The Fourth Choir at Wiltons Music Hall

We visited the Making Music Together Exhibition at London’s Barbican, and talked to Making Music’s Chief Executive Barbara Eifler about the challenges the team faced when putting it together.

There are many hidden treasures to be found in the Barbican at any given time, and Making Music has recently added another. The organisation represents thousands of leisure time music groups across the UK, and their first exhibition pays homage to these groups. It centres around three themes: the breadth and variety of leisure music groups, the sheer scale of the leisure-time music sector; and that involvement in music is for everyone – there’s a lot that it can bring to people’s lives, whatever their background or previous experience.

Bursting with content

Packed with images, audio, testimonials and posters, the exhibition is arranged in a corner of the Music Library, which has been successfully hosting exhibitions for a while. The guest book at the entrance gives you a flavour of what you can expect.  It is full of comments from visitors saying how much they enjoyed the content and how meaningful it all was. Step inside, and you’re immediately struck by just how much has been included in such a small space. An imposing infographic delivers some fascinating insights: there are over 13,000 music groups across the UK, with over 61,000 people giving up their time to run these groups on a voluntary basis.  While these groups all perform music for the joy of it, many of them also raise money for charity. An estimated £1.9 million is raised by Making Music members annually.

Testimonials bring the exhibition to life

The testimonials are particularly moving. Anyone who has made music in their spare time or performed as part of an amateur group will appreciate them. They reflect the time and dedication these activities take – but also the joy and fulfilment they bring that makes it all worth it.  Here’s a small sample:

“Even on a cold, miserable winter night, when the inclination is to stay home, you meet the chorus, start singing, and just soar!”

“Keeps the 80 year old brain alive”…Making music come alive is so fulfilling. I think of it as exercise for the soul.”

“I enjoy it that members of a community, regardless of ages or ability can share a hobby together.”

The testimonials were gathered from Making Music’s 3,500 members, who were happy to contribute, as Barbara Eifler, the organisation’s chief executive, explains: “We put a call out to our members to provide content, and we had such an amazing response – over 400 responses in 2 weeks! They ranged from small quotes to long testimonials about what music means to them.  It was so good that we felt that this is the stuff that deserves to be heard.”

The challenge of putting everything together

Putting on an exhibition of any kind can be a huge undertaking, particularly if you’ve never done it before.  Barbara says that while they were initially daunted by the prospect and not sure where to start, they realised that help was already close at hand. “We asked our members! We remembered that our members have all kinds of jobs – we managed to find someone who was a curator, another who ran an art gallery, someone who was doing a post-grad in curating, a retired art teacher…so we formed a committee to work on it, and it was very much a team effort.”

A view of the inside of a music shop

The exhbition in the Music Library at the Barbican.

The team was keen to make the exhibition as engaging as possible.  “The challenge we faced was, how do you go about translating the aural into the visual? We wanted to avoid it being too wordy, with too many blocks of text.”  There is definitely a lot to take in but it’s varied.  You can listen to recordings provided by choirs and orchestras, read through hundreds of quotes or look through the dozens of posters advertising the various events that these groups put on.  Although most of these groups are amateur, the standard is incredibly professional, and it’s easy to forget that many of these people have busy day jobs.  A highlight of the exhibition are the portraits of musicians taken in their normal working environment, but holding their instrument. It shows that the music they perform in these groups plays an important role alongside their day job and defines them just as much, if not more.

Looking to the future

“We are planning to digitise the exhibition to make it available online for our members that didn’t get to see it”, says Barbara.  “Hopefully we’ll also be able to use the information and insights we’ve gathered as part of any future lobbying and advocacy that we do on behalf of our members.”

This inspiring exhibition demonstrates what’s possible with commitment, passion and dedication – by both Making Music and its members.  It’s on until Saturday 23 March. And it’s free!

For more information and opening times visit the Barbican website.