50 become one for inspiring Youth Orchestra performance

Young musicians in North Yorkshire have been denied some of the highlights of their year because of the coronavirus lockdown – but they have turned that disappointment into a triumph to inspire other youngsters.

The county ensembles, which are brought together by the County Council’s Music Service, have experienced the disappointment of the cancellation of their VE Day celebration concert at Harrogate Convention Centre, and this week the County Youth Orchestra and some of the other ensembles should have been on a residential course having a week of rehearsals that would have culminated in concerts over two evenings.

But they haven’t let those setbacks stop them playing.

The County Youth Orchestra has been involved in a project called Guide to the Symphony Orchestra, on which they have worked with North Yorkshire-based music charity NYMAZ and music education specialists Ucan Play.

The resulting half-hour video was live-streamed this week, providing a guide to introduce primary school children to the symphony orchestra. The video can be viewed here. 

Anne Heaton, an Assistant Head of the County Music Service, said: “We wanted to get these kids together to do something collectively. As we couldn’t get together, the next best thing was to get them recording themselves at home. There are about 50 children involved. So at the end of the video we have done, they actually all play together – individually but together – to give a performance of the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss Snr.

“There is an introduction to the video from our conductor, Simon Wright, then the section leaders of the orchestra each introduce their instruments and talk a little bit about how they started to play, why they love playing their instrument and what they get out of playing in an orchestra.

“The video is designed to inspire young children to take up playing a musical instrument. For those who already play an instrument, it’s designed to inspire them to get involved in ensembles. That would start initially at music centres, of which we have six around the county, then potentially at county level.”

In the video, orchestra leader Susannah Morgan explains what being part of the orchestra means to her.

“I started playing the violin when I was four years old, because my older sister also played the violin and I wanted to be like her,” she says.

“One of my favourite things about being in the orchestra is that you can lose yourself in the music sometimes. When there is a really intense bit within the piece you can feel that every single person within the orchestra feels the exact same way as you do and you are all breathing and moving in time with each other. You can feel that the audience is clinging to every single note that you play, and it’s really exciting.

“You can make really good friends and I’ve met some of my best friends through orchestras.”

Speaking afterwards about the experience of playing alone and making the video, she says: “It's very weird playing an orchestral part without everyone else around as I am used to communicating with the players around me and making music all together in one space. We are also used to following our conductor, Simon Wright, who keeps us all in time with one another and shapes the piece musically. 

“The finished video was fantastic! It was great seeing some friendly faces and hearing about their favourite parts of being in an orchestra. Hearing everyone together again was lovely because when we recorded our individual parts we were just playing along to the percussion part.

“I hope that the video will inspire younger children to pick up an instrument and start playing! Also that they will understand that music is fun and really is for everyone; you don't have to have a musical background or tonnes of money to start playing.

“I think that the Music Service has adapted to these difficult times extremely well. From creating these ensemble videos to having Zoom instrumental lessons. Neither of these things are easy and they take hours of planning and putting together.

“Music is about interaction, be it with your teacher, your audience or your ensemble and so lockdown made this very difficult. Despite this, musicians have continued to make music together and do the best we can.” 

Anyone inspired by the orchestra’s video to try an instrument can contact the County Music Service, which at the moment is delivering about 1,150 online music lessons every week to children at home.

Anne says: “These have been running all the way through lockdown and from the comments from parents we know it has been one time in the week when children have had a sense of normality, so it has been really important.”

There is scope to offer more online lessons, which could transfer to schools when it is possible to return to face-to-face teaching.

Find out more about the music service.