Opera North launches new youth ensemble

Following the findings of its recent report highlighting the barriers to keeping children musically engaged as they move from Primary to Secondary school, Opera North has launched a new youth ensemble for aspiring young instrumentalists across Leeds.

Opera North Junior Strings is open to all string players with a view to helping them develop their instrumental and musicianship skills in a friendly and supportive environment under the guidance of world-class artists. Targeted at young musicians from 10-14 or up to and including Grade 3, the orchestra has been specifically designed to help ease the musical transition to Secondary school, providing an inspiring way for children to continue learning the violin, viola, cello or double bass while forging new musical friendships.

The importance of increasing access to good quality musical tuition at Secondary school age is borne out by the Opera North-commissioned report which was funded by Arts Council England and conducted by Dr Susan Hallam from the UCL Institute of Education and Dr Susanne Burns, a management consultant specialising in the arts sector. The study looked at the impact of Sistema England‘s In Harmony programme in Primary schools in six UK locations – Lambeth, Liverpool, Telford and Stoke, Newcastle, Nottingham and Leeds – before tracking students’ musical progression and engagement as they reached Secondary school.

While the report commended In Harmony for the inspirational teaching of its staff and for providing a supportive environment and a wide range of inclusive activities and performance opportunities, it also identified gaps in positive musical input and provision at Secondary school level:

‘Musical progression opportunities at Secondary school were generally limited and, where available, were often inappropriate… Most progression was through extra-curricular activities.’

In Harmony Opera North currently works with over 1,100 Primary school pupils in socio-economically disadvantaged communities in Leeds with every child learning to sing and to play an instrument in weekly small group lessons, orchestras and choir sessions. To make it easier for the older students to continue playing their instruments when they reach Secondary school, free bus travel is being provided for In Harmony participants and graduates to the Junior Strings youth ensemble from the In Harmony Opera North communities.

Jacqui Cameron, Opera North Education Director, said:

‘Opera North Junior Strings will enable young string players to carry on acquiring important ensemble skills with the encouragement of their peers and under the guidance of professional musicians from the both the Opera North Education Team and the Orchestra of Opera North. The orchestra is open to children from across the city, including the pupils who have come through the In Harmony programme and who are keen to keep playing and engaging with music. We hope this orchestra will keep their enthusiasm and passion going.’

Opera North Junior Strings meets on Mondays during term-time in Opera North’s Howard Assembly Room from 4.15pm to 5.45pm. Children are welcome to sign up at any point in the school year and there is no need to audition.

Header photo: In Harmony Opera North © Justin Slee

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