Feature on Awards for Young Musicians

Do you want to get in to music but don’t have the money to pursue your dreams? Have you always wanted to play an instrument or get professional teaching? Then this interview is for you as we talk to Hester Cockcroft director of Awards for Young Musicians an organisation set up to help young musicians facing financial hardship.

When was Awards for Young Musicians set up?
Awards for Young Musicians (AYM) is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee, founded in August 1998. The organisation was set up as the result of the legacy of Robert Lewin, who left an extraordinary collection of instruments in his will, on the instruction that they be sold to create an endowment fund, which would help support the development of the UK’s most talented young musicians. However this fund is finite and reducing every year as we eat into the capital and AYM must therefore constantly fundraise in order to raise enough income to support our work.

Who was behind getting it off the ground and why was there such a need for Awards for Young Musicians in the
AYM got off the ground thanks to the work of its very dedicated Board of Trustees who arranged the creation of the charity and then employed a Director to run the organisation. The reason why there is such a need for AYM is simple: supporting and developing a talented young musician in order to enable them to fulfil their creative potential is extremely expensive. Huge investment is needed: hours dedicated to practice, travel to be taught by the best available teachers, specialised courses to expand musical horizons and build on skills, the purchase or loan of high quality instruments and a whole range of less obvious costs. Therefore in families where income is low it is often impossible for the money to be sourced to support these expenses. This is where AYM aims to help. By fundraising from a wide range of sources, we run an annual awards process, where £50,000 is distributed to the most talented young musicians in the greatest financial need. We also offer a year round advice and information service for young musicians and their families.

What age groups to you work with?

We support young people between 5 and 18 years old. In this year’s awards the youngest recipient was 7 and the oldest was 17.

What different types of awards do you offer and who is eligible to apply?

Awards are offered at a range of different levels, according to the recommendation of our adjudication panel, so they can be as low as £200 or as high as £2000. The average award this year was £800. To be eligible to apply a young person needs to show evidence of genuine financial need, and we ask for details of family income as part of the application process. They must also show strong evidence of considerable musical talent and real motivation. If they have taken music exams then exam results and examiners reports are helpful, but it doesn’t matter if they haven’t taken exams, as long as they can show that they have real musical ability. We also ask the young musician’s teacher to fill in a reference form and send it to us separately so that we can get their perspective.

What is the current state of young people learning to play instruments in the
UK? Is money holding many talented people back?
Provision is very patchy for young people who might want to learn to play an instrument. Some schools put a much higher priority on supporting their students musical development than others, and yes, much of it does come down to the funding available. This makes it difficult for young people who may have real talent to develop their playing, especially if their family income makes it hard for them to afford private lessons outside school hours.Government funding for music teaching in schools is very limited, and until the Spending Review later this year it is not known what kind of budgets schools will be given to support instrumental teaching beyond March 2008.However there are many highly committed organisations working in music education across the UK who are advocating very strongly for more government support for young people to develop their musical talents, whatever kind of instrument they might want to play or genre of music they are interested in.

What is your role in the organisation and what does your job involve?

I’m the Director. I took over running the organisation in May and my job involves developing the organisation’s work in the most strategic and effective way possible, so that we can make absolutely sure that we are doing all we can to support all the many talented young musicians out there who need our help. I’m writing a new Business Plan at the moment which will set out our vision for the next three years, and as part of this I’m talking to all sorts of individuals and organisations working in music up and down the country to discuss ways in which we can collaborate. It would be great to hear from the visitors to your site about how we might be able to help them more effectively, so do get in touch! My job also involves planning and managing new creative projects, fundraising to raise money for our work, publicising what we do in as many ways as possible, attending meetings and conferences, managing budgets – you name it, I do it!

How many young people do you help a year and how much money is given away in support?

This year we helped 62 young people, awarding a total of £50,000.

What are some of the popular instruments that young people ask you for support with?

This varies from year to year: this year we helped young musicians buy everything from new electric guitars and saxophones to bassoons and villean pipes. And please remember that it’s not just instrument purchase that we support we are happy to support all sorts of other costs that a young musician might need help with. For example the awards this year were for: 4 music school fees, 22 music lessons, 1 membership fees, 3 orchestral fees, 4 music course fees, 22 instrument purchase, 1 summer school and 1 travel costs. In addition four young musicians benefited from a three year award from us.

What advice would you give to any young budding musician out there?

Never stop working and never stop believing that you can make a career in music, but do appreciate that it will take a great deal of work and perseverance. You might become a millionaire rock star or concert pianist equally you might become a really skilled musician who works in disadvantaged communities to literally transform people’s lives through music.Success in music has many different faces and they’re all equally valid and equally important.
I’d also say do make the most of all the help that’s out there for young people wanting to develop their musical interests and talents it’s really worth doing your research. The UK has an incredible range of organisations who want to support you and the web is absolutely the best place to start looking.

How can we find out more about Awards for Young Musicians?

Visit our website at www.a-y-m.org.uk or call us on 0117 9049906 and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.Please note that the site is due for a major re-design, so don’t be put off by the fact that many of the images are of classical musicians we support talented young people playing all types of music.