Editorial: The Music for Youth Prom 2021 offered a glimpse of what is possible

Harriet Clifford
Thursday, November 4, 2021

With the right mentoring, support and empowerment, handing over huge amounts of responsibility and ownership to young people is no more risky than remaining bogged down by tradition, writes the Editor.

It’s been years since I last stepped foot into the Royal Albert Hall. Like most of us, I have missed the spectacle and awe of live music, particularly on this kind of scale - the dramatic lights, the excited rumble of thousands of people side-stepping into their seats armed with popcorn and wine, the giant ‘mushrooms’ hanging from the ceiling (they’ve always been softmints to me), and the pit-of-your-stomach anticipation of the performance to come. 

Last night (3 November), nearly 2,000 children and young people from around the UK gathered in the Royal Albert Hall to perform in the Music for Youth (MFY) Prom 2021. The culmination of a year of music making under the theme ‘REMIX’, the Prom was an opportunity for musicians of all abilities and ages to showcase their creativity. It was also the first time all 2,000 young people had come together to share MFY’s national creative project: All the Hall’s a Stage, led by Tim Steiner.

The last MFY Prom took place two years ago, and in the interim there have been virtual projects and festivals, but as chief executive Judith Webster points out in her programme welcome note: ‘We come together as different people. The world has changed.’ 

A deliciously refreshing mix of spoken word, orchestral music, choral works, rap, jazz, percussion, movement, digital content, poetry, pop, solos, and every other musical combination, the Prom reflected this change. We heard Nick Jonas’ This is heaven performed by Vocalize, Lord of the Dance from Northamptonshire County Youth Orchestra, Coldplay’s Fix You from Cornwall Country Choirs, a Daft Punk Medley from Musica Youth Jazz, Candance de Meroe from Youthsayers, The Rolling Stones’ I can’t get no satisfaction from Rubik’s Cube, and so much more.

When the first notes of All the Hall’s a Stage - Collage echoed around the building, many audience members (myself included) looked at each other with raised eyebrows and an expression of alarm on our faces. Is it meant to sound like this? What’s happening? Good gracious, maybe something has gone wrong! Our rigid brains, constrained by preconceptions about what music ‘should’ sound like, simply couldn’t fathom why we could hear Pirates of the Caribbean, Sunday Soul, Shine Jesus Shine, My Hood and multiple other pieces of music all at the same time. But the music from the stage, the pit and the stalls, conducted incredibly by Tim Steiner, shook us up, pushed boundaries, and reflected a much-needed reset - or, remix.

Not only was the music diverse, relevant, moving, and topical - themes covered included the environment, the pandemic, the future, grief, social justice, joy, friendship, and family - but the performers themselves were diverse in every sense of the word. Nothing felt tokenistic, and musical talent was celebrated and showcased on its own merit. Pop/rock choir Rubik’s Cube sang and used Makaton sign language while performing, and the group consisted of more than 30 young people with special educational needs - the medley of songs ranging from The Beatles to High School Musical was joyful, life-enhancing, and filled with hope. Mother and son duo Shia and JL’s performance oozed passion, love and energy, and a gasp erupted around the Hall when, after his stunning performance on the clarinet, Shia told host Remel London that he is 10 years old.

While innovative and diverse programming is one thing, MFY went one step further, inviting three talented young presenters to join Remel London as the event co-hosts. Lewis Greaves (15), Aliyah Nelson (19), and Phoebe Jarvis (17) commanded the stage, spoke confidently about their lockdown struggles, shared their musical passions, and stood up there as role models for every single child and adult in the Royal Albert Hall. 

This youth-led approach did not feel like a gimmick or a nice-to-have - it felt absolutely fundamental. With the right mentoring, support and empowerment, handing over huge amounts of responsibility and ownership to young people is no more risky than remaining bogged down by tradition. The MFY Prom 2021 showed that inclusive, diverse, youthful, joyful, accessible, relevant, awe-inspiring, passionate, energetic music making is possible. 

Not only is it possible, but it is essential if we want (which surely we do) to continue inspiring young people in their music education, in the broadest sense of what that can be. 

The Music for Youth Prom 2021 was sponsored by the National Education Union, the Vivendi Create Joy Fund, Unity Trust Bank, PPL, the Musicians’ Union, Hal Leonard Europe, Trinity College London, and Ev-entz Music.