When you’re a Londoner with children to raise, a full-time job, and limited free time for volunteering, you choose carefully and hope that the time you invest yields positive results for people who deserve far more than you can give. That is why I write about my longest-lasting volunteer commitment: the London Youth Symphony. I joined its volunteers when my children were welcomed into LYS-and have continued for more than 25 years as a Board member.
Many Londoners would be surprised to know LYS has existed for almost sixty years! And it faces challenges few other youth music groups do. It’s not financed by a professional group in the city, by a conservatory, or by a university. Sixty years of fees, fund-raising, a few small grants, and ticket sales have let it welcome generations of young people from London and area into a fellowship that has changed their lives and prepared them for the future. An increase in financial support would allow them to stretch repertoire (by hiring a few young professionals at fair rates of payment), share an enthusiasm for performance with other Ontario youth groups, and introduce them to the tools of promoting their own talents.
There is no disputing the priceless benefits that orchestral study and performance give to young people.
Scientific research shows correlation between musical training and academic success. LYS members support their school programs, pay for private lessons, and cover fees (as low as we can make them) for their membership. I have seen many of our teen players win Fulbright scholarships, enter challenging fields that require abstract reasoning, and be welcomed into universities and conservatories abroad. When they return to Canada, they often play in community orchestras while pursuing stellar careers.
“Despite dedicated government mental health campaigns aimed at young people over the past two decades, youth suicide rates have remained steady”
I don’t quote that statistic to be shocking or manipulative. So many of our exceptional young people are too often bullied in school and unsure of their identity. Playing music lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety, and can strengthen immunological response. Playing the world’s best music in LYS brings the newly arrived Korean violinist, the Indian trumpet player, and the freckled kid from Ilderton together in a universal language. These kids perform together for hundreds of people at least three times a year- and the build-up of confidence is thrilling.
There are few better ways to build self-discipline and patience than the learning of challenging music. And that effort involves- it does not stifle- the creative side of a young person. In a digital age that seems to be making us all addicted to screens, playing music requires time, effort, commitment, and perseverance – as few areas of endeavour do.
Just this past season, I have seen these benefits put into action: young musicians have created the LYS website, started social media accounts, created fund-raisers to help their own musical outreach, volunteered with El Sistema groups and other charities, and been accepted to colleges and universities of their choice in many non-musical fields.
I will volunteer to help them in their endeavours as long as possible- and I know they would invest any new financial support in building a stronger community with their unique skills. I do not consider them “elite”- but they are very, very special.
Learn more about London Youth Symphony