Brave new world

Are you brave enough? Would you dare to just ‘have a go’ and make up music in front of people you’ve never met? Yesterday I met the young musicians who dare to try new things, make mistakes and in the process create something truly magical…

Chosen from the ten Olympic London Boroughs by the LSO, the Next Generation Orchestra is made up of young musicians of differing standards and ages but with one thing in common: they dare to create.

Over three years, working with LSO musicians, learning a lot by trial and error, these young musicians create their own piece of music and perform it on the Barbican stage with the London Symphony Orchestra. No one is required to read music, the pieces are truly their own creation and what’s more they sound brilliant! So what happens on the first day that a Next Generation musician turns up at the LSO?

‘I can remember the first time. It felt really good straight away’ grins Mia, a flugel horn player and 3rd year Next Generation artist. ‘We had to play a piece for the audition and it was in front of all the brass players. It was really scary at first and was not what I expected at all – to be composing and making our own pieces as opposed to playing classical music.

‘On the first day, after the first rehearsal, we split into groups of five – all different instruments so we were with a totally different group of people. Then we created a piece in ten minutes. I remember not knowing anyone. We were trying to learn each others names, co-operate and make music together. It was all totally new to me. I’d never made any music myself before and it was terrifying. We then had to perform it in front of everyone else! It seemed to me that everyone else’s piece was much better than ours…’

But despite the challenge at the beginning of her time with Next Generation, Mia has risen to the occasion and become a guiding member, mentoring others and even leading sessions herself.

‘When we are in our third year of Next Gen, we work on our own – that is really difficult. No one knows what they’re doing and no one wants to take charge’ she laughs. ‘I wanted the others to get a chance at composing but eventually I had to take charge. There was a tumbleweed moment and no one was speaking so I had to!’ Mia divided the group into sections and after some skillful delegating, had them all creating their own pieces. An impressive response by her and some very useful life skills learnt at the same time.

And it’s not only the young musicians who feel the pressure with creating their own music on the spur of the moment. ‘I feel really nervous going into these sessions’ admits Jennie Brown, LSO cellist and tutor for Next Generation. ‘It’s so out of my comfort zone but that’s good for me!’ The kids seem really cool though. They don’t have any music in front of them and they play by ear. I see the same kids over a few years – blossoming, growing in confidence. It’s wonderful to watch.’

Most of the musicians of the LSO are not trained in improvising at all, in fact they spend a large part of their lives having to sight read incredibly difficult music, at speed, under pressure.

‘Since most of what we do is playing from notated music, we learn very specialised skills for reproducing music that’s written down, accurately and as quickly as possible – skills like sight reading’ explains Robert Turner, LSO viola player and Next Generation tutor. ‘So creating music like this, where you’re evolving ideas in your head and joining them together, trying to work out how to play things over chord sequences, none of which is written down is definitely not our usual path.’

Does it make him want to break free from the mould and learn to improvise now? ‘People say you should just practice improvising. Like everything it’s a skill you can learn and needs practice. People have different instincts and different speeds in which they can pick up things playing by ear. I have friends in the orchestra who can hear anything and play it back instantly by ear. That definitely doesn’t apply to me but it just means I have to work that little bit harder at it. It’s just a different skill.’

One of the lovely things I notice about Next Generation is that the outreach works in all directions. With the LSO musicians sharing their encyclopedic knowledge of classical music and technical skill with these teenagers, the young musicians also have something to share. TJ is a drummer who loves Caribbean music, so why would he be interested in working with the London Symphony Orchestra? ‘I like to do something new’ he smiles. ‘I like mixing all these different styles together. We all are different abilities in the percussion section and we all like different styles of music but when we come together it all works and blends together.’

‘It’s all about them putting their mark on it and making it their own piece’ explains Tom Goodman, LSO Bass player and Next Generation tutor. ‘They use the main work as inspiration but they’ll end up miles away from the original version by the end’ which is nice to hear – a brand new version we don’t know. They’re amazing kids. Considering they’re sat on the Barbican stage being soloists in their own piece I think they’re remarkably cool- if I was having to do that I think I’d be much more nervous than they are!’

See the results on Thursday 5 July at the Barbican Centre.

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