Case Study
  • Posted on December 1st, 2022

The storytelling of human energy consumption with Sinfonia Viva

Person singing on stage as part of the storytelling of human energy consumption - Sinfonia Viva

The storytelling of human energy consumption

Sinfonia Viva commissioned scientist Emma Brogen and writer Hazel Gould to create a story charting the history of human energy consumption, which formed the centre of the Energy project.  Four songs were commissioned from Hazel Gould and composer James Redwood, each reflecting on a different aspect of fuel usage, from the excitement around the invention of electricity, through to the devastating impact of fossil fuels to new renewable energy solutions.

In February 2020 we created a creative project for schools around Renewable Energy, teaching primary and secondary school pupils about reducing, re-using and recycling through creative music activities. Energy was delivered in 2020-21, but that the sharing more widely began in 2021-22 and we are planning there will be more delivery of this project in future years as a result.

“I loved working with all the students, diving head-first into the difficult issues of pollution and climate change. I was so impressed by how quickly they grasped the concepts and their passion to understand more.” – Emma Brogen, Science Director

Sinfonia Viva’s Energy project was developed as part of our ongoing Science Technology Engineering Arts and Maths [STEAM] programme, which is delivered within schools across Derby.  Energy was specifically designed to engage young people in the discussion around climate change, encouraging them to think about their future and to consider the impact of their own energy usage. The Energy project was part of an ongoing programme of STEAM activity delivered on an annual basis by Sinfonia Viva, and we took specific learnings from this project, enabling us to better respond to the current interests and concerns of young people.  The Project ran from August 2019 and culminated in two performances on 25th February 2020

The STEAM project theme for the following year,  of 2020/21, and which was being developed with Rolls-Royce (a key partner in our STEAM programme), was due to be around Flight and aviation. Due to the response from participants to the Energy project, and the obvious commitment from young people to a more environmentally sustainable future, we didn’t feel that this was the right topic bearing in mind the impact that air travel has on carbon emissions. Therefore, we changed the focus of this programme to look more broadly at Pioneers, including Pioneers of flight, but without a specific focus on aviation.

Working with schools

We worked closely with Key Stage 2 teachers from two of the partner primary schools to develop the project, exploring how they currently teach pupils about climate change in the classroom (an area that they found challenging beyond a very high-level introduction), and looking at a range of approaches that would best suit their pupils.  A clear outcome from this discussion was the need to embed practical elements within the project, enabling pupils to participate in the design and creation of objects, imagery and creative working, which highlighted the impact of climate change.

The subsequent project and all supporting resources were designed in response to the needs of the schools, and the project including the Story of Energy, songs, activities, and all supporting resources were designed in response to the input from the KS2 teachers.  We evaluate all our projects, and the feedback and learning from previous projects helped to inform the design and development of the Energy project.

A work pack and inspiration day, including practical science experiments and musical activities, was designed and launched the project. This encouraged the young participants to consider energy usage. Creative music sessions, with music leader James Redwood and musicians from Sinfonia Viva, took place in 4 of the 9 participating schools, during which the participants created new songs and instrumental pieces with each group adding their perspective to a different section of the Story of Energy. Alongside this, all groups participated in singing support sessions offered by Derbyshire Music Hub.

The project culminated in two performances on 25th February 2020, a school performance involving 470 young people from across Derby and an evening performance to friends, family and the public. The performance shared the full Story of Energy, with creative input from all the performers.  The orchestra performed carefully selected repertoire to fit the varied emotions in the Story of Energy accompanied by a backdrop of curated imagery designed to further highlight the connection with the story.  The performances concluded with the massed ensemble singing “We have to change, no more denial, we’re singing for the world’s survival”.

Impact of the Energy project

The impact of this project exceeded our expectations. The experience of having so many young people passionately engaging in discussions and performances about climate change, and seeing their desire to make a positive difference was hugely inspiring. The feedback received from staff, young people and the creative team was universally positive.

A recurring theme within the feedback from staff was the powerful way in which this project engaged pupils to think about climate change, and the changes that they could make to reduce their impact on the environment. The combination of relevant learning and sharing this through performance enhanced the messages, and empowered the participating young people to share their concerns beyond just classroom discussions.

Teachers involved also reported that they had benefitted from the CPD and resources that were developed to support the project, and that they would continue to utilise these with future cohorts of pupils.

The schools involved in this project are continuing to use the resources developed for this project, enabling them to better engage pupils in discussions around climate change, and increasing their understanding of the issues. These resources also give teachers more confidence in addressing this issue with pupils, an area which had been identified through the planning sessions as a challenge.

