Orchestral music as an agent of change

I feel so privileged to work with young people who love music and love playing music. Every year, the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) welcomes 10,000 young people from across the UK to play, share and experience orchestral music in our communities. Teenagers participate as performers, creators, leaders, and audiences.

The NYO is the nation’s leading orchestral champion and promoter of youth development. Orchestral music provides powerful opportunities for young people to play an equal role in a group and work together to express collective expression.

Such opportunities have been declining in recent years. Admittedly, funding is scarce. We see young people struggling to gain opportunities to integrate music into their lives as a force for positive change. Many musical teenagers are not rewarded for their curiosity and hard work in terms of musical and wider life skills, confidence and optimism. More people haven’t even left the starting line of music.

The opportunity is huge

In our work we see the reality behind the mental health statistics – one in five 17-19 year olds experience mental health problems – and how music can play a huge role in promoting connection and combating loneliness and anxiety effect. I hope the next government understands that playing music together can provide a solution to the current wellbeing crisis plaguing young people.

The scale of the opportunity is huge. More than 90% of teenagers play, listen to or make music every week. Music is the largest art form in which young people participate. Orchestral music is the most extensive and flexible way in which they collaborate.

The Orchestra is a creative group, whether performing epic masterpieces from the past or creating music for today with a new lineup of instruments. In performance, orchestral music acts as a lightning rod for shared emotions between musicians and audience.

Systemic failure

Music education doesn’t just happen in one place. The reduction in music education funding over the past decade has been stark. We call on the next government to urgently support creative and music lessons in primary and secondary education, as well as affordable and free opportunities to learn to play instruments in and out of school.

42% of schools in the UK no longer admit students to GCSE music courses, and A-level music participation rates have fallen by 45% since 2010. musical instruments. The statistics highlight systemic failures, with only 15% of public school students receiving ongoing music education and even fewer playing in orchestras.

At NYO, our mission is to make our work and resources accessible to every young person; this is what we strive to achieve through our work in person and digitally. But we need a government that can lead and deliver. At the same time, we will continue to help hundreds of young people play their part in becoming the musical changemakers of their generation.


NYO musicians serve as role models, sharing their performances with national youth audiences

Role models are crucial to our influence

NYO is an inspirational orchestra composed of 160 teenagers and is known as “the greatest youth orchestra in the world.” In addition to their impact on performance, each NYO musician also serves as a leader through their creativity. Driven by the determination that their generation should not miss out on the excitement of this art form, NYO musicians share their performances, love of music, skills and experiences with peers and youth audiences across the country.

As role models, they share their passion and skill in designing and leading workshops and performances, welcoming and encouraging thousands of young people to enjoy orchestral music and aspire to their own musical advancement. The role models of young people are the energy that inspires our work. It is a radical reimagining of the classical music paradigm, focusing on the powerful impact young people can have as musical ambassadors for their generation. This model is crucial to our impact: a blueprint for the future.

Young people and audiences in the NYO community often tell us that they struggle to find the next step in their music and that they need other young people to show them the way. They need to see, hear and experience the creativity, voices and musical energy of other young people in order to think about what is possible. They tell us that seeing people like them lead inspires them with confidence to be role models.

We believe arts and music education needs a simple but dramatic transformation that begins immediately. We need to trust young people more to open up about their music and take leadership roles. Let’s give them the responsibility to share what they love with their peers. They are the artists and musicians of today. Their inspiration has never been more needed.

Sarah Alexander OBE is Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the National Youth Orchestra.

The National Youth Orchestra, conducted by Alexandre Bloch, will perform at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on 7 August and at the Salon Hall in Essex on 9 August. Saffron Hall and at the BBC Proms in London on 10 August with musicians from NYO Inspire.

Tickets to shows in Manchester and Saffron Walden are free for teenagers.

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