A new youth band and a children’s choir are offering young people a route back to normality after the easing of Covid restrictions.
Both have been set up for free by the award-winning North Wales Music Co-operative which has sister organisations in Wrexham and Denbighshire.
Sessions are free to join and, at the youth band, participants do not need to own their own instruments but can borrow from the Co-op’s supply.
The idea is to make music more accessible for young people of all ages and backgrounds as well as boosting their mental well-being in the wake of hardships caused by the pandemic.
After just a few weeks in operation the band in Wrexham and the choir in Denbigh have proved an invaluable lifeline for children across the two counties.
Among the latest to sign up is Ethan Roberts, aged eight, who is proud to be the only student of the tuba with the newly formed Belle Vue Community Youth Band.
At first he contemplated learning the cornet but when offered the tuba he jumped at the chance even though it is almost as big as he is.
Smiling widely behind the lowest pitched instrument in the brass family, he laughed: “It’s great. I love it. I want to be the most famous tuba player from Wrexham!”
Fellow band members Angharad Roberts, 10, and David Moskal, nine, are excited at the chance to be learning face to face from professional tutors.
Live music lessons had to be put on hold during the pandemic lockdowns and were sorely missed by many young students, but the music co-operatives have worked hard to get them up and running again as restrictions ease.
Cornet learner Angharad said: “It’s great to be playing music with others in a group as it gives me more confidence. It helps to see others my age playing the same music and it’s reassuring to know that we all make similar mistakes and can learn techniques to overcome them.”
David is also learning the cornet but has his heart set on the drums.
He said: “I’d love to play the drums one day. They’re such a fantastic instrument. Maybe now I’ve joined the band I might get the chance.”
The youth band was set up for children aged eight to 16 by Wrexham Music Co-operative manager Scott Lloyd who said it has been a bumper success and now has about 20 regular attendees, with more places available.
He said: “The social and cultural demographic of this area is hugely diverse which means we have children in the band who speak about five different languages.
“Some have moved here with their families from war-torn and troubled destinations overseas and speak minimal English. But the beauty of music is that it is all encompassing. It has long been the language of friendship and harmony, and now it has become a catalyst for healing.
“With all that’s going on in the world it’s great to have a refuge in music, a safe space where youngsters can learn a new skill and freely enjoy being creative.”
Veteran soldier Scott played in an Army brass band before returning to Civvie street as a full time music tutor. He also works closely with Ifton Colliery Band and the Wrexham Concert Band both of which, like the youth band, meet at the Parciau Community Centre in Bellevue Park, Wrexham.
The Bellevue Youth Band has been greatly supported by Wrexham councillor Phil Wynn, Wrexham Council’s lead member for education, who helped arrange behind the scenes assistance including use of the park facilities for rehearsals.
He said: “I must admit that I can’t play any musical instruments myself but it’s great to come here and witness the enthusiasm and the joy on the faces of those who can.
“Whether they are more advanced players or complete beginners, it’s obvious that these young people are benefitting hugely and in so many different ways from the chance to once again play music together.”
The youth band and the choir in Denbigh have added to an already extensive itinerary of tutoring sessions and fun music themed activities laid on by the music co-operatives.
Founder and Head of Service, Heather Powell set up the not-for-profit co-operatives nearly a decade ago after funding cuts were made to music education services across Wales. Today they offer music sessions in 200 schools, covering more than 5,000 children, and they have more than 70 self-employed tutors on their books.
Heather thanked local and national arts and community organisations for their support, including Denbighshire and Wrexham Councils, Offa Community Council and the National Lottery community grants project.
She said: “We have faced many challenges keeping music lessons alive over the two years of the pandemic. With social distancing in force, face to face lessons were off the table and some instruments could not be played at all.
“It is massively rewarding not only to see our existing services back up and running again but the addition of new sessions like the youth band and children’s choir.”
The choir for primary school aged children meets at the Denbighshire Music Co-operative headquarters on Spencer Industrial Estate, Denbigh.
Co-operative leaders are overjoyed they have been able to set it up in time for the staging of the 2022 Urdd Eisteddfod in Denbigh.
The choir is led by classically trained mezzo soprano Sioned Terry who has performed at international sporting events, for the Royal family, and sung alongside international tenors Rhys Meirion and Wynn Evans.
She is helped with the Denbighshire Primary Choir by fellow Denbighshire Music Co-operative tutors, Dylan Cernyw and Morwen Blythin.
The choir has about 20 members to date at free weekly one hour sessions, where they are busy rehearsing a mix of Welsh and English language music.
Sioned is delighted to be back teaching face to face and says even though the choir meets after school time when children are naturally winding down from their lessons, they are still full of enthusiasm.
She said: “We have been hugely encouraged by how many children turn up each week and how keen they are to learn new songs. We have a good mix of both boys and girls, and they’re all looking forward to getting out in the community to do their first public performances.”
Dylan added that one of their favourites was the Sound of Music classic Do, Ray, Me, which teaches children the musical scale while actually singing it.
He revealed that they are hoping one of their first ever public performances will be at the Denbighshire County Council Queen’s Jubilee Service in June.
He said: “It would be a great opportunity to celebrate our music and our talented young people while also being a wonderful thankyou to Denbighshire County Council for the support they have given us.
Denbighshire councillor Mark Young, who is also Denbighshire Music Co-operative Chairman, said the co-operative was a credit to the local community.
He said: “We all know how good music is for the soul and we are blessed to have such strong advocates of music in the heart of our community especially over these last few difficult years.
“Heather and the whole co-operative team have done us proud keeping music lessons alive and offering our young people the chance to de-stress through their various music themed activities.
“It’s also great news that we now have a new up and coming young choir right here on our doorstep in the year when the Urdd Eisteddfod, one of Europe’s largest touring festivals, is due to be staged in Denbigh this spring.
“What a brilliant testament to our region’s musical heritage.”
The Urdd Eisteddfod was originally due to visit Denbigh in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. It is now scheduled to be held in the town from May 30-June 4.
The Denbigh Primary Choir meets on Thursdays at the Denbighshire Music Co-operative headquarters, Spencer Industrial Estate, Denbigh, from 4.30-5.30pm. For details visit: denbighshiremusic.com
The Bellevue Youth Band meets on Tuesdays at Parciau Community Centre, Bellevue Park, Wrexham, from 6.30-7.30pm. For details email [email protected] or visit their Facebook site.