This year has seen us working with young people across the region, developing skills, building aspirations and growing confidence through playing musical instruments, singing together and drama.
With events in both Leeds and further afield, there have been regular opportunities for our young musicians and performers to enhance and showcase their talents whether through our Youth Ensembles or our In Harmony schools programme. As the year draws to a close, we look back at some of the events they have enjoyed over the last couple of months.
The Opera North Children’s Chorus, led by Youth Chorus Master Nicholas Shaw, sees young singers aged 8 to 11 years meeting weekly at our home in Leeds to hone their skills together. For one of the members, 10-year-old Finlay, it was a particularly exciting lead-up to the Christmas break when he was chosen to perform the solo in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms as part of a sold-out concert at Huddersfield Town Hall. As Finlay said:
“I like the piece because it’s up and down all the time with long notes and short notes and then you just sing it out”
And sing it out he did, resulting in an amazing performance on the night.
The In Harmony Band members watching the Orchestra of Opera North rehearse
The Huddersfield concert also saw the Orchestra of Opera North play Holst’s The Planets. In the build-up to the event, over 60 In Harmony students from five Leeds primary schools and one in Halifax were invited to spend a day with Opera North at the Howard Opera Centre, which included the chance to sit in on the Orchestra rehearsing ‘Mars’.
The students all learn a brass or stringed instrument in school as part of the In Harmony programme and had been studying ‘Mars’ – one of the BBC Ten Pieces – at school that term. After the excitement of hearing it played by a full orchestra, they had their own rehearsal of the piece, playing together as a 65-piece band for the first time. One of the 8-year-old pupils from Lee Mount reflected on the day:
“I loved the music and all the different sounds. I felt really excited. I play the cello. I have been learning since year 3. I like that we get to make different noises and notes.”
The children were also given the opportunity to grill Phil Boughton, Director of Orchestra and Chorus, about his job and what it is like working with professional musicians on a daily basis.
Taking part in the drama session during the Opera North Children's Chorus and In Harmony day
Over 60 young singers congregated at the Howard Opera Centre for a very special day in November. Half were members of the Opera North Children’s Chorus and the other half were members of the In Harmony choirs which meet in the schools on a weekly basis. After a singing session led by Elena Camblor Gonzales, the children were able to give drama a go in a workshop led by Gemma Woffinden who commented:
“It was great to see the young people mixing with each other. This is so important for building confidence and aspirations. It’s essential that we open up these creative professional spaces for future audiences and artists.”
“A big hope is for all of our singers to feel connected to the Opera North Youth Ensembles, to the rest of the Opera North team and, to recognise Opera North (and the Howard Opera Centre) as a place where they belong and where they can grow as artists.”
Participants in Opera North's Young Musicians Studio © Tom Arber
Helping children grow as artists is something that the Opera North Young Musicians Studio seeks to do. Open to all students keen to develop their musical skills, the group meets on a Saturday morning in Leeds. Earlier in December, all the participants took part in a special workshop where they created a soundtrack to the opening scene of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. As one of the parents said:
“My daughter plays the violin. She started in September. It’s been such a creative space for her. She loves coming. She’s met some really lovely people and the teachers have been fantastic. I thought this morning’s workshop was great. Everyone could join in and it was really fun. It did that thing where you felt part of a piece of music which is one of the nicest thing about music isn’t it – bringing everybody together with everyone equally involved? Everyone was smiling at the end.”
For any young person in Year 6 or above who would like to learn to play a musical instrument, The Young Musicians Studio are holding a free beginners woodwind programme for a term at the start of the new year. The next round of auditions for the Opera North Children’s Chorus will take place week commencing 15 January 2024.