Deputy Chief Executive: Programme, Marianne Barraclough, left Sinfonia Viva this month to join More Music as their Executive Director. Marianne has led the development of Sinfonia Viva’s creative projects since October 2005, and has reflected on some of the most interesting, unusual, moving and important projects during the past 19 years.

I can’t believe that I’m moving on from Sinfonia Viva – I have lived and breathed this wonderful organisation for most of my adult life – and there have been so many wonderful projects, performances, partners, participants and the very best team of administrators and musicians around.

As my children will tell you, I’m absolutely useless when it comes to favourites… someone asks me my favourite music and I freeze… my children cannot believe that I don’t have a favourite colour… but one of their favourite boredom-busting-games is to rate our top 5 things on any given topic.  As you can imagine, this is a broadly impossible task for me, so I’ve had to accept that favourites don’t need to be scary, and that these are just my highlights for today – and another day they might be different..  Is that enough caveats?!… right… on with the reflections..

5 most unusual places to create and perform

One of the most exciting things has been to explore such a variety of different places and topics through the creative projects, and obviously this has led to some pretty incredible venues for creative music sessions and performances…

1 Performing More Glass Than Wall in the grounds of Hardwick Hall in 2008 was incredible.  Having 180 young voices on stage, singing about Bess of Hardwick, accompanied by the orchestra and with some phenomenal vocal soloists, on the site of her incredible home was simply incredible, and had such an impact that I still, 16 years later,  find myself humming “Ha-ar-ar-dwick Hall, More Gla-a-a-a-a-as than Wall” as I drive past it on the M1.

2 Our Dark Clouds are Smouldering into Red project, which marked the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, took us all over the Midlands and beyond.  The project in Mansfield, started with an inspiration day in the trenches that had been created in Sherwood Forest; in Lincoln and Derby we explored artefacts from the time; and the project in East Lindsey culminated in a performance in an aircraft hangar, on a particularly cold November day… In fact, I remember frantically calling around heating companies trying to get some more industrial heaters into the space, so the musicians and dancers didn’t freeze.  The participants and orchestra members joined in delight as we watched a plane taxiing around the runway - hearing the engines was an incredible emotive experience given the theme of the project.  The music and dance performance took place in the aircraft hangar, under the wings of a Lancaster bomber.  We received one of my favourite bits of feedback of all time from this project – the first person that speaks in this film sums it up beautifully: 

3 We collaborated with Creswell Crags on a project The Fragile Shell which included commissioning a song cycle which was themed around climate change.  The project began with a visit to Creswell Crags for everyone involved – and included everyone putting on helmets with headlights for singing sessions in the caves, looking at the pre-historic cave art.  We performed at the Assembly Rooms in Derby and then returned to Creswell Crags to perform as part of the opening of their new visitor centre.  It was a particularly memorable day, as David Bellamy was a special guest that day.  Most of the young performers were very perplexed at the reaction of the adults in the room – who were amazed to find a childhood hero watching the performance! 

4 The Together to the Workhouse Door project started and finished at Gressenhall Workhouse. The incredible team at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum vividly brought the workhouse to life and the participants even got to sample a Workhouse breakfast of gruel.  To bring the story of Mary and the workhouse master back to be performed as a promenade performance in the building and on a stage in the grounds of the Workhouse was a fitting way of honouring the stories of those that had endured the brutal reality of the Workhouse.

5 The spookiest place I’ve worked, was in the disused wards at the old Derbyshire Royal Infirmary.  It was as part of Floratorio, a project all about Florence Nightingale and we were given special permission to visit the old wards, before the building was demolished.  It was a very strange experience – it felt so much like a hospital but nothing was quite right – there were old beds and random bits of medical equipment around, and it was clearly abandoned.  Very spooky!


5 most unexpected things to be doing within my role

As a project producer, you quickly learn that there are very few tasks which aren’t covered by ‘any other duties’ on the job description…

1 As part of the Tis Death to Break a Frame project, we visited Ruddington Framework Knitters Museum to learn about the impact of the luddites. It’s a tiny museum in Nottinghamshire, which focussed on the cottage industries which were prevalent before the industrial revolution.  The primary school participants had a writing workshop, a music workshop and a tour of the museum.  Imagine my surprise, when one of the volunteers went off sick at lunchtime, and I ended up leading a tour around a museum that I had only visited once previously… I’m not sure quite how many facts the young people on my tour learned that afternoon…. But they went on to write some brilliant songs!!!!

2 An extremely memorable project was Night Shift.  We collaborated with Anna and Eleanor Meredith on the project, which included performing a commission which Anna and Eleanor had created in response to an all-night walk around Derby city centre.  As part of the project, students from across Derby created weird and wonderful model creatures, which we displayed around Derby and filmed, to be projected as part of the performance.  I hadn’t expected to be spending my evening hanging models of aliens in just the right places in a playpark, car park, in trees, on Derby Market Place and in a bus shelter in Allestree, hoping there was enough time to get it filmed before the next bus arrived!

3 The Darley Park concert has been an annual highlight.  I wasn’t involved in the concert for many years, but once I started going, I found it hard to stop and offered up my support to the team in whatever capacity was required.  This sometimes included the set up including unloading the van and pegging hundreds of clothes pegs onto music stands; often involved looking after our wonderful carers’ choir Sing Viva, as they prepared for their performances.. but last year, it involved calling the video shots.  Our Head of Orchestra and Operations Matthew Lax set me up with an iPad with all the scores and I met the camera team… I’m in awe of them.. the speed they work is incredible.  I tried my hardest to help out, but it was a lot trickier than I imagined it might be – especially when I found the occasional page of the score was upside down…!!!

