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: Oslo – my trip so far…

My last four months of 2016 were spent planning and looking forward to a solo study trip to Norway in the New Year. It was an exciting prospect but also started to feel like a slightly crazy idea – moving to Scandinavia during the coldest, darkest months of the year! Still, kitted out with snow boots and woolly jumpers, I flew to Oslo on 4th January 2017. And now here I am, over half way through my trip, so I decided it was about time to write a post on what I’ve been up to so far…



In 2015, I was one of the recipients of the Julius Isserlis Scholarship, an award from the Royal Philharmonic Society given to graduating students who want to continue their studies abroad. My original plan had been to put this money towards a Masters degree in Germany. However after a change of plans, a fantastic year with Southbank Sinfonia and an inspiring week at the Voksenåsen Summer Academy, I finally chose Oslo as my destination.

Lessons and practice

The main purpose of my trip was to have lessons with a unique team of trumpeters: Norwegian soloist Tine Thing Helseth, Brynjar Kolbergsrud (Co-Principal of the Oslo Philharmonic) and Roeland Henkens (Principal of Den Norske Opera & Ballet). Since being here, I have actually also had a lesson with American trumpeter and composer Anthony Plog (I’d recommend anyone to read his blog!) and next week I’ll be playing to Jonas Haltia (2nd Trumpet of the Oslo Philharmonic).

So far I’ve had 10 lessons, and have felt more and more inspired after each one. It’s been fascinating to chat with these musicians about their careers and to really ‘talk trumpet’ – something which I don’t think I do often enough. I wrote down a number of goals when I arrived in Oslo (related to practice, learning new repertoire and making some career decisions) and I’ve found that reading these every morning has helped me to stay focused so far.

concert oslo.jpgSince I arrived, I’ve attended several rehearsals and concerts of the Oslo Philharmonic – with repertoire including Sibelius 2, Bruckner 4, Rachmaninov 2 and Pictures at an Exhibition, and Mahler 4, Bach BWV 51, Mendelssohn 4 and Ravel La Valse coming up in the next few weeks! Last week I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to the Oslo Opera House (Rossini Cinderella), I went to a concert at the Norwegian Music Academy (Bartok Concerto for Orchestra) and today I watched a performance by Oslo’s Military Band.

I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have made a contact (through Brynjar) at the English Church in Oslo. They have given me the freedom to practise in the church every day that I’m here, something which has totally transformed my trip. It is also a huge help that it’s only 10 minutes away from my apartment and the heating is always on..!!

Scandi Living

It is a well-known fact that Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I was therefore pretty anxious to find out how far my money would actually go! To organise my budget, I spent time booking my flights, renting an apartment through Airbnb and finding out how much each of my trumpet lessons would cost. The rest of the money could then be put towards food, travel and other living costs and – thankfully – it’s lasting ok…

brush lettering.jpgLiving alone was something completely new to me, and I have to say I’m enjoying the novelty of it! Having the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, has been great and I’ve had a lot of time to think and just ‘be’. I’ve also taken the time every day to read, do yoga and practise my new hobby – brush lettering.

I suppose one downside is that there’s been no one here to police the vast quantity of First Dates episodes I’ve watched or judge my cinnamon bun/chocolate intake (75%-off-Christmas-chocolate in the Lindt shop didn’t help…..!) But I do actually feel surrounded by friends here, from both the Voksenåsen course and the Royal Academy of Music. Other than London, I can’t think of another city in the world where I would actually know this many people, so I’m feeling very grateful indeed.


The more time I spend in Norway, the more I am falling in love with this wonderful country. The air and water feel clean and fresh; I’ve enjoyed stunning sunrises over breakfast, beautiful sunsets during afternoon walks and some magical snowfalls; I have truly found every Norwegian person I’ve met to be welcoming and friendly, and practically everyone speaks fluent English (I have been doing an online Norwegian course, though, to at least make an effort!). And, as nerdy as it may sound, one of the things I’m appreciating most is Oslo’s unbelievably efficient transport system. They’ve spent a lot of money on it but it’s definitely been worth it! London, take note…

Well there it is, a summary of my time here so far. I’m really excited to see what the next three weeks bring (other than visits from my lovely boyfriend, my best friend, seeing more of the city’s sights and doing some cross-country skiing) – and, of course, lots of trumpet playing!! I’ll be sure to post another update at the end of my trip but, until then, thanks for reading this far and here’s to a fabulous February.

by Imogen Hancok – RPS Julius Isserlis Scholar

Blog courtesy of

Soraya Mafi: The sacrifice behind operatic glitz and glamour

Susan Chilcott, one of the outstanding singers of her generation, died from cancer in 2003 aged 40. The Chilcott Award is offered biennially in her memory to an opera singer between the ages of 23 and 33 who, like Susan Chilcott herself, has the potential to make an international impact within the world of opera. The Award is specifically designed to enable advanced training or career development.

