2015-16 Season Publicity
It was great to see some of our members featured in GetReading and advertising our Spring Concert 2016.
The orchestra featured in AltReading alongside other arts and music events in the lead-up to the Spring Concert.
#Reading feature article
Reading’s new magazine, #Reading, interviewed some of our members and ran a 3-page article on the orchestra in their second issue, the March 2016 edition. The full text can be found below the images.
Strike a chord with the young
The benefits of playing an instrument have been well documented – some say it’s like a full body workout for the brain. Kim Chapman finds out about one of Reading’s musical powerhouses
Einstein, it seems, believed the reason he was so bright was because he learned the violin, and worked out his equations while rattling out a tune. Research shows it can boost your IQ – and even in people over 65, there are benefits from playing an instrument for an hour a week. And children it is said are found to be more self-disciplined, more attentive and better at planning as a result, all important for improving academic performance. It’s a shame then that music in schools has suffered so much from cuts over time while, for parents, supporting a youngster in learning the piano, for example, can be very pricey.
It’s good news then that the Reading Youth Orchestra (RYO) is thriving more than 70 years after it launched in the latter years of the Second World War, and is happy to welcome new young players to its ensemble. Reputed to be the second oldest youth orchestra in the country, at £69 a term, three terms a year, it provides a setting where young people aged 11 to 21 can gain valuable practical experience in performing, guided by experienced volunteers like music teacher Mel Le Breuilly, and by its musical director and conductor Paul Cox.
It numbers violinist and former England cricket star Claire Taylor among former members as well as oboist Andrew Taylor (no relation), conductor of the Aldworth Philharmonic. Both volunteer with RYO helping the youngsters to progress musically and played in the orchestra’s fundraising Spring Concert earlier this month along with another former member, the internationally renowned pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips. Others include Karen Speight, who went on to be an airline pilot. She is a keen amateur opera singer and is singing Mercedes in Carmen in July at Farrer Theatre in Eton, and Elspeth Dutch, who went on to be the Principal Horn of the City of Birmingham Symphony.
But the fact that RYO still exists is thanks in part to the major contribution of Paul Cox, Head of String Studies in Music at the University of Southampton and conductor of the University of Reading orchestra. The renowned cellist and performer, who lives in Twyford, was a young member of the RYO himself and he stepped in with his Eureka! Foundation when public funding was withdrawn 10 years ago.
The foundation, which he set up 20 years ago, specialises in promoting music performance events, delivering music education and supporting local groups. It has raised £30,000 for good causes since it began. For RYO it meant advice, for example, on how to operate as a not-for-profit business, said volunteer Mel.
“Through him, Reading University has provided us with rehearsal and storage space, he is our conductor and, as well as the valuable time he gives the orchestra every week, he does a lot on the organisational side,” she added. “It’s a real passion of his.”
Mel, who grew up in Tilehurst, said Paul took her under his wing when she joined his Saturday music group at 16. “He’s probably a main reason I am still playing. I had been really put off by how high pressure youth music groups were. I was surrounded by all these people who wanted to be professional musicians and performers and they were so confident I was intimidated by them. Paul’s group were so laidback and just focused on learning skills and enjoying the music – understanding what the music was about rather than who was the better player. This is what he brings to RYO,” said the part-time violin and piano teacher who lives in Wokingham with her husband, whom she met when they were both working as management consultants in London.
There’s a good balance between teaching technical skills, musical skills and teamwork, telling youngsters about the music but also allowing them to have a really good social side, she said. “In rehearsals they get time to chat to each other so they bond really well and it’s very friendly. They say how they feel welcome and it’s a safe environment and it’s absolutely confidence building.” she added. The older members are very good at making the younger ones welcome, said Mel.
Even if you don’t want to do it as a career, there are great benefits apart from better brain function from practising music. “It’s good for your wellbeing and you get lots of useful transferable skills – the discipline of practice, the attention to detail, right through to creativity and teamwork. Listening and being aware of what everyone else is doing means you have to be empathetic, you can’t overpower everyone else.”
One of the stalwarts of RYO is chair of its committee Anne Ballard, who has been the backbone of the group for many years. Her three children have all been members, said Mel, who added: “She does everything behind the scenes and organises all the communication with members so they know what they are meant to be doing. She’s incredibly valuable to us.”
The group, whose membership is evenly split between boys and girls, does one big concert a year but there are summer workshops and summer trips. They also play Christmas carols at Reading station to fundraise and offer A level showcases where school students can hear pieces on their syllabuses being performed. In choosing music for their own performances, the aim is to give the youngsters a really good range and repertoire so they get to know the classic pieces.
By the time we go to press RYO will have held its annual concert, raising money for the Royal Berks Hospital’s League of Friends as well as its own coffers. When they rang the hospital charity to make contact, they found they were speaking to Martin Butler – another former member of the youth orchestra! Happily the orchestra’s influence on the town’s music still extends far and wide.
To join the orchestra or to discuss sponsorship opportunities go to readingyouthorchestra.co.uk
Talented young violinist Euon Mallett was inspired to take up the instrument three years ago at the age of nine when he saw his cousin playing. His mum bought him one as a Christmas present.
Euon, from Lower Earley who goes to Maiden Erlegh school, says Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro is his favourite piece to play “for now because I like a challenge and it has a variety of difficult rhythms and chords. I am always finding new pieces and I’m sure my favourite will change.”
The youngster joined RYO one and a half years ago. “I never get the opportunity to play with other people so RYO gives me a whole different perspective on playing the violin,” he said. “Now I need to concentrate on what everyone else is playing and not just me. I enjoy the harmony from the orchestra when all the instruments play together.”
He says he has learned how to be dedicated. “I used to go to a string orchestra where our performance would last around 10 minutes but in RYO the performance lasts a lot longer – around one and a half hours, I think. We get the same amount of time to get the piece right. I’ve needed to practise more to make sure my part is on point.”
Euon isn’t hoping for a musical career but thinks playing the violin will be his primary hobby – at the moment his other interests include swimming, tennis, table tennis, badminton and Xbox.
Of RYO he added: “Every member is really friendly and it has developed my musical ability.”
Pictured above: Violinist Euon Mallett, 12, says membership of Reading Youth Orchestra has improved his musical prowess.