Young at heart: Centre for Young Musicians turns 503:10, 22nd May 2020
London’s Centre for Young Musicians (CYM), a division of the Guildhall School, turns 50 this year. CM caught up with alumnus Christopher Warren-Green and head of CYM Geoff Harniess to find out what the centre has planned, and how it is adapting to life in lockdown.
Christopher Warren-Green, music director of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra in North Carolina, and the founder of the London Chamber Orchestra, credits his high-flying musical career to CYM. ‘As a young boy, the Centre for Young Musicians was quite literally the biggest part of my life,’ he explains. ‘It wasn’t just about music, it was a whole philosophy on life. Students do better across all subjects if they study the arts as well so whether someone studying at the Centre became a professional or not it didn’t matter: CYM was making the world a better place. The greatest thing about it was that it brought people from all backgrounds together in harmony with ensembles and orchestras, teaching us how to live in harmony with our world. It was in my thoughts as I stood in front of the London Chamber Orchestra waiting for Kate Middleton to arrive for her wedding to Prince William,’ he adds. ‘Without CYM, I would not be where I am today.
The core of CYM is its weekly Saturday sessions, in which 400 students meet at Morley College to have individual lessons, to sing and play in choirs, orchestras and ensembles, and to attend musicianship classes. The scope is broad: ‘They have access to all kinds of music, including jazz and folk,’ explains CYM head Geoff Harniess, ‘and have the opportunity to compose their own music, give solo and group performances and, of course, meet the friends that they have made through their music making. Lots of those children will also take part in the holiday courses that CYM provides, including the London Schools Symphony Orchestra and the London Youth Wind Band. Both of those groups go on a foreign tour each summer in addition to giving performances in London. There are around 80 tutors working at CYM each Saturday, delivering around 450 separate activities during the day.’
Of course, these Saturday sessions have been rendered impossible since the outbreak of coronavirus, and the Centre has had to find new ways to conduct its lessons. ‘The immediate challenge was to complete the one-to-one lessons that were due to take place on the 21 March,’ explains Harniess. ‘With great support from colleagues at the Guildhall School, and in particular the IT team there, plus real dedication and commitment from CYM’s management, and indeed all of the staff, students and parents, those lessons were given online by the Easter weekend. During the school holiday period plans were then put in place to take all of the Saturday activities to an online format for the beginning of the Summer Term on the 25 of April. It was felt that the most important thing to focus on during this period was keeping the students enthusiasm for music alive by making sure the classes and ensembles were live events led by the usual tutors, giving the children the opportunity to at least see their friends on screen and interact with them. It’s simply not possible to have an ensemble play or sing together over Zoom so different tutors have devised various ways to nonetheless maintain the sense of working together, including comparing recordings of pieces, studying the scores via screen sharing, and occasionally just playing together in a somewhat cacophonous way just for the fun of it!’
This year the Centre celebrates its 50th anniversary, and celebrations have been twinned with those of its flagship organisation, the London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO), which itself is celebrating 70 years. ‘On Wednesday 10 June at 7pm, in place of the planned 50th Anniversary Gala Concert in the Barbican, CYM will now be holding an online celebration, with contributions from some celebrity alumni: Christopher Warren-Green, John Lenehan, Vashti Hunter, Django Bates and Vincent Lindsey-Clark, one of CYM’s first students and now faculty member, along with 50 current students,’ says Harniess. ‘Hosted by a former pupil, the BBC News presenter Naga Munchetty, it will be a rich and varied kaleidoscope of music, some famous, some less so, and some written specially for the evening. The ‘live’ gala has been postponed until Monday 11 January 2021, when CYM will join forces with the LSSO, and other celebratory events are planned for later next year.’