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Spotlight on partnerships: National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain

4 months ago
Catherine Arlidge MBE

Catherine Arlidge MBE

Catherine Arlidge MBE introduces the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain (NCO), where she is Artistic and Educational Director. Read on to find out more about this inspiring organisation and the auditions for their 2023 programme.


Learning an instrument can be tough – hours of practice, constant repetition and reinforcement, the scales and studies, the varied repertoire, the exams, the emotional highs and the lows… it is something of a roller coaster. So why do we do it and what is the ‘carrot’ that entices us, persuades us to dig deep and to continue; what inspires us to go on?

For the amazing young musicians at the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain, it seems that the ‘carrot’ is that buzz created by coming together as an orchestra, to make music in a far greater way than you ever could alone.

Every year, NCO unites 650 exceptional young musicians, aged just 8 to 14, from across the UK, to create, perfect and share great musical experiences. NCO strives for musical excellence through our distinct approach - we work creatively, we are proactive about the importance of individual wellbeing in body and mind and we help our young musicians to develop their own opinions and sense of identity. If this all sounds rather dry, most importantly we all want to have fun - to harness children’s innate playfulness and joy! And because we all learn so much more when we are enjoying ourselves.

So, working both in person and online, we create film soundtracks, set crazy taskmaster challenges, run quizzes, socials and sporty recreation, perform ambitious new pieces and enjoy meeting great icons and role models from the world of classical music and beyond.

In 2022, NCO Projects orchestras in four UK locations have performed two new compositions by Ryan Linham: impressive body percussion piece NCO Stomp and the powerful Coming to England created with saxophonist Nate Holder, about the Windrush Generation

NCO Stomp, composed by Ryan Linham

And there’s more. We love to discover new living composers, like those with whom we work as part of ABRSM’s composer mentoring programme. We champion work by composers who have been historically ignored or marginalised. We encourage our young musicians to compose, improvise and perform their own new music.

And we place children at the centre of our organisation.

We are in constant dialogue with our members about what they love and what they would like from us. And what they say time and time again is that they love how ambitious we are in our performance choices, they love the size of our huge orchestras and the opportunity to perform some of the most epic scores, and they love the friendships and sense of belonging.

NCO Members from 2020 and 2021 came together in person for the first time in two years last November, for their final NCO experience and a beautiful performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

We’re on a mission to make sure even more young musicians are able to apply for our programmes. Auditions are free and by video recording, we’re building partnerships to reach out further and wider, we now run both residential and non-residential activities and we have significant financial support available for those who need it.

When we create and share music together, exceptional, yet contradictory things happen: we are individuals and a team simultaneously, we are technically sophisticated yet expressively free, we use prescribed notation to communicate fluid emotion and we embrace both risk and trust. For all those hours of individual practice, honing our craft, taking those exams and understanding our own voices, surely the truest purpose of music is to converse, unite and share. As C.S. Lewis said: “We read to know we are not alone.” Is that not the purpose and joy of collective music making too?

Audition for NCO 2023 by 2 August 2022

There’s still time to audition for NCO 2023 – to find out more about their programmes for ages 8 – 14 and how to apply, visit the NCO website.

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