The UK’s National Open Youth Orchestra (NOYO) has just played its first series of live concerts, receiving standing ovations in London, Bristol, Poole and Birmingham. We asked French horn player Georgina Spray and saxophonist Jamie Moody to tell us what it’s like to be part of the world’s first disabled-led national youth orchestra.
How is NOYO leading the way as an inclusive orchestra?
Georgina: NOYO musicians get a say in how the music is performed and where the dynamics should go and what tempo the pieces should be played at. Before joining, I’d only ever played in traditional orchestras where the music was played how the composer would have intended it to be played!
I’m currently learning a Mozart concerto and trying to practise it as Mozart would have intended it to be played, but I’m playing on a modern double B flat/F horn, which didn’t exist when he wrote the concerto. So, if it’s okay to perform like that, then why isn’t it okay to perform similar works on adapted and inclusive instruments like the Clarion or LinnStrument?!
Jamie: NOYO challenged my preconceptions about what an orchestra could be and could play.
Due to the range of instruments and abilities we are unconventional by nature and everything we play has to deviate from traditional approaches that are not wholly accessible.
This year’s concert programme included new arrangements of Vivaldi’s Spring and Hans Zimmer’s Time, which were very outside the box, and several pieces were original commissions. Active input from performers also makes for music that might not otherwise exist – it makes it an extremely unique ensemble and musical experience.
How have you benefited from being part of the orchestra?
Jamie: I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that NOYO saved me as a musician. Previously all of my playing was focused around grades, with the hypothetical of joining a band or orchestra always overshadowed by a fear of inaccessibility. NOYO not only killed that fear, it restored my confidence and joy for performing. I'm starting my Film BA this September and NOYO has emboldened me to join one of my university's various orchestras.
Georgina: It’s helped me to explore improvising and learning by ear. I’ve learned so much about adapted instruments and some amazing equipment that can be used so that everyone can access music, either for fun or more seriously. NOYO is proving that there is room to include other instruments as well as traditional classical instruments.
Can you share some personal highlights?
Jamie: For me, the most important part of NOYO has been the social aspect. NOYO was the first musical group I'd joined in three years, with previous opportunities ignored for fear of having to mask my autistic traits, overstimulation, or having my needs downplayed or ignored. With NOYO, none of those fears came up. The residentials gave me a space to interact with other disabled people and helped us connect with one another when we had once been isolated.
Georgina: NOYO has been amazing for me and has opened so many doors. Topping the list of my proudest moments: hosting a two-hour show on Scala Radio dedicated to NOYO, being a co-researcher on the Youth Music Reshape Music report, which explored the lived experiences of disabled musicians in education and beyond, and our debut concert at London’s Milton Court.
How can the music community become ever more inclusive?
Georgina: If you’re a music teacher and you have a disabled student, then talk to them. Ask them about their disability and adaptations that need to be made. No potential musician should be put off due to their disability. Reach out to organisations and you will find ways to help your student access music.
Jamie: Our Music Leaders are open and receptive to all feedback and suggestions, and they offer support and accessibility before anyone needs to ask for it.
National Open Youth Orchestra and BSO Resound in action at Lighthouse Poole
What does the future hold for NOYO?
Georgina: I’m super excited about where NOYO could go! The possibilities are endless with the music we play, the instruments in the orchestra and where we perform.
Jamie: To music leaders, musicians, composers, music enthusiasts and all other readers of this blog, I would encourage you to see NOYO not just as a learning experience, but as a step in an ongoing journey to open up the world of music to all.
ABRSM is a founding sponsor of NOYO. Auditions for this pioneering youth orchestra, where talented disabled and non-disabled musicians aged 11 to 25 rehearse and perform together, take place once a year. There are four regional NOYO Centres: London, Bristol, Bournemouth and Birmingham, delivered in partnership with Barbican, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Bristol Beacon, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Midlands Arts Centre, B:Music, and Services For Education.
To find out more visit www.noyo.org.uk