Producing online content sounds an easy thing to do, but it isn’t. Particularly if you’ve had next-to-no warning that it will be needed. Sound familiar? As a library, we’re finding our way around the perils (and pleasures?) of making YouTube videos and other streaming content. This may form an important part of the library’s offer over the next few weeks or months. We’re lucky that some library services continue: there’s still access to e-books, e-audiobooks, and e-magazines for example.

Compare our situation with that of many arts organisations. Their primary purpose is to perform; take away that and they lose nearly all contact with the audience, their customers. Orchestras and other music groups in the UK run on a (comparative) shoestring. In normal times, their backroom staff have a job keeping things running smoothly. Online content and engagement can feel like a luxury to be tackled only when circumstances allow. And then the world turns upside-down.

In this post, I’ll be looking at how two local music organisations are coping in the digital environment.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO)

cbso stay tuned
Banner from the CBSO’s website

When I first had the idea for this post, the CBSO’s website appeared largely unchanged (apart from all the cancellation notices). Returning a little over a week later, the banner shown above was prominent. Someone at the CBSO worked quickly to produce this. You can get a flavour of what’s on offer in the illustration below.

While it’s obvious this section is freshly-minted, with some headings having only one or two titles, the look is fresh, bright, and appealing. New content will be added as and when it’s created, I imagine. The documentary on Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the orchestra’s principal conductor, looks particularly interesting to me.

One way to engage with the CBSO is via its social media accounts. I found this on their Twitter feed (@TheCBSO):

cbso elton john
A tweet advertising the CBSO’s ‘Listen-along’ for Elton John

On Thursdays, my own Twitter feed has a steady stream of reminders from a production company I follow about that evening’s featured film. It’s become quite a thing: a simultaneous watch (or listen) with participants invited to live Tweet their responses. The production company even adds on a follow-up Q&A on Facebook Live. For the CBSO, the pair of suitably diamante glasses featured on the tweet was another part of the fun. If you went to their Instagram account (@thecbso), you could take a selfie ‘wearing’ them. Plenty of people did.

I’ve found it’s worth exploring an organisation’s social media feed beyond the last couple of entries. Re-posted content and suggestions of who else to follow can lead you off in many directions. Here, just as a single example, is a new venture from Michael Seal, the CBSO’s associate conductor.

a mic on the podium


Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG)

bcmg twitter ident
BCMS’s Twitter logo

Alongside its busy performing schedule, BCMG has long developed fun musical activities for children. While many are designed for use in a classroom setting or as part of BCMG’s outreach programme, there are a number which can be used at home. Take this one for example:

bcmg steal
‘Borrow or steal!’ From BCMG’s resources page

This is part of the intro:

Do you have a favourite piece of music that you feel confident playing? Now look at it again. Play the melody section by section. What do you notice about the melody: the melodic shapes, rhythmic patterns, phrase structures etc. Create a list and mark the different sections/phrases.

There are several audio examples to help the creativity along.

While this sort of activity assumes some level of learnt musicianship, that’s not everything on offer. Take these tweets:

[clicking on the images enlarges them]

They both take inspiration from natural spaces, whether that’s a garden, the local park, or any other open space close by.

So what’s on offer to keep adults entertained? I imagine we could get as much pleasure from these activities as any child if we gave them a go. Beyond that though is where BCMG has had to start from scratch. One thing about contemporary music is quite a lot of it is written for one or two players. This means that individual musicians at home can perform pieces as they are intended. Try this from the website :

bcmg penderecki

or from BCMG’s YouTube channel:


How will any of this help the organisations involved? None of it brings in revenue. While that’s true, what it should do is keep the audiences engaged. When concerts are permitted once more, performers will benefit from a pool of active, informed people who will form the nucleus of their new audiences. In a wider context, it reminds us of music’s importance – how it enriches our lives in the good times and the bad.