AYM Awards Day 2021 report

Clare Stevens
Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Awards for Young Musicians Awards Day took place online on 28 February. Clare Stevens reports.

Awards Day 2019
Awards Day 2019

Edward Webb

One of the main aims of the charity Awards for Young Musicians (AYM) is to bring together young singers, instrumentalists, music technicians and composers who may not normally meet or work with other young people who are as passionate about music as they are.

Under normal circumstances, what matters most about an AYM event is the range of personal contacts established through rehearsing and performing in the same space and chatting with kindred spirits in refreshment breaks. AYM’s annual awards day fulfils that function, with award holders meeting for a packed day of performance sessions or composer workshops before receiving their individual certificates, acknowledging that they are recipients of support from one of AYM’s varied programmes.

In the abnormal circumstances of 2021, AYM had to rethink Awards Day and present it as a webinar, benefiting from a partnership with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (BBCSO) and BBC Learning Team.

Participants included 25 BBCSO players and administrators and 150 AYM scholars, who were able to choose from a range of 21 individual activities. Sessions included practical instrumental workshops and masterclasses for small groups of flutes, harps, pianos, trombones/tubas, double basses, violas, bassoons, cellos, clarinets, trumpets and percussion; and a Q&A on songwriting with Lianne La Havas.

Two panel discussions provoked enthusiastic questions from the AYM participants. Four players from the BBCSO – violinist Cellerina Park, violist Peter Mallinson, cellist Morwenna Del Mar and trombonist Dan Jenkins – described their varied career paths and explored the pros and cons of going straight to music college or taking a university degree first; the rewards and practical challenges of studying abroad; and issues such as the danger of focusing too much on technical skills on one instrument rather than gaining experience of playing with other people and learning more about musical history.

They also emphasised the importance of choosing the right teacher, rather than one who may have a huge reputation but who does not suit your musical interests or personality, and stressed that there are many different routes to the same goal of earning a living as a professional performer.

Even more valuable, perhaps, in expanding the horizons of the young musicians was a session on alternative careers in the music industry. The professional contributors were Petra Abbam, who oversees communications and publications for BBC radio and television; publicist Ronni Mayes from Island Records; Tom Alexander, personnel manager for the BBCSO; and technical producer Joe Yon.

As well as outlining the scope of their jobs, they discussed the importance of volunteering for roles such as promoting events or recording performances, even while still at school, and recommended emailing organisations to ask for work experience as well as applying for formal traineeships and paid internships. They also highlighted opportunities available through the BBC’s training, mentoring and recruitment schemes, such as BBC Careers and BBC Talent.

The sessions were extremely well presented on Zoom by two AYM Alumni Trustees, violinist and teacher Mae Edwards and organist Caius Lee, reinforcing the charity’s aim to offer practical opportunities for developing skills and forging new relationships to former as well as current award holders. The event culminated in a virtual Awards Ceremony for this year’s 193 AYM winners, each of whom has received a means tested grant to support their musical journey.

Commenting on the event, AYM’s chief executive Hester Cockcroft said: ‘AYM exists because musical talent is everywhere but opportunity is not, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the obstacles faced by young people from low-income families. Young musicians often feel isolated at the best of times, particularly if they can’t make music in or out of school, and the current lack of in-person opportunities is a significant challenge.

‘Throughout the last year we have adapted and increased our funding and other support, helping young musicians with broadband and data costs, borrowing laptops, and moving the majority of our programmes and communities online to provide a series of inspiring webinars, get-togethers and workshops.

‘Awards Day 2021 was no exception; while nothing can match the experience of making music together as they normally would in one of the country’s top music venues, we brought together young people from across the UK for a day of exceptional music-making which we hope provided a similar sense of community and inspiration.’