshine Orchestra, running sessions on style and rehearsals for a week. As a result of the connection and successes of this time ARCO, RBC and the A.R Rahman Foundation kept in close contact and successfully began their official collaboration in February 2021. Through the ARCO Project, RBC string students and staff currently deliver weekly online 1:1 lessons to the 14 members of the Sunshine Orchestra. This includes 4 violinists, 4 violists, 5 cellists and 2 double bassists. RBC students teaching on ARCO South Africa and India receive instrument specific weekly teacher training sessions as a group, often with “live” online teaching of their respective students in both countries.