Youth orchestra faces funding axe

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Brian Chappell conducting the Coventry & Warwickshire Youth Orchestra at Warwick Arts Centre, May 2018

A HIGHLY regarded youth orchestra is having its funding withdrawn, throwing its future into doubt.

The Coventry and Warwickshire Music Hubs have decided to withdraw funding from Coventry and Warwickshire Youth Orchestra (CWYO) from September 2019.

The orchestra is due to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2021, when Coventry becomes City of Culture, but says it may not reach this momentous date without further funding.

Many local children rely on the orchestra, which meets every week, to nurture their musical talents and as a platform to showcase their talents at one of its six yearly concerts.

CWYO conductor and director Brian Chappell, who has been with the orchestra for 35 years, said: “Successive governments have given less money to music education. I can remember my own children, aged nine and seven at the time, protesting to ‘Save Our Music Service’ 25 years ago.
“As a consequence there has been a demise in teaching children to play music; and they are not given opportunities to learn a range of instruments. An orchestra is like a football team, it relies on many parts – if you don’t have a goalie you are lost. And similarly we find that there aren’t children skilled in playing bigger instruments, such as the double bass, and so we have struggled to recruit sufficient players to maintain a full symphony orchestra.”

The orchestra receives £5,000 a year each from the Coventry and Warwickshire Music Hubs, plus a small contribution to a weekly music tutor.

Justifying the cuts, a spokesperson for Warwickshire Music told Midweek: “Warwickshire Music receives its funding from Arts Council England and this money has been falling in real terms. As a result it has become increasingly difficult to provide money to run the Coventry and Warwickshire Youth Orchestra, the cost of which has been increasing year on year. This has led us to make the difficult decision to withdraw this funding.”

They concluded: “There will continue to be an orchestral offer in the region: we are currently exploring a brand new and exciting partnership with Solihull Music, Coventry Music, The National Youth Orchestra and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire which will preserve a top quality orchestral offer for all young people in the region.”

Brian maintains that Warwickshire have not increased their contribution over the last three years, and that nothing could replace the musical instruction, support and friendship the children find in playing with CWYO at their weekly Friday night practices.

Speaking of the decision he said: “They announced the cuts without any consultation. Negotiation is the key to success, and I feel miffed that we haven’t been allowed a say.”
Asked what he thought music gives the children, Brian responded: “Music in the community enhances life beyond what we can touch and feel – it enriches spirit.”

Ending on a hopeful note, Brian added: “With the addition of new players there is realistic potential to sustain and further develop the youth orchestra. Do please contact us via our website www.cwyo.org.”