I am currently in my final year of my county youth orchestra (Part of Cardiff County and the Vale of Glamorgan Music Service), and I have been a member of that particular ensemble for 7 years. I have been in these groups since I was 9 and I’ve grown up through the system. When I was younger there were so many different ensembles (4 orchestras, windbands and brass bands as well as 3 choirs and jazz ensembles, plus many more!) but sadly, due to funding cuts there are far fewer ensembles available to children, so fewer are involved getting to experience classical music (this is happening all over the UK, not just in Cardiff). This makes me sad because those groups have been a major part of my life and helped my grow into the person I am today. Musically they helped me no end as an ensemble player, but personally I grew more confident and the friends I made have been the ones that I’ve stayed close to.
Although funding for the arts is being cut left, right and centre, there are a number of projects out there that are still encouraging children to take up music. One of these is the BBC ‘Ten Pieces’ program. This is led by BBC learning and BBC Performing Groups for primary school children aiming to open up the world of classical music to them (pieces range from Baroque to Contemporary) and allowing them to develop their own creative responses through various artistic mediums. The film of the ten pieces (featuring the BBC NOW and various celebratory presenters and actors) was first shown in autumn of 2014 at free cinema screenings for schools and will culminate in a celebratory finale in the summer of 2015 (with two proms and various concerts around the country using the BBC orchestras and choruses). The schools are encouraged to upload videos of their pupil’s creative responses to the film and share them on the BBC Ten Pieces website. The best ones will be chosen to appear in the BBC Proms Ten Pieces Concert in July 2015. This is such a great project and by taking the first step to getting children aware and taking part in classical music it may inspire them to take it further.
The film is still available on BBC iPlayer here if you fancy watching (which I’d thoroughly recommend). I was totally enthralled for the whole program and thought the filming of the orchestra and the sections with the actors melded together beautifully. It’s accessible to anyone, children and adults alike, and I think it can bring a whole new audience of all ages to classical music.
Trinity Laban also get students involved in getting children interested in music. We have a section of our course called ‘Engaging Audiences’. In this we look at ways in attract new audiences and get ourselves out into the big wide world there as musicians. In second year, our project was to create a short workshop for a class of children with activities to get them involved with music. The range of workshops varied hugely! My group did a ‘tour of the world through music’ and we got the children clapping and dancing to lots of different folk rhythms, another group did one about films, and getting the children to recognise and join in if they knew a theme. We also had groups which explored vibrations through the instruments (this involved the children touching instruments like the double bass and cello while they played to feel the sound vibrations), call and response patterns and different sections of the orchestra. From taking part in and observing all these workshops, you can tell that the children really enjoyed learning about music, but if the opportunities aren’t there, the interest will fade and it’ll become ‘dull and boring’ as they get older.
I think projects like this are so important. Many places no longer have to funding to spark an interest in classical music, let alone allow children to pursue it as far as I have. With projects like this it could really help some children to become more confident, explore new skills, become better at working with others. Most importantly however, it would introduce them to the world of classical music in such a way that they will want to learn more, rather than thinking it’s ‘uncool’, or ‘boring’. There’s so much more to classical music than sitting silently in a concert hall for three hours listening to a piece that was written hundreds of years ago. It’s such a diverse and vibrant art form, that there’s something to interest everyone and the world of skills that classical music opens up to children is invaluable.