In 1970, Larry Westland founded the first youth music event, which initially came to be 'Festival of the Music for Youth'. Instead of being a competition with 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place, the festival was to instead give out 'outstanding performance awards' and 'highly commended awards' to young, talented musicians.
The first Music for Youth festival took place at The Lyceum on The Strand in July 1971, with 400 young people involved. TES created media around the event and gave the moment tremendous support, and the writer and broadcaster Derek Jewell created coverage around it.
“There was such a wonderful atmosphere at that first event. In a quiet way the young people were in awe. It went off with such a bang and was a real eye-opener for me. I remember there was a little girl singing in the front row of a choir who fainted because she was so taken aback by the experience. She got up though, and carried on singing.
The Festival of the Music For Youth had such a tremendous reception - it was received with such high support and encouragement from parents and teachers alike. People really favoured that it wasn’t competitive and that we encouraged music of every genre, from instrumental music to ensembles.”
— Larry Westland, Founder of Music for Youth
As the first festival was such a success and had hundreds of young people involved, the 'Festival of the Music For Youth' moved to a bigger venue for its second year - the Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
Initially, groups from outside of London recorded tapes to be considered for the festival by assessment from judicators. Having received up to 2000 of these entries, 'Festival of the Music For Youth' felt it was important to ensure as many young people as possible could experience the atmosphere of the festival, who might not otherwise have the chance due to distance. The Regional Festivals were created, allowing for greater accessibility for young people and ultimately enabling more people to get involved.
To this day, the Regional Festivals take place between February and April in almost 50 locations nationwide. They offer young musicians the chance to perform and share their music, listen to performances from other groups, meet other musicians and gain expert advice from professional musicians and music educators.
By 1973, 'Festival of the Music For Youth' was expanding exponentially, and received funding by The Association of Music Industries (now MIA).
The idea for a schools prom was born at the National Festival of Music for Youth in 1974. The standard and talent was so fascinating that the Writer and broadcaster Derek Jewell suggested the team get more public spotlight on youth music, to encourage more young people to play music.
This led to the formation of the Schools Prom in 1975 at the Royal Albert Hall. The first Schools Prom took place on Tuesday 4 November 1975 at The Royal Albert Hall, having sold out in days. With support from The Times, it was an immediate success.
"It appears,in a way, such an obvious idea: a Schools Prom.There is now so much good music, in such sparkling diversity of styles, being produced in the schools of Great Britain, it’s surprising that tonight’s concert is the first of what we hope will be many such annual presentations in the years to come." - Humphrey Metzgen
“I found my copy of the vinyl that was made following the first ever Schools Prom as it was called in those days! I played 1st Oboe and we played l'apres midi d'un faune. The performance was amazing and I went on to study oboe & piano at RCM - followed up by a teaching career. I still play in local orchestras.” - Susan Simington, Brighton Youth Orchestra
Evelyn took part in the festivals at the Fairfield Halls when she was at school and she was also part of the Cults Percussions Ensemble, which later became the Grampian Schools Percussion Ensemble.
Dame Evelyn Glennie said: "My favourite memory is the vastness of the audience – so many people attended and I had never experienced playing to such large audiences. This formed in my mind that I wanted to pursue the career of a solo percussionist."
The 1980’s marked the beginning of a decade where Music for Youth was ever thriving, with more young people being involved, and a high standard of music-making. By the end of the 80's 50,000 young people from all over the country had taken part.
The musical culture of Music for Youth was very much shaped by the political and social narrative of the time.
“In the late 70's, the counties would all bring brass bands to the national festival. When Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, she encouraged schools to do their own thing. The musical diversity on display at Music for Youth did get more interesting as a result of that in the 80's.”
- Robin Bynoe, Former Company Secretary of Music for Youth and long term board member
“As students (Phoenix 1984) we had a wonderful experience performing at the Albert hall - we’d travelled from Cumbria - and it was great to be backstage waiting for our performance - the tension was electric! Years later taking my girls vocal group back to perform at the South Bank was also unforgettable for the girls.”
— Harris Lesley
Dame Evelyn Glennie again took part in the Royal Albert Hall Schools Prom on 26 November ‘86 in the Cults Percussion Ensemble, playing Concertino for Xylophone and Piano by Toshiro Mayuzumi. Malcolm Arnold was the Guest of Honour at the event, which was planned as a 65th Birthday tribute to one of Britain’s most distinguished composers. The concerts were presented by Sir Anthony Hopkins and Lesley Judd.
Speaking of the 1986 Schools Proms, Dame Evelyn Glennie said:
“MFY has given me the opportunity to see how I handled the act of performing, how important the presence of an audience is, how I handled the before and after effects of a performance. The experience has taught me a lot about myself that has gone far beyond only the music-making. It has taught me the importance of how music is our daily medicine and how we can each make a difference and ultimately a bridge with ourselves and others.”
In the 1990's, the quality of the music began getting even more advanced, both in terms of the music and the type of musicians that were coming through.
“By the 90’s some of the young musicians we had were just stunning. We had Oboist Nicholas Daniel performing with MFY.”
