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For our latest newsletter, we interviewed the Director of The Orchestrate! Project, John Stephens. Here’s what he had to say.

What opportunities does The Orchestrate! Project offer?

The Orchestrate! Project offers a monthly Training Orchestra for pupils who’ve just begun to play, to those who are about Grade 3/4; and a Youth Orchestra for those who are about Grade 4 and above. In reality, this means that our Youth Orchestra has members who are just about Grade 4 in standard, plenty who are Grade 8+, and all those in-between – it’s a very inclusive group which challenges all players. The Youth Orchestra also holds an annual residential which is a highlight for many. The project also incorporates the Norwich Young Voices youth choir – this choir meets weekly, and is FREE for members of the Youth Orchestra.

Who can take part?

We’re very keen to recruit players in all departments of the Youth Orchestra, and to secure a rolling programme of younger players joining us through the Training Orchestra with a view to moving to the main Youth Orchestra in due course. We have a very good spread of instruments within the Youth Orchestra (we have players in every department) but like most ensembles we’d like to recruit as many string players as possible and to fill any other parts which become vacant from time to time. We’re really keen for as many teachers as possible to recommend our project to their students – we can send you details that you can hand to your students.

How do you select repertoire?

We play a very wide range of music! There are a few ‘favourites’ which reappear in our music folders more frequently, especially closer to Christmas, but generally speaking we learn a lot of new music each year. The repertoire represents a good balance or ‘core’ repertoire from the classical canon (everything from Grieg’s Piano Concerto to Tchaikovsky’s overture to Romeo & Juliet – the kinds of things you’re likely to play at university) to challenging scores from popular films and musicals (recent favourites have included ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’). Many of the repertoire choices are influenced by suggestions from the members.

What is your performance schedule like (over a school year)?

We usually perform two concerts a year – perhaps a Christmas Concert and a Summer Concert. Plus, there’s a short performance at the end of our annual Residential Course. We also receive a number of engagements to play for Carol Services towards Christmas time (St Peter Mancroft for ‘Shelter’ and the ‘Civic Carol Service in Great Yarmouth Minster, for example). We’ve also performed Gala Concerts for the Great Yarmouth Arts Festival on a couple of occasions.

What is the most fulfilling thing about The Orchestrate! Project from your position?

I love watching young people develop their musicianship through ensemble music making. There’s something about it which consolidates and reinforces the work undertaken in one-to-one music lessons, speeding up progress. It’s great to see the youngest members, who perhaps struggled to keep up with they first joined, develop into the leaders of their sections, making lasting musical memories and friendships along the way. I often get messages from ex-members who’ve moved to university saying: ‘I’ve just heard that piece we learned, being played on the radio’ – priceless!

Why are music activities important for young people in Norfolk?

Most schools in Norfolk have a number of pupils who are learning musical instruments, but few schools have enough students to form a full-scale instrumental ensemble of their own. This is why the provision of extra-curricular ensembles, such as The Orchestrate! Project and those offered by Norfolk Music Hub, is so important – both for students who enjoy this kind of community music making for fun, primarily for the social aspect, and for those who are considering music as a career option. Norfolk is a very large county, which is partly why our ‘long rehearsal, once a month’ model works so well here – monthly rehearsals mean that the commitments of travel are lessened for those who have to travel a long way to find musical provision which is right for them. We have members from across Norfolk and part of Suffolk, travelling from as far west as King’s Lynn, as north as Sheringham, as south as Loddon and as east as Great Yarmouth & Lowestoft.

What advice for young musicians do you have?

Join an ensemble!! Ensemble music making is really important in developing everything from your aural training to your sight-reading – plus, you’ll make some good friends. Contribute to your community!! Music is a fantastic thing to share – too many people only play at home in their room! If you play a ‘non-orchestral’ instrument like the piano, you’d probably make a value member of an ensemble by filling in some percussion parts, playing the glockenspiel or playing a harp part on a keyboard….. we can always find something for you to do!

Find out more about the ensembles by clicking the links below:

The Orchestrate! Project – Youth Orchestra
The Orchestrate! Project – Chamber Orchestra
The Orchestrate! Project – Training Orchestra
The Orchestrate! Project website >