Ageing in a digital world: the opera

Andrea Creech

Something very special has been happening in the depths of the East Sussex countryside. Today, tomorrow and Saturday (March 7-9 2013) music-lovers will be arriving at Glyndebourne to see the world premiere of a brand new opera by Orlando Gough and Stephen Plaice. Right at the heart of this production is an intergenerational  community chorus aged 16-80, some of whom have never been involved in music making before, collaborating with international artists.

The opera, Imago, focuses on the theme of ageing in a digital world. This piece is a tour de force, both musically and technically. Community participants have mastered complex musical challenges that would have vexed the most experienced professional musicians. Young and older participants alike have been tweeting, blogging and face booking about their experience, as they prepared for the premiere.

This project is special on so many levels. This is a remarkable example of community learning, of peer support, of experiential learning and of the power of music. Glyndebourne, an international centre of musical excellence is an extraordinary context for this venture. As one chorus member said to me, “this is the real deal”. The production is supported with the full weight of Glyndebourne’s resources. In this content of excellence participants have exceeded personal and collective expectations.

In the run-up to this week’s event, old and young have been working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. In the orchestra pit community musicians were being mentored, playing alongside professional musicians. The sense of community was compelling, as the entire company pulled together, united by a common purpose. Aspirations have been raised. Individuals have experienced deep levels of musical engagement, drawing on previously unknown personal resources.

Imago addresses a very topical issue – ageing in the modern world. In the UK, where our population of centenarians has risen by 84% since 2000, we need compassionate initiatives that enrich the lives of older people and help them to sustain wellbeing.  Music is just such an initiative. Glyndebourne has got this one exactly right. The story line is highly topical and fosters some deep thinking about what ageing means.

Most importantly, Imago is a tangible example of how music can be affirming, sustaining and transformative, acting as a vehicle for young and old alike to experience enhanced well being. It is also compelling evidence that when individuals of any age have the benefit of first class opportunities and expert support they really will rise to the challenge, achieving remarkable things.

Andrea Creech is conducting an evaluation of this project for Glyndebourne

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