National Open Youth Orchestra leads the way

shesaid.so Intersectionality Committee Director, Yasmin Lajoie, speaks to Jamie, saxophonist and member of the National Open Youth Orchestra

Jamie — NOYO musician

Jamie is a saxophonist in the National Open Youth Orchestra (NOYO), the world’s first disabled-led national youth ensemble. It’s a pioneering inclusive orchestra where 11–25 year old disabled and non-disabled musicians rehearse and perform together. It works with cutting-edge composers to create exciting new music written for a wide range of musicians and instruments: both acoustic and electronic, such as the ClarionTM, which some National Open Youth Orchestra musicians play with the movement of their eyes. The National Open Youth Orchestra is delivered in partnership with Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning in London, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Bournemouth, Bristol Beacon (Bristol Music Trust) in Bristol, Midlands Arts Centre, Town Hall Symphony Hall and Services For Education in Birmingham.

I’m in my 3rd year as a member of NOYO.

I like the aspect of personal expression to music and being able to convey my own interpretation of a piece.

I’m a big fan of playing by ear. Transposing onto a saxophone (tuned to E flat) isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I like being able to play some of the songs that get stuck in my head.

My music tastes are very varied and mainly centre around playlists I make for various D&D characters (finding songs with appropriate lyrics, songs that the character would listen to and songs that just remind me of them).

Despite going to a secondary school with multiple bands, orchestras and choirs, I never felt able to sign up for anything as there were no real access arrangements, and despite having a good relationship with all the music teachers, I felt afraid to ask for any. Had my mum not told me about the NOYO auditions, I likely would’ve stopped playing altogether. Having access to supportive and inclusive spaces is really important and I sincerely hope that the existence of NOYO helps people better understand that.

Adjusting to lockdown in general was a bit rough, but practicing my parts for NOYO provided a way to fill up the gaps in the day, and I’ve found the Zoom rehearsals just as beneficial as the in-person ones.

I think NOYO is important as it exists as a disabled-led space. While other orchestras do make efforts to be inclusive, these efforts don’t or can’t always extend to everyone within the disabled community. Creating a new space that invites and supports a wider range of disabilities is a big step forward for disabled musicians.

I really hope the orchestra can expand further across the country and even reach overseas to support other disabled musical groups and encourage the creation of new ones.

I want to go into the film industry and become a screenwriter, with some aspirations of directing my own films. But some recent experience helping to arrange a piece I selected for NOYO to play has given me the idea of potentially scoring and soundtracking films and TV shows (as I find music to be incredibly important to the viewing experience).

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