Side by Side Is Finally Back

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Side by Side Is Finally Back

Oskar Lindvall, Producer, Side by Side


Side by Side 2022 saw many concerts and musical happenings, among them a flash mob outside the Concert Hall. Photo: Francis Löfvenholm.

After two years of digital alternatives, Side by Side 2022 returned to Gothenburg, Sweden over a few sunny days in June.

It wasn’t easy. Even without an in-person element, Side by Side is one of the largest and most ambitious youth music camps in the world. And as we welcomed campers back to the Gothenburg Concert Hall this year, that ambition was on full display, to the tune of 2,000 participants, eight orchestras, six choirs, and two ensembles.

Arranged annually by Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra since 2016, the camp is a nonprofit project designed to promote, support, and inspire young musicians through El Sistema values. This year, we invited already-assembled groups and individuals of all levels to learn from some of the best conductors and instructors and to play alongside our professional orchestra. And not just in rehearsal: after two years of digital variations, this year’s camp included seven in-person concerts, with audience numbers in the thousands.

Our ambition this year was simply to hold the camp we had planned for 2020—the camp we had to scrap for a digital variation when the pandemic began. Our planning process was about trying to remember the logistics and details from the 2019 camp and then crossing our fingers that we hadn’t forgotten anything important! So it was with trepidation that we opened our registration at the Concert Hall on June 18.

And then, they came. Friends we hadn’t seen in three years—teachers, students, and parents who had been waiting to return to Side by Side to play and sing music together. Somewhere, someone shouted, “There you are! My best friend!” as I saw two students embrace in the most cheerful hug. It is a great joy and point of pride that about 90% of all our participants return each year. They kept coming back even after the digital pandemic break.

The more advanced Side by Side participants work closely with Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra musicians during camp. Photo: Francis Löfvenholm.

The days at Side by Side are intense, on purpose. We push our participants to make actual musical progress over just a few days. It is impossible not to feel proud for the kids when they are exhausted after the last concert and yet still happy, having grown several inches both musically and socially.

Those high stakes are felt by instructors, too. After the first tutti rehearsal from our Wind & String Orchestra, many of us were concerned. It was clear that not everyone had practiced their assigned music very much before the camp—something we encourage our participants to do so we can focus on following the conductor and on playing together during the week. In the end, though, it made for an even greater concert experience, as we watched their hard work come together in harmony.

Though the camp is music-intensive, the moments between rehearsals and concerts make for some of the best memories. At our Side by Side desk at the Concert Hall, we greet all camp visitors, many of whom come back for information or help during the week. One late evening, we were visited by our dear friends from the Children’s Orchestra of the Harmonie Foundation, based in the Czech Republic, who asked us about tickets to Gothenburg’s Liseberg Amusement Park. Side by Side provides entry tickets to all participants during one of the camp evenings.

Speaking eagerly in Czech, one of the girls expressed concern that it was too late in the day for them to make it to the park. After some translation from Swedish to English to Czech, her worried pacing exploded into a jump of joy when she got the ticket in her hand and reassurance that the amusement park wouldn’t close for several hours yet. In a week of intense and dedicated music-making, it was reassuring to see kids be kids and know that we had struck a nice balance.

Another day, I was climbing some stairs in the large arena when a girl came down and greeted me. She was around 11 years old, and we talked for a bit. I was worried that she was lost, as she should have been downstairs taking a break from the tutti rehearsal. But she wasn’t lost. She was alone, but very happily exploring this staircase in search of alternative ways into the arena. The meeting stuck with me—this young person exploring one of the largest arenas in the country. During a break in the action, she found an adventure.

The participants were thrilled to meet their orchestra and choir friends again, and to make new ones from around the world. Photo: Francis Löfvenholm.

By the final day, the camp had a pleasant buzzing energy, like bees in late summer. Happily, our students were filled to the brim with energy for their final performances—from an almost reverent Choirs in Concert performance, with all our choirs gathered, to a wonderfully cheerful Open Choir in Concert for students with disabilities. The camp ended with our Closing Concert, where our most advanced orchestral students played alongside the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in an impressive performance that ended with the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.  With tha—and with hugs, some laughter, and some tears—Side by Side ended for 2022.

Tomorrow we will prepare the evaluation for this year’s camp, but from what we have seen, heard, and felt, we are very proud of this year’s camp and all the experiences learned and shared by us and our many participants. We have already begun planning for Side by Side 2023, taking place June 17–21 in Gothenburg next year. See you there!

Please contact with questions regarding the camp.


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