Aldeburgh Young Musicians is 10 years old, which calls for a celebration...
Aldeburgh Young Musicians turns 10
Colin Virr brims with the pride and the passion of a parent recalling the accomplishments of a favourite child. And well he might. His ‘baby’, Aldeburgh Young Musicians, is a high achiever by any standards. Over the past decade the development programme for advanced young musicians and composers at Snape Maltings has turned out some exciting, creative young people, some of whom are now taking their place on the national stage. Having helped to conceive AYM, and nurtured it through its formative years, Colin is now planning a party to celebrate its 10th birthday.
“I’m hoping we can create a festival atmosphere,” he says, “a celebration that shows what AYM does best.” There seems little doubt about that. Colin’s been in touch with all the AYM alumni of the past decade and tasked them with creating the content for two exciting evenings on Friday and Saturday July 27 and 28. While he’s not exactly sure what they’ll come up with – it rather depends on which composers, musicians and their instruments get involved – audiences can expect a vibrant, original blend of jazz, folk, chamber and orchestral music, all in the fabulous outdoor setting of the Dovecote (Friday) and the world famous Snape Maltings Concert Hall (Saturday). It promises to be quite an occasion, and for Colin an especially poignant one. After 10 years of running AYM, he feels the moment’s right to move on, and this will be his swan song.
The evening will also include a fiveminute film featuring AYM alumni now working professionally, reflecting on their success to date and looking at what’s to come for those hoping to find their place in the world of music. AYM is a Centre for Advanced Training, one of a network set up around the country by the Department for Education under its music and dance scheme, with the aim of helping young people to develop their talent practically on their doorstep. Before AYM, and other CATs, the options available to a young person who wanted to pursue his or her musical education at an advanced level were limited to enrolling at a specialist boarding school, or attending the junior department of a traditional conservatoire, usually in London, travelling up every Saturday morning for a long day of tuition and workshops. As the parent of a musically able child, Colin knows only too well just how costly and exhausting this can be. Certainly, it is beyond the reach of many families.
“We were approached to see if there was an alternative, so we met with young
people across the eastern region and tried to work out a model that would suit their needs,” says Colin. “It had to be a robust alternative, a way for them to get specialist provision – access to excellence for young people who have potential to study for degrees and have a career in music, if that’s what they want.” Three years in the making, AYM accepted its first cohort of young musicians in 2008 with just a handful of courses. Since that time, through a year-round programme of intensive week-long residencies and weekends, individual lessons, professional advice, mentoring and performances, AYM has nurtured the creativity of scores of young musicians – mostly from East Anglia – teasing out their talent and helping them realise their potential. It now runs more than 60 courses, and gives young people access to the best musical training on offer, as they work alongside professional musicians as equals, and create, rehearse, perform, compose, workshop, improvise and collaborate with other like-minded young musicians.
In typical Suffolk style, AYM has developed less conventionally than some of its counterparts around the country, and certainly takes a less formal approach than the traditional conservatoires – a bit more experimental without being quirky, as Colin puts it. The emphasis is on collaboration and creative thinking. Musicians are not grouped according to age or the instrument they play, but are treated as individual artists in their own right. Students as young as eight work with older musicians up to 18 years old, across all disciplines – singer sing writers, rock guitarists, classical instrumentalists and percussionists – exploring all genres from orchestral, chamber and vocal, to jazz and folk.
“It’s a very creative approach, which develops their strengths and helps to make them versatile and the best they can possibly be,” says Colin. “It seems to work. The professional musicians who work with them say they learn as much from AYM as the young musicians do from them.”
The numbers of AYM members are kept deliberately low, not out of elitism or exclusivity, but to ensure that everyone gets the attention they need. Each has an individually tailored programme, and Colin has tapped into the passing parade of musicians of national and international standing who come to Snape, to find the most appropriate mentors and tutors.
AYM is certainly bearing fruit. While Colin says eventual employment is not the principal aim, and not all young people will want to use their talent in that way, many have gone on to study at the highest level and are now working professionally as musicians.
“We’ve produced some amazing young people over the years who are now starting to stand out,” he says. And AYM has established something of a reputation, it seems. “Something happens to our young people, they grow when they’re with us. There’s a poise and confidence, but not an arrogance. People tell us they can spot an Aldeburgh musician.” Benjamin Britten would have approved.
LEFT AND RIGHT: AYMs benefit from residencies spent working together
BELOW: Cameron Scott, AYM
ABOVE: AYM gives musicians access to the best tuition available
The AYM programme covers all music disciplines and genres