When recently Gramophone ran an online feature about the world’s most inspiring orchestras – focusing exclusively on their social roles rather than their musical quality – there was a fulsome reaction. Readers wrote to voice their approval and media outlets reported on the initiative. Music has always had a transformative power; it can help to give lives direction, even to give life itself a measure of clarity and meaning. More practically, perhaps, the meritocratic system of auditions can provide a way up for those from underprivileged backgrounds.
All of these benefits have been demonstrated by the much-lauded Venezuelan Sistema and its most famous graduates, Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. Yet, with all the praise heaped upon these young players and their charismatic conductor, it might seem, judging from the media coverage, as though there has been little elsewhere of any comparable worth. Rather, the sistema’s moment in the sun ought also to focus attention on the many other marvellous schemes around the world.
In the UK, for instance, the voluntary music-making sector is enjoying something of a boom time in terms of popularity. According to the umbrella organisation Making Music, in England alone there are currently more than 11,000 voluntary music groups, the overwhelming majority of which play classical music. Making Music’s members, which represent only 20 per cent of all UK groups, comprise in excess of 180,000 music volunteers. Their member groups conduct some 1400 educational workshops each year and present more than 10,000 musical events to 1.6 million people. So Gramophone felt it was high time to recognise with a special award the people who make this happen.
Nor would this award go to an acknowledged star. We wanted to recognise the unsung heroes, the people who spend their days, often their precious spare time, coaxing and cajoling people to join in with their vision. Those, perhaps, who devote themselves to finding people they can help – the homeless who can find new friends and a sense of purpose through singing opera, the elderly or infirm who find themselves able to contribute through music, or simply those who desperately need an outlet for their creativity.
That is why, in partnership with The Times (renewing our collaboration from last year’s Gold Disc), Gramophone has scoured the country for a winner of the newly created Music in the Community Award. This is a prize to be given to someone who has, to an inspiring degree, transformed lives through music in the voluntary sector. It will be decided through a public vote, and announced at the Classic FM Gramophone Awards, held in London on October 2.
The shortlisted organisations are:
Folkworks, which celebrates and encourages participation in folk and traditional music-making.
Lost Chord, which takes music to sufferers of dementia
Pie Factory Music, an organisation working with young people in East Kent
Silver Singers, a choral organisation for older people, based in Tyneside and Northumberland
Streetwise Opera, a musical charity working with the homeless
To read more about these organisations, and to nominate which you think should receive the Music in the Community award, visit The Times.