sun 19/09/2021

First Person: young musicians Brooke Simpson and Erin Black on the National Youth Orchestra's 'Hope Exchange' project | reviews, news & interviews

First Person: young musicians Brooke Simpson and Erin Black on the National Youth Orchestra's 'Hope Exchange' project

First Person: young musicians Brooke Simpson and Erin Black on the National Youth Orchestra's 'Hope Exchange' project

NYO double bass player and orchestral pianist on their part in a very special collaboration

Brooke Simpson and Erin Black playing at the Southbank Centre's 'Inside Out' last weekMark Allan

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain’s Hope Exchange is an explosive return to the concert platform for hundreds of teenagers like us, playing a variety of new pieces, with the preparation beginning in hundreds of primary schools across the country.

What Brené Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection perfectly summarises how we both feel about the project: “The belief in music’s incomparable ability to touch and resonate with the human spirit traces back to ancient civilisation through storytelling and philosophical musings”.

This is our opportunity to build on a previous collaboration, since we played together throughout lockdown, and it marks our first in-person NYO residency since the winter of 2019-20. After 18 months of pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone and interacting with NYO on digital platforms, where we focused on breaking the barriers presented by Zoom to build new creative skills (pictured below: the award-winning "Mighty River" project), the excitement of playing together again makes NYO’s Hope Exchange undeniably exciting.

As musicians and artists are getting back on their feet in a post-Covid landscape, we are determined to play our part in cultural recovery, which for us means spreading hope through our playing and showing that music is crucial to society. The Hope Exchange focuses our attention on the powerful role music can play in every corner of life, whether that be well-being, politics, or advocacy for equal access to education. We have also drawn on music’s power to inspire hope in us, when we have needed to feel connected throughout this year. Mighty River projectWe have worked together throughout NYO 2020 and 2021 and in July presented one of many primary school workshops as part of the Hope Exchange. This summer, NYO musicians are part of four separate rehearsal residencies: we have already been part of Residency 2, which culminated in a concert in Royal Festival Hall on 31 July (pictured below by Mark Allan). The programme consisted of Jessie Montgomery’s Soul Force (UK Premiere), Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, Ruth Gipps’ Horn Concerto and Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird Suite. Brooke is also a part of Residency 4, performing Laura Jurd’s CHANT, Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, Anna Clyne’s Sound and Fury and Schumann’s Fourth Symphony at a concert in Leeds Town Hall on 8 August. As young female musicians we are ecstatic to be working on so many pieces by women composers, another reason for optimism during the pandemic.

Our initial dive into the world of female composers came as part of NYO’s concert in the Royal Festival Hall last October. We had the amazing opportunity to perform Hades by the incredibly talented Mason Bynes. Mason is a young black female composer who helped us to discover her passion for music in bringing Hades to life in its UK premiere. This opportunity to discover a new piece of repertoire, as well as working in close contact with the composer, was the highlight of many lockdowns – and we are excited to be able to share this piece again through the Hope Exchange.

Brooke SImpson plays Mason Bynes's 'Hades'

When NYO shared their plans for primary school workshops, we immediately knew we wanted to collaborate, to show how ensemble music making has provided inspiration throughout the pandemic – as well as sharing our excitement about working with Mason Bynes. Through developing our Hope Exchange workshop, as well as the final presentation to Year Fives, we discovered how grateful we are for the incredible opportunities music has led to, as well as the lifeline music can provide, even when concerts and in-person rehearsals can’t go ahead. We received a list of songs from the primary school that they chose to inspire hope – “A Million Dreams”, “This Is Me”, “Don’t Stop Believin’ “, “High Hopes”, “Don’t Stop Me Now” andWe Are The Champions” – and we turned this into a Hope Medley specifically for the school. Our workshop gave them building blocks to improvising and encouraged the class to work in groups to create their very own pieces of hope, which could then be shared amongst all the schools involved – the idea being as though we are all sending each other “postcards of hope”, to share hope on a national level through music. NYO concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 31 JulyAs part of the Hope Exchange, we visited Brooke’s old primary school – a local comprehensive school with a passion for music. Visiting meant a lot to Brooke because the school has supported her with her music from the very beginning and it was so meaningful for us to try to inspire others. We had an amazing afternoon working with 18 Year 5 musicians in a workshop, creating music around their school values and the meaning of hope. We were both delighted to be able to show the instrumental skills we have, knowing it was a unique opportunity to encourage children to play other orchestral instruments.  After the workshop we led an assembly for the whole of Year 5. It was so moving to play and to hear the children singing along as we played our Disney Medley. They loved that Mason Bynes had recorded a special message for them all and that they then got to hear her music played live. During the Q&A it was lovely to reflect on the support we have received from our family, teachers and NYO.

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain’s Hope Exchange has been an incredible way to finish NYO 2021. Our summer residencies allow us to celebrate, through in person music making, the hope, inspiration, and passion for music that NYO has continued to encourage us to discover, even when Zoom was the closest alternative to performing. We have seen how incredible it is to share music with other young people, from Year 5s in a primary school to older teenagers we have met through this year’s online projects with NYO, and we want to meet more if we can. All of the tickets for our upcoming Hope Exchange concerts are free for teenagers, so we’re looking forward to meeting you...

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