“It is all about teamwork, motivation, ambition, and challenge.

Meeting people from all different backgrounds as well as all the

musical development. It’s developing social skills and confidence

and belonging in a group of like-minded people and it’s making

friends. That’s what Ulster Youth Orchestra is about”

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As Paula Klein, one of the leaders of the Ulster Youth Orchestra, describes what they aim to do at their charity, you cannot help but smile. It is a wonderful way to describe the group. A sense of being somewhere where people with the same interests as you, that you might not have had growing up.

“We often hear, ‘I didn’t really have many friends at school, but when I came to the orchestra I found my peer group and my family’. We’ve introduced people to teachers and they’ve even gone on to music college. We’ve even had two people go on and get married!”

The orchestra is for ages 14-23, Grade 7 and above, and the year leads up to a 10-day residential course that runs in the summer. The grant that is received from Black Santa allows the orchestra to fund 50% of the course and there is also help for anyone who needs financial support to be able to pay for the course.

“We do expect this year there will be extra difficulties for some families to meet the costs of the course, even with the discount. But we don’t think financial obstacles should get in the way of getting access to all the services that we have so we have the bursary to ensure as many people can take part as possible. We also own instruments that we lend out of long-term for free. One of the instruments that we loan is a £130,000 violin which was generously given to us by an arts council. We want people to experience all that they can through music.”

This year has been tough for charities and especially for families who rely on them not just financially but also for camaraderie and friendship. However, the orchestra did not want to let Covid19 bring them to a halt. As they say in showbiz, the show must go on.

“We ran the 10-day course online and did as much as we could on Zoom. We had talks and rehearsals and workshops, the sort of stuff we’d have done in person. We did 14 different recordings and the main one we did was with all 70 members which has kind of gone viral. It’s had 155,000 views on BBC News’ Instagram! It was a piece of Starkovski, which is a challenging one, and everyone recorded their own parts from their houses and a former member edited it together and it was released it to the public.”

It is the ambition in the face of a challenge that Paula had described that shines throughout this 10-day course and it was not just about the final piece of music. The value of the social side, the belonging, is clear as well.

“What we’re known for is the craic we have outside of the work, so we were able to still do that in the evenings, with quizzes and pizza nights. The kids really enjoyed that and they felt very much part of something. They said they felt they were almost at the course and not at home.”

It is hugely important that young people continue to have these charities that they can go to. In the year ahead, many children and adults will seek refuge in the charities where they have made so many friends and feel like they belong. We may be in unprecedented times, but that is something that should never change.

To find out more about Ulster Youth Orchestra, visit their website here.