On #BlackoutTuesday, music lovers across the world went silent, flooding social media with black squares to show support for racial justice and equality in the music industry and beyond. But, after the silence, a space has been forged: a space for listening, a space for learning, and a space for speaking out. Our community of young people want to educate themselves and raise their voices in support of racial equality, understanding there is work to be done, but knowing that as individual musicians playing their part in a collective orchestral whole, every person has the power and responsibility to make a difference.
This summer, we are opening up the space for conversation, as NYO and NYO Inspire musicians prepare to take a deeper dive into music by Black composers, with the aim of exploring, learning and discovering music by a more diverse range of voices.
As a musical starting point, we will rehearse and perform Mighty River by Belize-born British composer, Errollyn Wallen, a magnificent piece which explores the history of the slave trade in Britain, with spirituals and gospel music at its core.
Alongside the musical learning, this piece will be the jumping off point for contextual discussions: we are taking the opportunity to educate ourselves, and the young people in our community, to be alive to a range of viewpoints and stories, and equip them with an understanding to foster a more equal way forward in the sector. Diversity in orchestral music is absolutely central to this generation of young people, the future they want, and the future they hope to forge together.
We are sharing some of these tools alongside a multi-tracked performance of Mighty River and our own creative responses on this page, as well as our social media channels. You can follow our activity at #NYOMightyRiver.
We were delighted to be sharing a Mighty River of music at the Southbank Centre in October 2020. Over lockdown, our musicians immersed themselves in learning more about the context and history of music by Black composers, and researched music by a wider range of compositional voices to share with others. A small group of our musicians came together on 24 October 2020 to play Mighty River by Errollyn Wallen, and a selection of music they have learnt and loved over lockdown, live, in the Royal Festival Hall. The performance took place without an audience, and was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. We were really pleased to be joined by conductor and former-NYO bassist Kwamé Ryan, and musician and activist, Jermain Jackman, for a special performance of Amazing Grace.
Hear and learn more about five Black classical composers, recommended by renowned oboist, researcher and Decus Ensemble Artistic Director Uchenna Ngwe.
What have NYO musicians been listening to? Discover the stories behind the music and why we love these six pieces by composers of colour.
Find out more about Mighty River composer Errollyn Walllen, her influences and what inspires her music.
Read five things we learned about African American spirituals in our webinar with conductor, presenter and spirituals expert Ken Burton.
NYO Inspire trumpeter Eashan reflects on his experiences at the NYO Mighty River digital residency and the important role music has in bringing young people together and igniting change.