"The more you give as a conductor, the more you get back." Conducting the Music for Youth Proms

19 Dec 2019

Last month, Creative Director of the University of Winchester Music Centre, Neil Valentine, conducted 1,000 young musicians and singers at the Music for Youth Proms 2019 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. We find out from him all about this huge achievement and also speak to first-year student Josh Wooster (BA (Hons) Film Production) who played at the event.

Neil, you recently took centre stage at iconic music venue the Royal Albert Hall: what were you doing?

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I was conducting 1,000 young musicians each night as part of the Music for Youth Proms 2019.

I conducted a fantastic song called The Future is Us written by two young song writers especially for the event. It involved two Youth Symphony Orchestras, two Youth Jazz Orchestras, two incredible groups of soloists and massed choirs all performing together in celebration.

They were such joyous occasions, full of life, light, joy and celebration. The young people sang and played their hearts out and I was thrilled to be asked to bring it all together on the day. We had two rehearsals: one with all the instrumentalists (the orchestra and jazz orchestra) and then one with all the performers. It all synced up with some indoor fireworks and a balloon drop which created an incredible atmosphere of celebration. It was a rush!

What was it like to conduct over 2,000 young people in the finale of the Music for Youth Proms?

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It's one off the bucket list for sure!

I have been to the Albert Hall many times in different guises. I played there as a 14-year-old for the same event in 1996, I worked there as a steward between 2007-2009, and I have performed multiple times, but never conducted. And certainly not on this scale!

I was very nervous in the run up: I needed to make sure I was very prepared so that all the young people following me knew I would be there for them musically and guide them through the piece. I was the biggest version of myself I could be. The more you give as conductor the more you get back - and we got so much back. The young musicians really went for it and both nights were sensational!

The Proms event brings musicians of all ages and abilities together to make music. How does that ethos chime with the values of the University and the Music Centre?

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Music for Youth is all about celebrating young people, their potential and above all making memories for all the performers and their families. That is what we do at the University of Winchester Music Centre. We make memories for our students. We value individuals, work together, and use music to create new memories that will guide and inspire our students into their futures.

The Music for Youth Proms has the same ambitions. They value their performers, their groups, they work hard to put on incredible shows that give young people incredible memories. And I am delighted to bring my skills as a musician to the University as well as to charities such as Music for Youth.

Tell us how and why you became a Music Mentor for Music for Youth

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After working as a professional musician for a few years, I began facilitating music workshops, using music to inspire young people of all ages. Through this work I was invited to be a music mentor for Music for Youth.

As a mentor, I visit different parts of the country to listen to performances from lots of young people and try to offer some guidance and advice, whilst encouraging them to keep up their efforts to carry on improving and enjoying their music making. And that is what we do at the University of Winchester Music Centre: we make memories, encourage our students and have a great time whilst doing it.

Winchester student Josh Wooster was one of the young people taking part in the Proms. Josh: describe what the experience was like taking part as a performer?

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It's a lot of fun hanging out backstage with my friends and being in that sort of environment. We enjoyed going on walks and poking around different places. We may have gotten told off but it was worth it.

Playing on the stage is also pretty great. There were a couple of moments where it sort of hit you: where you were playing and who you were with.

It's a really surreal experience to be playing in your normal band, with your normal bandmates having a good time playing, turning around and seeing a few hundred singers and an orchestra behind you. It's not something I'm going to forget any time soon.

What do you enjoy about being part of the University's Music Centre?

I really enjoy how easy it is to get along with the people there. Seeing as how we all have the same interest in music, I find it easy to socialise and make new friends.

I really enjoy the University's Music Centre because of the camaraderie. I love being a part of the Jazz Collective. The fact that anyone who wants to can just join and be included is really something. I love it. It's not about being a virtuoso, it's just a love for the music.

Follow the University of Winchester Music Centre on social media:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/winchestermusiccentre

Twitter: @MusicCentreUoW

Follow Neil Valentine on Instagram here and Twitter here.

Follow Music for Youth on Twitter: @musicforyouth

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