Young People Need Classical Music

Ahead of the premiere of his RPS/Classic FM commission at ABRSM’s event Shine, Jack Pepper writes how important it is that young people are able to access and explore classical music.

The music world is too often concerned with debates about elitism, snobbery and archaism. The problem is that too often this debate is being conducted by adults.

In the Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music from 1906, Ferruccio Busoni spoke of the “unawakened capacities” of music. Whether it be an undiscovered or underperformed composer like André Mathieu, or a recently discovered piece, classical music is a realm of discovery. What makes it so fascinating is its ability to reveal something new to everyone, be they a seasoned concertgoer or an open-minded newcomer.

RPS/Classic FM Young Composer: Jack Pepper

I recently had the pleasure of taking a friend to the Royal Ballet to celebrate his eighteenth birthday, the first time he had had the opportunity to visit the Opera House; here was a young man who, despite having never visited Covent Garden, was eager and excited to embrace classical music. Here was someone who was genuinely thrilled at the prospect of live classical music. Here was someone who, admirably open-minded and inquisitive, embraced the chance to enjoy the genre when the opportunity arose. Sitting rows behind a live orchestra, the vitality of classical music was overwhelming. Equally, my ten-year-old piano pupil has been entranced by Holst’s The Planets ever since her primary school teacher introduced her to the composer; her face lights up when we discuss the way Holst generates a terrifying atmosphere in Mars through col legno strings and that insistent ostinato. These examples demonstrate both the “unawakened capacities” of classical music to stir the excitement of more young people, as well as the “unawakened” interests of so many of today’s youth, who simply have not been given the opportunity to embrace the genre. The undeniable fact is that there is a huge market for classical music waiting on Spotify, on YouTube, in schools and on social media; young people are receptive, and classical music must be receptive to them.

Classic FM’s recent RAJAR statistics highlight this exceptional willingness to embrace classical music on the part of young people; 934,000 people below the age of 35 now listen to the station every week, an increase both year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter. Indeed, over half of the station’s 1.4 million followers on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram are under 35. It is evident that there is a growing appetite for classical music amongst young people, provided we can find the best ways of getting this music to reach them in the first place. Neither my friend nor my piano pupil would have listened to the music they now so enjoy if they hadn’t have been introduced to it by others. This is where superb schemes like the BBC Ten Pieces programme are vital, for in exposing young people to a broad and representative selection of classical pieces, the genre is immediately made more open and accessible for the adventurous beginner.

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BBC Radio 3’s ‘The Listening Service‘ with Tom Service presents a journey of imagination and insight, exploring how music works.

Classical music is too often labelled elitist, archaic and unexciting, yet the Ten Pieces project – along with such fantastic radio programmes as Catherine Bott’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know… and Tom Service’s The Listening Service – challenge this unfounded stereotype by making the genre open to all, modern and alive. Too many of my contemporaries think classical music ‘finished’ when Beethoven allegedly shook his fist at the Heavens before passing away in 1827, and this image of classical music as a conservative – hence ‘safe’ (which equals unexciting) – art form must be challenged. Yet this might not be as difficult as you think. Young people love exploring, love discoveries, love exciting possibilities. As Alan Davey rightly argued in a recent article for the Guardian: “young people are not afraid of things that need to be worked through.” Mendelssohn composed his Octet aged sixteen.

And how important it is that young people do explore. In embracing classical music, we can better grasp the world around us, as well as the destination we’ve travelled from and seem to be travelling to; music is a fundamental part of world culture, and in the same way studying Harlem Renaissance Jazz teaches us about racial attitudes in 20th century America, so the study of JS Bach’s chorales reveals something about the nature of Lutheran religion in 18th century Germany. In this way, the study of classical music opens up numerous other studies, be it contemporary dance or Romantic poetry. For young people, music can be an instruction in a thousand more disciplines than music alone.

Nor is there reason to avoid this wealth of culture, for it is available at our fingertips; as of March 2017, Spotify had 50 million paying subscribers worldwide, whilst YouTube has over 1 billion users. Classical music is more accessible than ever; indeed, the very notion of musical genres dissolves when, on the same playlist, I can enjoy John Mayer followed by John Dowland. Music is more wide-ranging than ever because it is more wide-reaching, yet classical music must continue to harness such technology to further open itself up for exploration. The “unawakened capacities” of technology can bring out the “unawakened” enthusiasm of countless more people for this exciting genre.

RPS/Classic FM Young Composers: The seven young composers chosen to write a new piece of classical music each to celebrate the station’s 25th birthday.

