A few weeks ago I went as a guest of the National Children’s Orchestra to watch the under 13 orchestra perform at The Anvil in Basingstoke. My daughter was performing so it was interesting to be there as a parent as well as someone who works in and is passionate about the music education sector.
There I met a lady who has been a passionate supporter of both the NCO and the NYO. She said that that her reasons for giving so much to these organisations over the years was because they are strong progression routes for musicians, some of whom work their way from NCO to NYO to conservatoires and into professional orchestras.
I hadn’t thought about progression routes like this. I had got distracted by looking for progression routes for kids through school-primary, KS3, GCSE, A Level. Frustrated by the limitations there are for inclusive routes for everyone through music and bored of politicians banging on about ‘the orchestras of the future’ and how that should be the focus of school music, I had started to think that the needs of children like these mattered less perhaps because I feel they are valued more.
I realised too that I had been letting my own frustrations with how things are in the sector cloud how I felt about the work organisations like NCO are doing with the exceptionally talented youngsters who benefit from the musical experiences they offer.
I decided that it was time to face a few truths.
Of course these routes aren’t accessible to all. To reach the impressive standards that these orchestras demand takes years of financial investment in music lessons, instruments and a huge commitment from the children and parents to put in the hours needed. I know because I have 3 children and it’s bloody expensive. Where this may have previously been funded, it isn’t any more. That’s just how it is.
As I sat in the audience I was transfixed. These children, as a huge group of musicians had found their own musical voice. Raw and pure I could see the lines of each melody in the way they moved as they played. I could feel the music rise and fall as they played utterly as one. Every single child was totally immersed in that phrase, that note, that moment. It was spellbinding.
They had crafted something truly unique through a week of living the music together. Playing for hours each day, getting to know each other and the musicians they worked with, building to that performance. My daughter said on the phone that week “it’s not about the music mum, it’s about being together”. She’s right.
I realised that something that can have such a powerful effect on me as is absolutely to be valued. Yes these children are a privileged few. But it doesn’t mean that their musical voice doesn’t deserve to be heard just because it’s a little more crafted and refined through experience, nurture and time.
On the way home I thought back to the other musical voices I have heard over the years. I remembered the sulky year 11 girl, troubled and disengaged from school, singing her GCSE music solo performance at a concert and holding the audience absolutely still as they listened to the challenges in her life define that performance.
The orchestra of mixed ability musicians in my Les Mis band at the school musical who shouldn’t have been able to pull it off but invested so much time, emotion and cared so much that it was better than we could have possibly imagined. The lad who makes everyone cry when he sings because he has such a talent to express the melodies so that you can’t fail to be moved by them.
I saw it last week in a primary school where a class of year 4 working with their class teacher were so engaged in the task that there was a discernible shift in the room from it being about playing the right notes at the right time to the sounds locking into place and making sense through pulse, feel, ensemble.
It’s nothing to do with the genre, the ensemble, experience or investment of money, talent spotting, box ticking. It’s about passion, commitment, engagement, children caring very deeply about is important and meaningful to them and allowing those musical voices whether individual or collective to be heard.
We should value every single one of those voices. It’s crucial that we ensure there are a range of opportunities to hear all of them sound clearly through the talk and strategising that takes place around them or we risk drowning them out altogether.