Judith Webster, Chief Executive of Music for Youth

Jasmine Pradhan interviews Judith Webster, Chief Executive of Music for Youth, about the power of music to bring people together…

Tell us about Music for Youth: what is it and who is it for?

Music for Youth is a unique national youth music organisation and registered charity who believe in the power of music to transform young people’s lives. Aimed at young people under 21 years old, Music for Youth run high impact performance-based festivals and events on a large scale all over the UK for c.60,000 performers each year.

What role can music and other art forms play in bringing people together and fostering a sense of community?

Taking part in active music-making with others is a fantastic way to bring people and communities together. Music is a powerful form of non-verbal communication in which people can bond, empathise, celebrate, challenge, laugh or cry – regardless of whether they have a common language or even any language at all. We really see this at Music for Youth, when thousands of young people come together at our annual National Festival and feel that buzz of being with so many others who have a common passion. Music for Youth is a project full of hope and positivity.

Would you agree that initiatives like these are more important than ever in an increasingly divided world?

Absolutely. We provide opportunities for sharing, and for celebrating positive achievements. Through offering positive feedback to our musicians, and providing a supportive environment, we are fostering a sense of respect and giving young people a platform.

The discipline of group music-making itself demands that we take different roles, that we are sometimes in the spotlight and at other times we are in the background. But most importantly, we have to listen to others and work out where we fit in. These qualities have never been more important in today’s world.

Where did your passion for music and the arts come from?

I have always had a passion for music, and never considered doing anything else. In primary school, I heard some of my friends playing the piano together and decided I wanted to learn. So my parents bought a honky-tonk piano from the old lady next door for £5 and my journey began. I loved playing the piano on my own at home, and then took up the violin and fell in love with playing in orchestras with my friends. I was incredibly lucky to have my lessons for free in those days.

At one point in my life, I had an accident and was told I wouldn’t be able to play again. At times like that, when you have to fight to play at all, you really do appreciate what your music means to you.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t identify as having musical talent but is curious about learning an instrument?

Music is for everyone, and it’s never too late to learn. Explore. Have a go. Satisfy your curiosity!

How do you know whether you have talent if you haven’t had the chance to experiment?

I would advise people to follow your instincts and try the instrument you are intrigued by and drawn to. You don’t have to become an expert to be able to enjoy music-making.

You were due to have a celebratory birthday event called ‘The Future is Now’. What impact has COVID-19 had on the project?

We have cancelled our 50th birthday event, ‘The Future is Now’, in order to take preventative measures against COVID-19. At ‘The Future is Now’ (TFIN), multi-genre collaborations were to air between orchestral players, brass ensembles, choirs and R&B, indie, rap, soul and electronic artists, all whilst championing original music and the sheer scope of diverse music-making from the UK’s youth.

Due to the growing concerns regarding COVID-19 – and the eventual lockdown – cancelling TFIN was the correct decision to make. It was a difficult decision and extremely disappointing for the MFY team and all of our collaborators who were all so invested in TFIN and had worked on it for months.

It was also the launch event for MFY’s 50th anniversary year. Although the actual concert was cancelled, we are incredibly proud of the many musicians, arrangers, composers and crew who worked tirelessly on this collaborative project – which was ground-breaking for MFY and reflects the way we will continue to work – facilitating creative collaborations between young artists and giving them a high profile public platform.

How is the organisation adapting in this shifting landscape?

Although it was hard to anticipate the impact of COVID-19, this period has presented MFY with an opportunity to spend time “underground” as it were. Calling a halt to live events has allowed us to spend invaluable time researching, consulting on and developing our programme, planning for dynamic future projects and online programmes that are accessible, relevant and that reflect the core principles of Music for Youth’s national role. We will strive to give young people a voice and provide alternate creative outlets for them to share their music with the world from the confines of their homes.

It is often in times of adversity that creativity bubbles up and comes into its own. It is not dampened as a result of the current climate. We are thrilled to see the continued creative efforts of young people around the UK; it is truly inspirational. As a charity, we continue to support music-making of all kinds and have been pushing messages of encouragement and motivation via our social media campaign #HomeHappy.

What’s one piece of advice you can offer our readers of ways to get more involved with music?

When they’re back up and running, go to live music events. They are such a different experience in the flesh than through technology and can inspire you to get actively involved yourself. The British are fantastic amateur music makers, so there are highly likely to be local choirs or other groups to join in without too much difficulty. If you are a young person, get involved with Music for Youth! Our National Festival in Birmingham annually attracts 10,000 performers of all levels who come together to celebrate the power of music. The enthusiasm of the young people taking part is totally infectious – whether you are in the audience, or waiting to perform yourself. Don’t miss out.

Find out more about Music for Youth and the exciting things they have planned: www.mfy.org.uk

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