BBC Lockdown Orchestra: Harnessing the creativity of a nation in lockdown

March 2020 – the UK closes down.

James Purnell, the BBC’s Director of Radio and Education, throws out a challenge to his division – what could our live music offer look like in lockdown?

Following James’ challenge, we (the BBC Music Get Playing team, Jessica Issacs and Christina Kenny) all contacted each other pretty much simultaneously – we had long wanted to bring back the Virtual Orchestra and now it seemed its time may have arrived.

The BBC Lockdown Orchestra is a case study in the power of nurturing your networks. It couldn’t have happened without the cooperation, expertise and support of dozens of different areas of the BBC, all working together as a creative catalyst.

This was a unique collaboration between BBC Arts, Radio 3, and representatives from all six of the BBC’s orchestras and choirs, who had never played together before.

And it was all done on a very tight timescale. BBC Arts’ annual Get Creative festival was cancelled and moved online. This provided both provided the finishing focus for the idea – and a very tight timeframe! Once the details of the project were decided, the working group had just one week to build and launch the campaign. I was seconded from my day job on the Radio Change Team, along with Jessica and Christina from Radio 3,  working alongside Arts commissioner Stephen James-Yeoman.

We had just six days to commission an arrangement, create and distribute parts, appoint players, collect audio and video and produce final audio and video mixes.

I took a crash course in data protection, contract rights, privacy law and children’s editorial policy. With the help of the wonderfully patient BBC User Generated Content and Legal Teams, I built an Uploader form for ages 13 and above.

The BBC Lockdown Orchestra features members of the public performing alongside musicians from the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and BBC Singers, plus members of the Ulster Orchestra.

In seven days from launch, an unbelievable 1,500 members of the public contributed video performances, dance routines and artwork to the campaign. Reading their messages about why they chose to take part was incredibly moving – from people in at-risk categories finding connection through music, despite not having left the house for eight weeks, to ICU medics and care workers donning their scrubs to record videos on their precious days off.

The BBC Lockdown Orchestra – a musical snapshot of a nation at a unique moment in time.