— Larry Westland, Founder of Music for Youth
Many Music for Youth alumni have gone on to take groups themselves to Music for Youth events.
“In 1993 I was leader of the Gwent Youth Wind Symphonia and we performed Milhaud’s Suite Francaise in the National Festival in the South Bank. 25 years later I am very privileged to be the director of the same group (now called Gwent Youth Wind Orchestra) who will be performing in the opening night of the Schools Proms in the Royal Albert Hall!”
— Beth Linton, Gwent Youth Wind Symphonia, Gwent Youth Soloists, Gwent Youth Big Band
“I played at the Schools Prom in 1997 with my music centre jazz band! As a teacher and conductor I wanted my students to experience what I did with Music for Youth - and I’ve been lucky enough to bring choirs to several national festivals and conduct at school Prom in 2011.”
— Andy King, Holme Valley Big Band
“I remember thinking I wish I could keep doing this and I’m so happy that I decided to teach and years later take the children to MFY just like my teacher did for our band.”
— Alicia Brown, 1996 Proms
Music for Youth has always strived to be as diverse as possible in regards to the music and performers it gives platforms to
“We had a Sitar and tabla ensemble called the Birmingham schools Indian classical ensemble. Music for Youth give opportunities that are so unique that the end product is you get to perform on the best platform in the world. The opportunities we have had over the years and the connections we’ve made with MFY have been very strong.
You need a platform for diversity and this has come from Music for Youth. They are ambassadors for platforms of diversity. They give every individual an opportunity, a chance.”
— Harjit Singh, Head of World Music & Percussion at Services for Education, Birmingham
In 1999, Music for Youth celebrated 25 years of the Schools Proms on 8, 9 and 10 November 1999.
Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, commented:
“Music for Youth’s Schools Prom concerts have touched the lives of many young people over the last twenty - five years. Those who have taken part, and who are now engaged in many diverse activities across the whole of the United Kingdom, will always remember with warm the opportunities afforded by this popular and well-loved event. I hope that many more young people will be able to enjoy the excitement and spectacle that the Schools proms offer, and I send Music for Youth my congratulations for this success, and my best wishes for its future activities.”
By the 2000's, Music for Youth was flourishing with thousands of young people taking part in their programmes.
“I am lucky to have so many MFY memories, but my long lasting favourite two would be the National Festival in 2000, in the Royal Festival Hall, when the County Youth Concert Band performed David Gillingham’s Apocalyptic Dreams and gave one of the most complete performances I think I have ever experienced of any piece. They were amazing and the reaction of the audience was astonishing. I listen to the recording to this day, but have never been brave enough to revisit the piece and play it again for fear of not being able to match the excellence”
— Peter Smalley, CEO of the Northampton Music and Performing Arts Trust
Throughout the early 2000’s, Music for Youth was working to not only be musically diverse, but also ensure young people from diverse background were given opportunities for free performance platforms.
In 2005, the National Festival of Music for Youth relocated from London’s Southbank Centre to Birmingham, where it has taken over the centre of the city for the last 15 years and offered young musicians opportunities to perform on the iconic stages of Symphony Hall, Town Hall and what is now the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
“Apart from Music For Youth’s significant educational value, it’s also a huge source of inspiration for the young people involved. As young performers and teachers, we need inspiration. And if at an event, you have a great setting, a good audience and a real sense of prestige and purpose, then you’re going to perform better. So often we’ve raised our game musically because of the opportunities that Music For Youth give us.”
— David Little, Wigan Music Service
2014 saw the launch of Music for Youth’s new offering Frequencies, a new programme which reached out to young people making their own music independently of schools and music services. Following on from the RPU Festivals (Rock, Pop, Urban) which started in 2009, Frequencies offered new opportunities for young emerging artists to perform in authentic gig venues, and to rub shoulders with music industry professionals who might help shape their future careers.
Other new projects such as the ‘New Music Stage’ and ‘National Twinning Project’ and ‘MFY Connects’ began to expand the charity’s remit.
In 2015, Music For Youth renamed the Proms events from the Schools Proms to Music for Youth Proms, to reflect how the charity was vastly expanding its programme, the artists they worked with and their types of partnerships.
2015 also marked another change: Up until this year, the Music for Youth Proms closed with Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory. In 2015, the charity wanted to represent the voice of the young musicians who were taking centre stage. Music For Youth decided to replace Elgar’s famous piece with a specially commissioned finale to involve 1000 young musicians each night. Joe Broughton, who was Music for Youth’s Artist in Residence, wrote the 2015 finale.
"All I can say is when we were travelling back at midnight from the Proms last year with Azaad Dhol Group who performed Bhangra beats on the Dhol, I asked the young musicians 'how do you feel?'. They said, “that is the greatest experience we've ever had that will be with us for the rest of our lives.”
- Harjit Singh, Head of World Music & Percussion at Services for Education, Birmingham
2020 - MUSIC FOR YOUTH’S 50TH BIRTHDAY
The year saw the launch of new and exciting programmes and collaborations which reflected the needs and aspirations of young people today.
With music for, by and with youth as our driving force, Music for Youth is making room for creative conversations. The shift contributed to the evolution of music communities coming together to tackle the social issues of today.