Young musicians are benefiting from youth ensembles, but concerns are growing over their financial stability and the difficulty of recruiting musicians.

children playing violins in an orchestra

Birmingham Culture via Creative Commons (cc by 2.0)

Thousands of young musicians aged between five and 25 years old are participating in a range of youth ensembles in England, but the findings from a 2013 survey by the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) indicate a number of issues requiring further scrutiny to ensure the development and sustainability of youth orchestras. Over the next three to five years, the main challenges facing youth orchestras are financial, both within the funding environment and in the affordability of participation. In total, 22% of respondents to the survey had experienced the withdrawal of local authority funding over the past two years, and 19% experienced a reduction in funding upon the introduction of Music Education Hubs. Carol Main, a Board member of the ABO, said: “As Music Education Hubs continue to settle into their new roles and responsibilities for music education, the ABO survey is extremely timely. There is much exciting activity happening with youth ensembles, with a great diversity of music, but there are undoubtedly challenges ahead.” Other problems which have been highlighted include the demands on time for rehearsals due to academic pressures on students, and the recruiting of musicians of minority instruments, notably viola, double bass, oboe, bassoon and French horn.

Further to the survey, the ABO’s steering group is exploring why the number of boys playing in youth orchestras has dropped, and whether this is a continuing trend. The survey found the gender balance is split is 62%:38%, female to male. Also, very few youth orchestras collect data about the ethnic background of their musicians so it is recommended that this information is obtained, enabling youth orchestras to determine whether their membership is a reflection of their local or regional demographic. The report, compiled by Fiona Harvey, Education and Youth Ensembles Consultant for the ABO, describes a total of 1240 ensembles with data gathered about the 9176 musicians who play in them. Mark Pemberton, Director of the ABO, said: “This data in this survey has given us a much needed ‘state of the nation’ snapshot of youth orchestras in England, providing us with better information about the needs of the youth ensemble sector. The ABO has an ambition to become an effective advocate and service organisation for youth orchestras across the UK, and with this information it will be better equipped to work with other organisations to help it respond to the issues outlined in the report.”

Elizabeth Hunt