The framework for this project is now established, with resources already created, and an experienced team of artists able to deliver future programmes. The model is scalable enabling it to engage even more pupils than the 470 we worked with in Derby.

Partners and collaborations

The project formed part of a series of projects, which have been delivered in partnership with Derby Museums, Rolls-Royce PLC, Orchestras Live, Derby City Council, Derbyshire Music Education Hub, and Sinfonia Viva. In addition to these partners, each of whom brought different support to the programme, the involvement of Science Director Emma Brogen was key to the success. Emma’s creativity, deep understanding of the scientific issues, and her ability to deliver complex messages in an accessible and non-alarmist way for young people, ensured that the work packs and inspiration day activities were fully engaging and totally interactive for participants and teachers.



Elizabeth Stewart, Lead Teacher – KS2, Becket Primary School:

Becket Primary School has been working with Sinfonia Viva for over 10 years, to develop our KS1 and 2 pupils’ song writing, musical composition and performance skills. For the past six years Sinfonia Viva, in partnership with Rolls-Royce, have also helped our pupils to develop their STEM knowledge and skills and have promoted career opportunities in the fields of science, engineering, technology and music.

As key stage 2 lead teacher and science co-ordinator, I work with Sinfonia Viva in the planning stages of each of our projects to identify the areas of the STEM curriculum which our children require further support with. I also have the opportunity to check teaching resources to make sure that they suit the needs of our pupils. The projects are always very inclusive and our children have particularly enjoyed using British Sign Language when performing.

As a result of Sinfonia Viva’s musical projects, our pupils have improved their knowledge, retention and application of facts in tricky STEM topics such as forces (including simple machines), coding, debugging, multiplication and division, prime numbers and fractions.

The Sinfonia Viva team always inspire our pupils to give 100% throughout each project and our children always feel extremely proud of what they are able to achieve by the end of it. Most of our pupils (and their parents) would never get the chance to experience a live orchestra, let alone play along with one, if it wasn’t for these valuable projects.

When discussing the highlights of their school year, Becket pupils always remember how much they enjoyed working with Sinfonia Viva, and this is why our school will continue to collaborate with them in the future.

Charlotte Moore, Creative Team Leader and EAL Co-Ordinator, Firs Primary School:

One of the major projects we have worked together on is the STEAM project which has seen children from a range of different age groups, cultures and communities come together to write their own songs, perform music using different instruments and make their parents proud by performing at Derby Theatre on stage.

Each year I am given the opportunity to meet with the Sinfonia Viva team as part of a steering group to discuss the focus of each project. I, along with other teachers from neighbouring schools talk about the focus we would like the project to have, using the National Curriculum as our base. Together we create a focus for the project and a learning pack to go out to all schools involved.

During the inspiration days and through the music the children have written and performed they have explored topics such as Pioneers, where the children learnt about great pioneers of our time, Energy where the topic of global warming was explored and Mathematical Advantage where the children learnt a range of songs based on algorithms and times tables.

“It’s inspiring to see how much passion they [the pupils] have for this planet and powerful to hear from them about the importance of investing in clean energy, for our future and theirs.” – Jessie Grimes, Music Leader

“[I learned] how to work with others and how to work well in a new situation, and how involving younger / older (more experienced) people in situations can lead to fresh ideas and a chance for everyone to broaden their ideas / abilities.”Derby College Participant

“I enjoyed doing the wind turbine.  I learned that recycling is good.” – Springfield Primary Participant

“[I enjoyed] that they did not take over, they only helped give guidance.  Also I enjoyed the fact that they gave us multiple pointers, not just one.  This helped the writing to be more of what we wanted.”Derby College Participant

“It felt like one of the best moments of my life – I was like a VIP. I really enjoyed all of the songs and singing them.” – Becket Primary Participant

“Thank you so much for helping the environment. Make the world greener!” – Becket Primary Participant

“I learned about how fossil fuels are damaging our planet. I learned about how we could use renewable energy.” Participant, Becket Primary School

This wonderful experience will support the development of their confidence, resilience and aspiration. It was a very moving and rewarding event that will stay with me, their parents and most importantly themselves for the rest of their lives.” – Executive Head Teacher, Bemrose School

The class teacher we worked with at Becket primary said:

“All of the Sinfonia Viva team are a pleasure to work with, and I felt very well supported. The children felt very proud of their achievements.Everyone involved has begun to think about how they can help to reduce climate change.” – Class Teacher, Becket Primary School

Image credit: Chris Webb