This opportunity for exploration is exactly what the RPS/ Classic FM commission is doing for young composers today. The commission is a valuable chance for us to develop our own compositional voices, whilst working with professional musicians and exploring the fascinating world of both broadcasting and formal commissions. What could be more exciting for a young composer than an invitation to the RPS Music Awards, attended by such names as Stephen Hough CBE and Dame Felicity Lott? This is proof that classical music is an open and accessible world for young people, and that classical music is for youth as well as for any other age. Yet this commission is also a sensational opportunity to open the genre to an even broader, younger audience; by identifying classical music with young people, the genre suddenly becomes one associated with greater inclusion, excitement and possibility. This desire to introduce more young people to the genre influenced my inclusion of references to some of the best-known classical pieces in my commission; I hope that this will engage listeners to multiple pieces by listening to only one. The RPS is a model of the variety and possibilities offered by classical music, giving valuable chances to young performers and composers; Classic FM is doing the same for young listeners. Now we must make this known; we must reach young people in new and exciting ways, making music embrace them as much as the other way round.

The music world is too often concerned with debates about elitism, snobbery and archaism. The problem is that too often this debate is being conducted by adults. This is a blog written by a 17-year-old, who loves classical music passionately and wants other young people to share the same incredible experiences the genre has given me. There are numerous articles about the importance of classical music, debating whether or not the genre faces a crisis or a new dawn, but all too often this is a debate about youth, conducted only between adults. We need classical music to be visible, accessible and exciting for young people. The best way to do this is to have young people associated with the genre. Some will forever harbour “unawakened capacities” to enjoy classical music, simply because they were never given the chance to embrace it. Let us breathe life into the “unawakened capacities” of classical music to energise today’s young people. It has done so much for me.

Written by Jack Pepper

Jack Pepper was one of seven composers commissioned by the RPS and Classic FM to mark the station’s 25th birthday. His fanfare “Signal” will be premiered at ABRSM’s music education event, ‘Shine‘. on Friday 7 July, 11am at the Barbican


Imogen Hancock: Reflections on Oslo

Trumpeter Imogen Hancock recounts her two months spent studying in Oslo on her RPS Julius Isserlis Scholarship.


One month after returning from Oslo, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on my trip. The first night that I arrived in early January, I sat in my apartment looking at the calendar on my phone and saw that it was day 1/49. I was excited to finally be in Oslo, but 7 weeks was already starting to feel like a very long time… In reality, the weeks absolutely flew by!

I was out there to study privately with a number of different teachers – primarily soloist Tine Thing Helseth, Brynjar Kolsbergsrud (Oslo Philharmonic) and Roeland Henkens (Den Norske Opera/Ballet). During my 7 week stay, I had a total of 17 trumpet lessons and found each one inspiring.


I was given much food for thought about my future. One lesson I had was with American trumpeter and composer Tony Plog. Tony’s advice is to “follow your bliss” – to do what really inspires you and what makes you happy… “a career will usually follow!” As a new freelancer, I am enjoying taking on all sorts of opportunities, as I never know what they’ll lead to or who I’ll meet. However Tony’s motto has also made me more conscious of where I want to invest my energy.

There was a lot to process from the many lessons and discussions I had and I found that I loved the independence and freedom of living in my own apartment. It was about 10 minutes by bus from the centre of  Oslo and I enjoyed hosting friends for dinner and exploring many parts of the city. I was fortunate enough to be given access to Oslo’s English Church (St Edmund’s) where I practised every day and also played in a couple of their services.


A recent United Nations report shows Norway as officially being the happiest place on Earth… and I can totally believe it. Oslo is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to and I didn’t come across one unfriendly Norwegian person during my entire trip. The sunrises and sunsets were picture perfect and the snowy scenes and cityscapes could have been from postcards. I didn’t learn much of the language in the end (since almost everyone there speaks impeccable English) but, being blonde, I was very often spoken to in Norwegian!

I’m so grateful to the Royal Philharmonic Society for supporting me and my trip – both financially and personally. I originally received the Julius Isserlis Award towards studies in Germany but I ended up taking a different route and was supported by the RPS throughout. It’s been a perfect example of one door closing and a better one opening, and I couldn’t imagine a more wonderful experience than my trip to Oslo.

by Imogen Hancock – 2015 RPS Julius Isserlis Scholar

I’m Not a Conductor

The RPS recently announced a new partnership with Women Conductors, the internationally award-winning programme of conducting workshops designed to support and encourage women to be conductors of classical music. Here is a guest blog from Becky Chalmers – a recent Phase 2 workshop participant – who strongly urges anyone considering a Women Conductors workshop to “just do it”!

I’m not a conductor. So why then have I recently found myself stood up in front of professional orchestras on two occasions with the role of conductor?

The first was a private event where I was given the score along with a brief conducting lesson in the taxi en route to the rehearsal. (I asked someone to get a photo that I could send to my mum.. I think my facial expression pretty much sums up how I was feeling at the start!)

