Tuesday 2nd March Jamie Munn

Helensburgh Oratorio Choir

Winter Warmer Programme 2021

Jamie Munn, Chief Executive of the Nevis Ensemble since its inception in 2017, was invited to present the fourth in our series of 6 ‘Winter Warmers’ on Tuesday 2nd March. Where has the time gone? It’s Spring already!!

The Nevis Ensemble was founded with the simple (?) task of bringing live music to as many different locations in Scotland as was humanly and logistically possible. From the top of Ben Nevis via care homes, museums, village halls and Tesco!!

Jamie started as a singer in the RCS and then moved to Berlin. He has taught music in many countries all over the world including Kenya, Hong Kong and India.

The Nevis Ensemble was based on an idea first launched by the Dutch group, The Ricciotti Ensemble. This consists of 43 young enthusiastic musicians and plays symphonic music everywhere and for everyone. Since founded in 1970, The Ricciotti Ensemble has been playing for people who, for whatever reason, hardly ever come into contact with live symphonic music. It is the most socially involved orchestra in The Netherlands. Members visit places prisons or asylum centres, meet like-minded folk or people who hardly know what a violin looks like. They also learn different styles of music, how to present themselves on stage and get a unique chance to develop themselves artistically and socially. Check them out:

www.ricciotti.nl/en/organisatie

This then, was the basis upon which The Nevis Ensemble was founded. According to Jamie, it was over cocktails in Rio de Janeiro that the British Council agreed to fund the concept of bringing music to the masses in Scotland and agreed to its funding. There are 60 musicians altogether but usually there are 40 when on tour. Since founded, they have given 229 performances to 28,500 people in 55 cities, 11 islands, in 21 out of 32 local authorities in Scotland. They have also toured internationally, visiting 20 countries. The 40 piece orchestra, tailors their programme to the audience and performs at times which suit the audience, many times having the opportunity to share a meal with them. They play all genres of music – classical, jazz, pop and have appeared invariably in disparate locations - prisons, schools, supermarkets, beaches, community halls to name but a few. They have also sung on St Kilda, despite faulty rib boats, frozen fingers and storms. Jamie sees these challenges as ways of pushing the performers to overcome such challenges and improve their own resilience.

When the European Championships were in Glasgow in 2018 (Co-hosted with Berlin), they were invited to play in the City Chambers. No one appeared to be listening to them at the prestigious opening event until the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was showing interest, was invited to come on stage to conduct a Proclaimers melody. That stopped everyone in their tracks! Jamie also recalls a ‘guerrilla’ performance in Princes Square, around the same time, where they were nearly thrown out by the security guards but a media offensive by an appreciative audience won the day and they were even asked back!

Much of the work they do is socially motivated and sees them performing to support various charities e.g. ‘Social Bites’ in Aberdeen for homelessness and ‘Refuweegee’ in Glasgow. This is a community-led charity that gives people a way to welcome and embrace those newest to arrive. They strive to ensure that people who have been forced to flee their homes (e.g. Syria) arrive in Scotland to a warm welcome and provide some of the things that will help people to feel more at home here. The performers all try to make a connection with the audience. They mingle, interact and connect. The musicians know that this is an integral part of the performance and are trained on how to present themselves. They are paired up at the beginning with more experienced members, to develop their own social skills to allow them to adapt to any situation and connect to the audience.

Jamie described the Ensemble as Socially Minded, Disruptive (to the norm!), Inclusive, Interactive, Adaptable, Unpredictable, Energetic and Sustainable.

2020 has brought many challenges but, despite this, they were determined to maintain a virtual presence (a bit like ourselves!) and encourage the writing of new music. A new Song Cycle has been commissioned for a Chamber group (which is easier to manage virtually).

Lochan Sketches are a series of 10 commissions for composers to write short solo works for specific members of the orchestra. Each composer is paired with individuals from across Scotland to take inspiration from the country’s coasts and waters. Each work received its broadcast premiere on BBC Radio Scotland’s Classics Unwrapped programme. The series was part of Nevis’ contributions to the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020. The 10 composers selected were: Rylan Gleave, Lisa Robertson, Fergus Hall, Harry Gorski-Brown, Suzanne Parry, Alex Paxton, Sarah Lianne Lewis, Robert Reid Allan, Huan Li and Angela Slater.

Jamie let us hear a snippet from the piece by Ryland Gleave, for solo saxophonist Jenny Ackroyd (from Nevis) and tape, telling a story about pirates in the Gulf of Aden. This was inspired and commissioned by Jenny Gillies, a sea captain with the Fletcher Group. Not only is the piece beautiful, the score comes complete with extraordinary illustrations. It is called ‘Winding through Seaweed’.

At the heart of what Nevis continues to do is the desire to widen the offering of music to all. Jamie shared some interesting (and worrying) statistics with us. During 2014-16 there were 6989 concerts. 67% of the audience who went along for the first time, did not go back to another concert. How can we change that? In the words of HG Wells ‘Adapt or Perish’ - (How appropriate for us all in the music world at the moment!). People go where they feel comfortable and not out of place. That’s why the orchestra dress casually and adapt to their surroundings. They play music the audience want to hear as audience engagement is fundamental to their success. So, they will continue to play Abba and Bizet in the same programme! The feedback from their audience says it all ‘They were unique, vibrant and entertaining’ ‘They take the orchestra out of the concert hall’

What a way to finish! Thank you so much Jamie for your most interesting talk which has truly opened our eyes to the important work you and your orchestra are doing to take music to all and breakdown these barriers.

As the website says –

“Nevis Ensemble is different. There’s nothing else quite like us in Scotland. Our vision is music for everyone, everywhere. And we mean business.”

Find out more: https://nevisensemble.org

There followed some questions from our most appreciative audience:

What is the age range of the orchestra?

No age limit on the orchestra. Mostly mid 20’s, early year professionals who see this as a positive stepping stone in their career, but also musicians in their 40s, 50s and a 74 year old!


Is it paid work?

Not on the whole, but workshops and commissions are paid

Tell me more about sustainability. Are you involved in COP26?

Nevis will try to get involved either directly or on the fringe on COP26. Details have still to be decided. They are highlighting endangered species at the moment by doing something every day.


A large number of you came along to listen and learn about Jamie and his team. Thank you. I hope you enjoyed it. See you next time when we will be hearing from Susie and David.


A Tindal



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Helensburgh Oratorio Choir is a charity registered in Scotland, number: SC003942.

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