MUSIC FOR EVERYONE
Live music, both as listener and performer, is not always easy to access and a large part of Mark's work aims to address this need. Social circumstances, disability and illness need not be barriers to making music.
Mark has directed music and opera projects in prisons in both England and France. Projects include film scores with members of the Hallé Orchestra and a study of rites and rituals in The Magic Flute with Glyndebourne. Compositions developed by inmates at the Centre Pénitentiaire de Meaux were performed by Douglas Boyd and the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées.
Since the group was founded in 2006, Mark has directed LSO Create, made up of adults with disabilities, their carers and members of the London Symphony Orchestra. He regularly leads projects for children in special education with the London Symphony Orchestra, Jessie's Fund and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. These programmes frequently take children away from their school settings to perform in major venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Festival Hall and the Barbican.
Mark first started working with children in hospitals in 1998. From 2000-2004 he was Musician in Residence at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. He currently leads programmes of hospital visits in London with both the LSO and Jessie's Fund.
"Witnessing the music group can give an insight to the young person's level of functioning and form part of a clinical assessment. What I admire the most is that young people have an opportunity to be transported to another place outside of the hospital for a short but significant time." - Amanda Thompson, Assistant Head Teacher, Chelsea Community Hospital School.
LSO Create meets once a month at LSO St. Luke's. Regular members, newcomers and LSO musicians all combine to make new musical discoveries together. Additional sessions are provided through the year to allow for more specialized work, such as using accessible music technology or playing music in a more intimate context for group members with severe disabilities.
Members of LSO Create meet together for an intensive period at least once a year, leading to a public performance at the Barbican Hall or LSO St. Luke's.
The LSO Create programme shifted to an online format through the severest period of the COVID-19 pandemic and music and relationships were able to thrive in entirely new directions. Projects included "Kindness Contagion", recorded while Create members and LSO musicians were all isolatiing at home.
LSO ON TRACK
LSO On Track is a partnership between the LSO and ten East London Music Services, in collaboration with the Barbican and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Each year, the programme includes opportunities for pupils and staff in 10 special schools to work alongside Mark Withers and a team of musicians from the LSO. A creative project, linked to the orchestra's repertoire, is tailor-made for the participating groups who then have the opportunity work with Mark and the LSO team before meeting together to perform their work and to hear the LSO in concert.
SOUNDTRACKS AND JESSIE'S FUND
Since its inception in 2009, Mark has been a lead musician on Soundtracks, Jessie's Fund's programme of work for special schools. The programme aims to provide unique musical experiences for participating pupils as well as developing staff skills to equip schools for a future of music.
"Again and again I have seen Mark make the most remarkable difference with children with special educational needs. It is joyful to see children engage and work together with a musician to create and appreciate a piece of music. To see a child with severe social, emotional or communication difficulties forget everything and join in playing and performing music is an absolute delight, as is seeing teachers and parents witness this transformation." - Cindy O'Sullivan, Head Teacher, Gosden House School.