4 I designed several corporate training programmes during my time at Sinfonia Viva. One of these was Feel the Beat an energiser for 200 people attending a conference.  It was designed as a drumming session – but we needed 200 drums and 400 drumsticks.  We have lots of drums in our store, but certainly not 200.  We took inspiration from the Olympic games, and decided to use buckets as drums.  What followed was me ordering every single type of bucket I could find online – I had several conversations with confused bucket sellers who wondered why I cared whether the bucket could withstand being hit with a stick…. I walked to B&Q one lunchtime and bought every kind of bucket available. The walk back to the office, laden with buckets was particularly memorable – especially as more than one person stopped me to ask me if I had any holes in my bucket…  We still have a supply of 200 brightly coloured strong-based buckets in our store!

5 When everything had to be cancelled for the COVID lockdown, we brought some artists together and created an ExtraOrdinary Arts Package to share with lots of the isolated communities we had been planning to work with.  The pack was designed to help people find the extraordinary in the ordinary.  The team decided to include sunflower seeds in each arts package, so people could sew them and watch them grow over time. My job was to source the sunflower seeds.  Unfortunately, after much searching, I discovered it wasn’t possible to purchase small packets of seeds, which could be included each arts package.  Instead, I purchased an enormous sack of sunflower seeds and thousands of small envelopes and stickers. I entered into the sunflower-seeds-into-envelopes task with a great deal of energy.  I counted out groups of 7 seeds and sealed them into each envelope….. this went on for hours and hours.  I then had a realisation that I wasn’t going to run out of seeds, and that it would be much quicker to pop a handful of seeds into each envelope.  It still took an incredible amount of time, and I ended up drafting in the help of my very lovely colleagues, but my goodness me, I haven’t looked at a sunflower in the same way since!


5 most life affirming projects

Clearly, choosing favourites here is completely impossible.  The very nature of the work is that we build relationships with the people we are working with and on every project I’ve had wonderful connections with individuals and groups.  These are some of those that will stick with me for a long time…

1 We set our carers choir, Sing Viva, up as a result of running large numbers of projects in SEND settings and realising that there were lots of parents and carers who were facing many unseen challenges.  Sing Viva started as a monthly choir in Derby, increased to be a weekly online choir during the COVID lockdowns, and back to a monthly in person choir again. Seeing the supportive community that has developed through Sing Viva has been wonderful.  Knowing that we have created a warm, supportive, space where people can come to stretch, breathe, sing and chat together is a joy, especially when we know those same people will struggle to find time for themselves in their busy lives.  Seeing Sing Viva on stage at the Darley Park concert was a real highlight.  To be able to give such an incredible (and overwhelming) platform to Sing Viva was really important to us.  It was also important to have the choir feature in the orchestras’ recent 40th anniversary celebrations, especially as they were singing a song they had co-written with Preetha Narayanan – and it was a total delight to bring them together to perform with a larger team from the orchestra for the first time.

2 During my time at Sinfonia Viva we have massively developed the creative projects we have delivered in SEND settings. I could write a whole blog about the joys of these projects, but the project which stands out as an enormous achievement, was the This is Derby SEND hub project in 2018-2019. The project was a partnership involving Sinfonia Viva, QUAD, Hubbub Theatre Company, Derby County Community Trust and six SEND schools in Derby.  The project took place over a whole year and was littered with fantastic achievements and accomplishments by the young people.  It culminated in a performance which brought together 140 young people from the six SEND schools in a special event, where they shared the music, movement, dance, art work and projections they had created during the project.  It was a glorious technicolour celebration of the creativity of young people in Derby and was one of the most uplifting days I can remember at Sinfonia Viva.

3 A huge amount of our work in SEND settings has taken place in Leicester and Leicestershire.  In 2023 we began a new partnership project with Leicestershire Music, Orchestras Live and Keyham Lodge School.  Keyham Lodge School is a setting which provides particular support around social, emotional and mental health, and they wanted to revitalise their music provision within school and to provide their students with the opportunity to learn instruments and to play together in an ensemble. The project involved some truly remarkable young people, many of whom we worked with across a whole year.  There were so many highlights during that project, but I’ll never forget Steve, the music teacher at the school saying “the fact that she stayed in the room, the fact so many of them did and had to be tolerant…” after our very first session. His awe at what had been achieved in a short time, supported our development as a team and ultimately made the music offer so much better for those young people.

4 We walked into Peaceful Place, a day centre for those living with early onset Dementia, on the first day of our project without really knowing what to expect.  The CEO had briefed us well, but you never really know until you arrive and start meeting people. One of Peaceful Place’s members “rejected us, and rejected us with some force” but rather than let that get the better of us, we found ways of gently engaging the Peaceful Place member to engage with us – initially from outside in the garden, then in the room but outside the circle, to eventually joining us in the circle – and indeed in the front row of the performance. It was a special connection and one which was replicated with many of the other members of the group.

5 The work with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and our partners at Derbyshire Virtual School has been incredibly moving.  Seeing so vividly how music can connect, when spoken language can’t has been utterly joyful.  I’ve loved making connections with the young people, musicians and team through that programme and will watch from afar to see how the programme continues to develop.


I feel so fortunate to have had a job that I have loved for so many years… it’s been a total pleasure to work with so many incredible artists, musicians, partners, teachers, community members, students, technicians, scientists, dancers, heritage specialists, producers and administrators to deliver these and so many other wonderful projects and I can’t wait to see what Sinfonia Viva does next!