Learning Under Lockdown: Pegasus Opera Company

Sonia Hyams shares how Pegasus Opera Company have changed the way they operate during lockdown, including moving music programmes for students online

29 May 2020

Image credit: Pegasus Opera Company

My name is Sonia Hyams and I am the Executive Director for Pegasus Opera Company based in Brixton. Our mission is to champion Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic opera singers, musicians and composers.

We run an extensive education and outreach programme working with around 135 children and young people each week in schools – delivering music mentoring programmes for Secondary pupils, and an action research programme called Confident Creators on how music can develop a growth mind set for Primary pupils.

What impact has lockdown had on how you operate?

Just before lockdown, we were due to produce a major opera in London, as well as being incredibly busy with our school programme and community choir and then we had to shut everything down.

Most funders have been incredibly supportive in enabling us to re-allocate some of their funds to support the core running costs of Pegasus during this challenging time. Where we can, we have tried to create paid opportunities for our freelance Pegasus associate artists to work with us, as many of our artists and facilitators have been hit very hard by the pandemic.

We have moved our Confident Creators programme online and have created some lovely interactive resources which are generously supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation. We are able to offer them free to our students - you can find the resources created so far on our website.

What have been the main priorities for your organisation during lockdown?

We want Pegasus to not only survive, but thrive during this process.

We had already planned to run a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic talent development scheme for aspiring and/or emerging opera singers this year, matching emerging talent with our established Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic artists for one-to-one mentoring sessions. Due to the new challenges around social distancing, we will be moving that programme online. Hopefully, this will mean even more people can get involved than we originally had planned.

What have been the biggest challenges and how are you overcoming them?

Technology! We are currently grappling with the best way to create concerts online, and how we might use technology to create interesting content, ensure our loyal followers continue to be informed about what we do, and attract some new audiences and supporters.

We have accessed support provided by Arts Council England to have 1-1 sessions with a digital expert to walk us through how we might best approach these challenges.

How are you connecting with schools during this time?

We continue to work with 10 Lambeth schools during this period, providing content specifically designed for their curriculum but available to all.

Recent video content has included how to create soundscapes about the four seasons and how to write a song on the theme of Rainforests. Other face-to-face work we do in schools in on hiatus until pupils return to school.

What are the impacts for the future?

It has brought the Pegasus Opera team closer together; we meet at the same time each week on Zoom to update about projects rather than a constant flow of emails, phone calls and chats. We are trying to save it all up for our weekly catch up and this means we can all crack on with our work for the rest of the week. I would like to continue this way of working when we all return to work.

We hope that by being flexible, light on our feet, and responsive to opportunities, we will be able to ride the wave of lockdown and come out of it as a stronger and more resilient organisation.

What are your tips for other cultural and arts organisations during lockdown?

  • Ask for help, from funders, supporters, colleagues, board members
  • Carve out specific time for working and not working. I have asked all staff to add their working hours whilst on lockdown onto their signature so that people know when they are available and when they are not
  • Be prepared to be flexible! Programmes, concerts, shows you are working on may be delivered differently or postponed - so think about the skills you have in your organisation, and use those skills to build a foundation to think creatively about how you can still deliver your work in other ways

You can access Pegasus Opera’s digital resources for students here, including warm-up, poetry, performance and singing activities.

Their digital resources are also featured on our LookUp platform. Are you a cultural / arts organisation with resources online for schools and young people to use? Share them here.

If you are an educator looking for resources, you can search LookUp to find lesson plans, activities, videos and virtual tours.

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The Learning Under Lockdown blog series forms part of Reset – our programme of support in response to the pandemic.

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