My second experience was a day of 3 educational concerts for 6 year-olds. This time I got to conduct dressed as a skeleton (we had based the pre-concert workshops on Danse Macabre) and was definitely saved by my skills as an animateur!

So, I had two options. Either to say no to these opportunities because “I’m not a conductor”, and in doing so setting myself a limit for my career at the grand age of 28. Or, I could just get over myself, drop the excuses and do something about my lack of conducting skills.

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I poured myself a large glass of wine and Googled “Conducting Course London”. After sifting through a few uninspiring entries, my attention was drawn to Women Conductors @ Morley College. Now with the Royal Philharmonic Society, these courses are designed to get more women conducting, from full time students/recent graduates aged 16+ to older music professionals and teachers.

I couldn’t quite believe it. There was a course specifically for Animateurs and Music Leaders on the one weekend I wasn’t due to be working. I had missed the application deadline but Alice Farnham, international conductor and the founder of these courses kindly let me take part regardless of this. I had no idea I was in for such an inspiring weekend.

We were given some orchestral repertoire to prepare as well as some Beethoven Piano Sonatas. I wasn’t at all sure what to expect, and had a last-minute rush to buy a baton in case we needed one – didn’t want to be the person that came unprepared!

The course

On the Saturday morning I arrived at the venue, Kings College London, to be greeted by a room of about 9 equally apprehensive-looking women. However Alice, the course leader, instantly put us all at ease with her approachable manner, none of the stiffness or formality you might expect when imagining a conducting course.

What followed was an incredible two days of leaP1000934.JPGrning, personal development and laughter. There was absolutely no judgement between participants and instead the room was filled with sense of playfulness – the type of fun yet focused environment that frees everyone up to do their best. We all had different reasons for taking part yet shared a desire to learn as much as we could and get the most out of the two days as possible.

We learnt a lot about technique and used Beethoven piano sonatas to learn beat patterns and how to do a “bounce” and “circles” for legato. We focused on giving clear upbeats full of character and eliminating extra unnecessary body movements such as nodding on the first beat of every bar or bending knees!

Another theme that ran through the course of the two days was that of open and powerful body language. We even started Day 2 with some “power poses” which I have used since and found to really work! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a quick watch of this: Try it! (Probably best in private… 😉

Something else that helped me a great deal was a concept Alice introduced to us about holding the sound as a physical thing, Imagining picking up the sound rather than putting it down – keeping hold of the sound as if it actually is something. Almost like moving through water, there is a slight tension in the movement. I found this idea really changed the way I think about conducting.

P1000929.JPGWe were joined by two wonderfully supportive and encouraging repetiteurs, Fran and Nick, who stayed with us until the Sunday lunchtime. They were constantly giving really helpful feedback and were a really integral part of the weekend.

On the Sunday afternoon we then had the opportunity to take what we had learned and conduct string players who were alumni of the Southbank Sinfonia. This was again another great experience from which we gained a great deal. It was different altogether from conducting Fran and Nick on piano and posed different challenges.

For me, this course was invaluable. It has filled me with a new level of self-confidence and I have already seen positive results in my working life. A few weeks after the course I was conducting an orchestral performance consisting of beginner instrumentalists alongside professional players. After the concert, a violinist who had been in the orchestra I had conducted a few weeks before asked me what I had done to improve my conducting in such a short space of time. A percussionist also remarked that I now have the face of a conductor.. (not exactly sure what that means but I think it’s a compliment so am going with it!) Another player came up and simply shook my hand and gave me a smile that said it all.


The importance of these courses cannot be underestimated. As a teenager, I was too shy to even tell an audience what my name was and the name of the piece I was going to perform. I was also too scared to do anything if I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to be really good at it (the limiting effects of perfectionism). If you had told my 16-year old self that I was going to make a living out of standing up in front of groups of people and getting them to make music together, I would have thought you were mad. These courses give people like me an opportunity to come to conducting a bit later and to learn in a safe space and develop skills that allow us challenge ourselves and develop our careers further.

Not only does it give us great learning opportunities, it also gives us access to a network of many other young women who are in a similar position. This is incredibly valuable as a freelance musician as although it is a wonderful career, I sometimes find that working for yourself can feel a bit isolating.

My advice to anyone who is considering doing one of these courses is simply to just do it. There is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain…

Women Conductors is now entering an exciting new stage as it partners with the Royal Philharmonic Society. Check out the details and book now for the upcoming Phase 1 course here:

I have been so inspired by this course that I intend to form a small orchestra that meets occasionally to provide an opportunity for conductors to put what they are learning into practice. If you read this and would like to get involved either as a player or conductor drop me an email. Alternatively, if you are able to help in another way, perhaps knowing of affordable (free?!) rehearsal space or helping with printing of music please also get in touch 🙂 –

This is a featured guest blog from Becky Chalmers:
Twitter: @beckychalmersMD