In Aisne, an association democratizes musical practice in an orchestra for young people aged 7 to 11

In Aisne, an association democratizes musical practice in an orchestra for young people aged 7 to 11

Since January 2023, around a hundred children from a rural area in Hauts-de-France have been learning to play music in an orchestra. We attended a rehearsal.

On this sunny Saturday afternoon, on the secondary road network of this sector of northern Aisne, the traffic is denser than usual. The 2CV rally organized by local collectors that day is probably something to do with it. But this excitement is mainly due to the hundred or so budding instrumentalists and the ten or so adults who are converging for their last rehearsal towards the Fontaine-lès-Vervins village hall.

Instrument in hand, the troupe arrives by coach from the 68 communes of Thiérache du Centre (27,000 inhabitants). In the middle of the hubbub, Camille, 9 years old, in a white dress with pink flowers, finds her place and takes her transverse flute out of its case. Maud Naël, a member of Adama (Association for the Development of Musical Activities in Aisne) hands out blue T-shirts stamped “Démos Aisne Thiérache”.

She is responsible for coordinating the activities of the Démos initiative (acronym for Système d’éducation musicale et orchestrale à vocation sociale) in the department. Launched nationally in 2011, this project aimed at 7-12 year-olds has already trained 11,000 young people. It was born from the desire of the Philharmonie de Paris, which funds orchestras up to 60%, to democratize culture through musical practice in an orchestra. The initiative began in January 2023 in Thiérache du Centre, one of the first rural intercommunalities in France to benefit from it. Since then, seven groups of fifteen children have participated in two workshops of an hour and a half each per week, to learn about music and become familiar with an instrument. This is the case for Louis, 8 and a half years old: his parents, very far removed from the world of classical music, saw it as an opportunity for their son. “Although he had never touched a clarinet in his life, in eighteen months, he already plays it very well,” marvels Lydie, his mother. The same observation is made by Éloïse, mother of Annaëlle, 9, who is learning the scales on the cello.

By shuttle or taxi

As a partner in the project, the community of communes has put its hand in its pocket to solve the main difficulty: mobility. “We are financing a shuttle system so that the children have no reason to miss a session,” explains Laurent Marlot, mayor of Fontaine-lès-Vervins. Lydie confirms: “Démos provides Louis with a taxi that takes him to rehearsals and then brings him home.” Without this helping hand, this home childminder whose husband works in the factory would not have been able to drop off and pick up her son from the music workshops. “The children also benefit from valuable supervision from professional musicians from Amiens, Reims and even Belgium. They like their fun and progressive teaching method, which combines high standards and flexibility,” notes Vincent Lamoureux, vice-president in charge of cultural development for this area.

Between stage fright and joy

Each group is supervised by referents: four or five adult volunteers who act as a link with the families. “I learn the violin at the same time as the children,” explains one of them, Marie-Noëlle, a school teacher. When they are discouraged, I cheer them up.” In the room, after tuning their instruments, all the protagonists launch into the performance of the piece, under the baton of Benjamin Garzia. Dance of the knights, of Prokofiev, and of Chorus of gypsies, by Verdi, which they have been working on in small groups for months. This is an opportunity for the young conductor to make adjustments by having them replay the parts that these budding artists have not yet mastered.

Démos also aims to develop singing and body expression: the dress rehearsal ends on the green space adjacent to the village hall, to the sound of a polka from local folklore that gets children and adults swaying their hips. A moment of joy while waiting for the restitution that the orchestra will present at the Philharmonie de Paris in July 2025 to mark the end of the experience. But before that, there is something more urgent: managing stage fright before the next public run-through, on July 5, in the neighboring town of La Capelle.

Recipes for success

  • A free instrument The Philharmonie de Paris lends each participant an instrument throughout the session (three years). If a child wishes to continue training in a music school or conservatory, the instrument is offered to them.
  • Swarming Before an orchestra is launched, explanatory work takes place in schools which, in turn, raise awareness among the students’ relatives. Result: in the wake of each Démos trainee, a parent, sister or brother becomes a classical music lover and starts learning an instrument.
  • Strengthened ties Participating in workshops helps create social bonds – learners make friends – and protects against the many temptations that can threaten young people.

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