The recipient this year is soprano Soraya Mafi, who is currently a Harewood Young Artist at English National Opera. Here, Soraya writes about the practical challenges she faces in developing a career on the international stage…

I am an ordinary Northern lass who happened upon opera through encouragement by enthusiastic school teachers and singalongs at home with my Mum and Dad’s worn out cassettes of Pavarotti, Callas and Classic FM hits. I was 15 when I saw my first opera, ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’, through a school outreach project with Opera North. I was completely captivated. I thought opera was just about tortured, pathetic women struggling with ill-fated relationships. I had no idea that there were such sassy characters like Vixen Sharp-Ears in opera. I decided that night that I would one day be wiggling my own Vixen tail on the operatic stage.

I am an extremely fortunate person – I now get to do what I love for a living. 2x2 large heading Soraya take 2Making music professionally is an utter privilege that I never take for granted. Music transcends time, age, race and gender and can provide transformative moments of bliss. Opera, by combining singing with orchestral music, visual art, costume and written word allows the performer and audience to explore the many facets of human emotion in its most extreme and heightened state. Not only do I get to perform this stunning music with outstanding musicians, explore characters, poetry and constantly challenge my creativity, but I get to wear fabulous costumes and perform in beautiful venues. However, behind all the glitz and glamour is a tonne of hard work, determination and sacrifice.

As you progress through different stages of your career as a young artist, you soon realise that this is an immensely competitive profession, one where you must constantly grow and improve to earn your time in the spotlight. Opera singers are required to sing in a variety of styles and languages, and as more opportunities present themselves, expectations rise. Young singers have to adapt to these changes very quickly to take full advantage of such exposure

To many people, the word ‘opera’ is associated with luxury and privilege, but hidden behind the costumes, and the glorious music, every singer has had to address the practical cost of their art. For those of limited financial means, money (or lack of it) throws up additional obstacles. Trust me, the midnight Megabus back to Manchester after a show at The London Coliseum is a sure fire way to remind yourself of the extremes of this career!

Like many students, whilst studying, I worked to support myself. At the end of my undergraduate studies I had to consider my priorities – I was spending far more time working on a shop floor than in a practice room. I knew that I had to make a compromise. I decided to take a couple of years off from studying to work, earn and develop my singing privately so that I could hopefully save enough money to undertake a masters course. Then, my primary focus would be to seize opportunities and develop as a performer, rather than sacrifice my artistic advancement by constantly compromising my studies due to my work hours. This was not an easy transition – I had to be extremely resourceful and live a no frills, frugal existence. But, it was worth it.

These sacrifices and pressures are ongoing. Upon graduating from The Royal College of Music International Opera School, I was offered the incredible opportunity to perform the title role in Mozart’s Il Re Pastore for Théâtre du Châtelet – a contract in Paris…I had to pinch myself! However, the reality of affording rent in two cities straight out of college was not quite as thrilling. I didn’t get paid until the end of the rehearsal period, and being broke in Paris is not so fun – especially when you have the added stress of making your European début… in a lead role… at a new, more demanding professional level.

The costs of being a singer seem never ending: language coaching, music coaching, singing lessons, accompanist fees, rent in more than one city and a big one: travel. If there’s an offer of an audition for an opera house, conductor or director, you foot the bill. Hard work and determination is worth nothing if no one hears you!

The Chilcott Award will allow me to travel to companies all over the continent to sing for roles. It will also enable me to afford lessons with my teacher Janis Kelly, and sessions with the best coaches in the business to prepare me for the amazing opportunities I have, and hope to have for the next few, crucial years of my career.

Many singers have to make some stark choices as they develop, which is why awards, such as the Chilcott Award, are so vital in helping young singers to reach their full potential. For me, the award is a lifeline; a passport to artistic development and greater understanding of what I love most. When I am wiggling my cunning vixen tail on some future stage, I’ll always remember who backed me for the chase.

Soraya Mafi was awarded the £10,000 Chilcott Award in July 2016.