Against all odds
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Over the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of traversing the UK listening to lots of young musicians as I assist with the recruitment into the Duet Philharmonic Orchestra, a national ensemble built from scratch every two years and consisting of some of the UK's brightest musicians who are at school. The orchestra meets in April (in odd numbered years - so we are currently building the 2019 orchestra) in the wonderful surroundings of Wellington College in Berkshire to rehearse a full concert programme from scratch to performance standard in just five days.
And not just any programme. Having tackled Mahler's 5th and 8th symphonies and Strauss's Alpine Symphony in recent years, this cohort will be taking on the monumental 6th Symphony of Mahler and will be performing it at the Royal Festival Hall. This is music that young musicians will rarely get the opportunity to play, given the vast orchestral forces it requires, so the experience is quite memorable.
On my travels I've been parachuting myself into schools up and down the country and hearing students play to a fantastic level, with expression and assurity, having spent the rest of their day in lessons and GCSE or A Level revision sessions and tackling two hours or more of homework. The average teenager is performing a plate-spinning act, trying to keep everyone happy, meeting their deadlines, finding time to train with their sports team or practice their instrument - and yet everyone I have met has been completely immersed in their music and has performed with maturity and insight.
I don't remember being anywhere near as busy when I was a student. We have a duty to look after our young people and ensure that they are not being pulled in all directions, overloaded with expectations and pressured beyond all reasonable levels. The amazing musicians I have been meeting love - without exception - the feeling they get when they play. Music, like so many other creative things, is a necessary therapy that must not be sidelined or pushed out of a youngster's life to make way for extra maths or revision clinics. I've seen this happen all too often, and the consequences can be alarming.
Hats off to these young musicians for their unrelenting resilience and determination to continue with their music, against all the odds.