Community or amateur?

The first day of the symposium on the Social Impact of Music Making that I’m attending in Ghent (Belgium) closed with a performance by the Ledebirds, described in the programme as a ‘community orchestra’. As I listened to their joyful repertoire of Turkish, Russian and Afghan melodies, I found myself wondering what the difference might be between this and an amateur orchestra.

In the arts, the word ‘amateur’ often brings condescension or even scorn, quite unfairly in my view. The first Regular Marvel, Where We Dream, celebrates the 70 year history of the West Bromwich Operatic Society and challenges some entrenched ideas about amateur theatre. Might the Ledebirds have chosen the word ‘community’ to escape some of this prejudice?

A subsequent conversation with one of the members made clear that this wasn’t so. The orchestra has clear values and intentions that take it in a different direction. Its  commitment to inclusion was evident on stage, in the ages of the musicians and the range of instruments played. During the concert, the leader explained that the choice of repertoire reflected some of the cultures present  in the city. Rooted in a neighbourhood of Ghent, their music also speaks about a certain idea of living together.

In short, this is not an ensemble that mirrors the structure and artistic values of the classical orchestra. Its very music, arranged as it is in response to the available instruments, speaks of a different vision that the word ‘community’ goes some way to indicating. The Ledebirds is not, cannot be, a less good version of what professional musicians do. It’s much too creative for that.