Montego Bay to Manchester: making connections in music
As the UK’s largest music education charity we’re proud to support musical achievement all over the world, as Jon Flinn explains. The Young Jamaica Ensemble is a lively music group set up to engage ‘at risk’ youngsters in Montego Bay. You may not have heard of them and, unless you stray on to YouTube, may never hear them play, but you may have more in common with them than you think.
The other side of ABRSM
The Young Jamaica Ensemble is one of many groups around the world whose members are experiencing the thrill of learning and playing music thanks to ABRSM. If you didn’t know ABRSM was involved in this kind of thing, you wouldn’t be alone. For decades the organisation has been known more for its reputation as one of the world’s leading examining bodies than for its work as the largest music education charity in the UK. This charitable activity isn’t just an add-on. It’s worth £6 million a year, is a fundamental part of what ABRSM is about and works hand-in-hand with its provision of exams.
Supporting musical development
‘As an examining body, we know that graded music exams can be a great motivating force, but we also know that there are many other kinds of activity which can support musical development and progression,’ explains ABRSM’s Executive Director of Strategic Development, Lincoln Abbotts. ‘So, aside from exams, we’re interested more generally in the role of progression in a young person’s musical life. And our charitable work allows us to support this in many different ways. ‘For example, through sponsorship and donations we can promote the shared experience offered by group performance. Most of our music exams are individual experiences so any opportunity where we can encourage ensemble music making is fantastic! Overall, it’s about funding high quality opportunities which complement our assessments and learning resources.’
A global vision
ABRSM is currently supporting ensembles in no fewer than ten countries, including Malaysia, South Africa, the Philippines, Uganda and Guyana, but its International Sponsorship Fund is a small part of what the organisation donates. In the UK, ABRSM sponsors the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain’s Inspire Days. These workshops give young musicians a chance to work with NYO members to develop their musical skills, and experience the excitement of performing in an orchestra. It also funds Music for Youth’s Regional Festivals, helping to provide open access performance opportunities for ensembles of all kinds – from choirs and brass bands to jazz groups and steel pan bands. And it is rightly proud of working with the Mayor’s Music Fund in London to offer scholarships to 12 talented musicians from a real mix of backgrounds.
A special relationship
What makes the charity stand out as a promoter of music education, is its special relationship with four Royal Schools of Music in the UK – the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – and the £890,000 worth of scholarships it gives to their students every year.
These four conservatoires attract some of the world’s most promising musicians and ABRSM is often a vital source of funding for potentially great musicians who would otherwise struggle to pay their fees. Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the RCS, says: ’One of the things we do is to create entrepreneurial artists who are very good at what they do but who are also deeply engaged in collaborative practice with artists from other disciplines. ’ABRSM feeds into this by supporting some of our best students... it is one of the few organisations which covers all costs and gives full scholarships.’ More than 70 young musicians receive ABRSM funding to take up places at the four schools every year. They include talent from the all over the UK and from across the world, from Russian pianists and Korean violinists to Venezuelan bassoonists – two ‘graduates’ of the El Sistema programme who received scholarships to take up places at the RNCM in Manchester.
Breadth and diversity
The benefits of this special relationship are felt in other ways too. In London, for example, ABRSM helps the RAM’s Open Academy outreach programme to work with over 2,000 participants in schools, hospitals and respite centres throughout the city. In Scotland, it is helping the RCS broaden teaching techniques through workshops around the country – a perfect example of ABRSM’s emphasis on supporting sustainable improvements to teaching and learning. For Jeffrey Sharkey this is another great strength of the partnership with ABRSM. ‘They are committed to working with us to help instrumental teachers across Scotland think about their teaching in a way which isn’t dependent on being part of the whole exam system.’
ABRSM’s financial support for the conservatoires is becoming increasingly important in the current public sector funding climate. As Linda Merrick, Principal of the RNCM, explains: ‘We wouldn’t be able to do what we do in the north-west and across the north of England without ABRSM’s support. It used to be about adding value but it’s now become essential.’
Opportunities for all
So, whether it’s working with the RNCM and other Royal Schools to support fantastic talent or buying new instruments for children in Montego Bay, ABRSM is committed to providing high quality, sustainable opportunities for developing musicians from all backgrounds to learn, perform and achieve. Above all, it’s about helping them shine and experience the kind of magic that Music for Youth trumpeter Esther describes: ’There are so many things to be happy about when playing music... playing my instrument makes me feel I can learn anything!
This article was originally featured in the September 2015 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.
Jon Flinn is a freelance writer.
You can find out more about our charitable activities at www.abrsm.org/about.