Meet Norfolk County Youth Orchestra

The Norfolk County Youth Orchestra plays at Norwich Forum (photo: Adrian Buck)

The Norfolk County Youth Orchestra plays at Norwich Forum (photo: Adrian Buck) - Credit: Adrian Buck

An orchestra made up of some of Norfolk’s best young musicians was joined by past members for a celebratory concert this month


Katie - Credit: supplied

These teenagers are some of the most talented musicians in the county. They have mastered the instruments of the orchestra and play together at several major concerts a year – including a celebratory performance this month.

“The magic comes when all the orchestra realise that they are playing as one and making the most beautiful sounds – together. They are speaking in a language with no words and reaching out and communicating to the audience who have come to see them,” says Juliet Rickard, director of the Norfolk County Youth Orchestra (NCYO).

“For some it is life-changing, for some it is a life hobby, and for some it will be a happy memory which they will want to pass onto their children and grandchildren.”

The Norfolk County Youth Orchestra is made up of around 60 youngsters from across the county.

Katie Schutte, 15, of Wicklewood, near Wymondham, began playing the violin when she was seven and is now leader of the orchestra. “I haven’t yet decided what I will do when I leave school – but music will always be a big part of my life,” she says.

She joined the orchestra last year, after playing with the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain for five years, and says: “Perhaps the best part of NCYO for me is the people – there’s nothing like grinning at your desk partner when you both finally nail a hard passage or solo! It’s moments like this in NCYO that will stay with me forever, and I hope that this sense of community can be experienced by musicians across the county.”

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Murray Chapman,17, is a percussionist in the orchestra and says: “As well as a great opportunity to meet other musicians from around Norfolk, it’s also inspired me to discover and explore new branches of music and repertoire than I had encountered before.” He began playing the piano at seven and says: “This was when my enthusiasm for performing first kicked off. But it was only when I started learning percussion at the age of 11 that I was introduced to the remarkable world of ensemble playing.

“Performing with internationally-renowned soloists is, of course, a great privilege!”

The orchestra began back in 1959, and was relaunched in 2005 after a gap of about a decade.

“It’s built up over the past 12 years to the group it is today, which is a fantastic and nationally recognised county youth orchestra,” says Juliet. “We have decided to make it a celebration concert because were are thriving and doing so well. So we have invited back alumni and some will play with us too.”

Not all former members of the orchestra go on to musical careers, but some become very well known, including probably the most famous former member of all – Myleene Klass.

Many of the orchestra members began learning their instruments at school, but some instrumentalists are particularly difficult to recruit. “We have got a kind of endangered group going on at the moment!” says Juliet. “We are desperately lacking people playing double bass, French horn, viola, bassoon and oboe.”

So the county council will lend these instruments for free to children keen to learn, including mini double basses for younger children.

The orchestra is run by the Norfolk Music Service and funded by Norfolk Music Hub with money from the Arts Council. “We are very proud that it’s 80pc state school pupils,” says Juliet.

There is also a friends group which raises around £12,000 a year to help students from low income households take part in orchestra events, including occasional tours abroad.

“Britain was innovative in setting up youth orchestras,” says Juliet. “Alongside professional musicians, countless other people will have had some experience of playing in youth orchestras or bands. In Norfolk we are determined that this will continue, and funds are being sought from a variety of sources to make sure that any child who wants to be a part of this great tradition will be fully supported.”

An intermediate orchestra, plus smaller music groups, has been set up as part of a link between Norfolk schoolchildren and London’s Guildhall School of Music. “Norwich was its first regional base and now has 120 students involved,” says Juliet, who also helped launch the international Triorca Orchestra, for 16-26-year-olds from Norwich and its twin cities in Germany and Serbia.

Kirsty Visick, of the Friends of the Norfolk County Youth Orchestra, whose son was a member of the NCYO, says: “The young people on the whole do not go on to study music professionally but they develop their talent and often play at university and then join amateur orchestras later on in their lives. Our county is blessed with superb amateur music making and is the richer for it.”

The Norfolk County Youth Orchestra’s summer concert, on Saturday, July 15, will be at Epic Studios in Norwich

Notes and numbers

3 – the orchestra plays three concerts a year, in April, July and October.

8 – most of the musicians will be at the top, grade eight, standard.

80 – 80pc of the members of the Norfolk County Youth Orchestra attend state schools.

59 – there are currently 59 members of the orchestra