A highlight of July’s International Society for Music Education (ISME) conference in Glasgow was a well-received performance by the Lancashire Youth Vocal Ensemble (LYVE), a project supported by Youth Music. LYVE included their own unique spin on the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, part of the repertoire from the BBC’s Ten Pieces creative classical music programme. We recently spoke to Emma Williams, singing leader at LYVE Lancaster, to find out more about the project.
Music-making for young people, shaped by young people
The LYVE programme is run by More Music. It began three years ago, and gives young vocalists (aged 14-21) from across Lancashire the chance to perform together and develop their singing skills, whatever their background or previous experience. There are a number of different LYVE groups across the county.
Emma explains how LYVE’s musical direction has evolved over time to reflect the interests of the young people taking part. The choir aims to fuse traditional choral singing with beatboxing, Asian musical influences, folk and improvisation.
“It’s really important that the singers themselves are involved in the creation. Composition and improvisation are a big part of the group’s work,” says Emma. “The repertoire is led by the singers too – we tend to start with a couple of songs they know, then add our own sections and improvise around it.”
Performing original arrangements
LYVE Lancaster’s singers are currently all young women aged between 16 and 18. Their previous creations include a vocal mashup of Rose Royce’s Car Wash with Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, over which they added a self-penned rap on the subject of gender inequality. Next term they’ll be fusing Adele’s Hometown Glory with Empire State of Mind by Jay Z and Alicia Keys.
The group’s approach is a perfect fit for the BBC’s Ten Pieces scheme, which encourages young people to respond creatively to a set repertoire of classical compositions. And so LYVE Lancaster came to perform an original acapella version of Bizet’s Habanera incorporating elements from contemporary urban music – a bit of Lady Gaga here, a bit of Destiny’s Child there – at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland as part of the conference programme.
“It was a really successful day,” Emma recalls. “Before the main concert we did a series of ‘flash mob’ style performances around the Glasgow conference centre. The whole thing was a great experience for the group, and a really nice way of tying up the academic year.”
Getting more young people involved
Inclusivity is a big part of LYVE’s ethos, and anyone is welcome to join. Emma’s day job is as a singing teacher in schools across Lancashire, so she’s encouraged a number of her pupils to get involved. Her fellow music teachers are also spreading the word across the region.
Last year the group shared their first ever music video on YouTube. It was a social media hit and led to several new members keen to sign up at the next session!
And although LYVE Lancaster’s lineup is currently all female, that’s set to change, with plans to link up with a boys’ beatboxing group based at a school round the corner from their rehearsal space.
Musical, personal and social outcomes
The young people involved with LYVE report that they’ve learned new vocal techniques, improved their ability to project their voice and sing in harmony, and developed their composition and improvisation skills.
But more than this, the ensemble has been a platform for the young musicians to grow on a personal and social level. “LYVE has challenged me to be more confident and to perform in front of large groups of people,” says Elsa, a young singer from LYVE Lancaster. “I used to be terrified of public speaking, let alone singing in front of audiences.”
Naomi, also from LYVE Lancaster, adds: “LYVE has helped me develop my leadership skills as I was able to lead sections of rehearsal. By doing this my confidence has developed which means a lot to me as it is something that has been an issue in the past.”
LYVE across Lancashire
There are currently weekly LYVE ensemble sessions in three Lancashire towns and cities: Lancaster, Blackburn and Preston. The groups get together at points throughout the year to hold collaborative singing workshops, learn new material together and rehearse for special joint performances.
There’s also a parallel project for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities: ensembles of young vocalists in five different schools across the county, singing using sounds rather than words. There are plans to bring these together in the next phase of the LYVE project.
Although LYVE was originally created through a grant from Youth Music’s previous ‘Excellence through Group Singing’ programme, funding for the project now comes from a mix of sources including Blackburn with Darwen Music Hub, Lancashire Music Hub and Youth Music’s strategic Fund C programme.
This is a really encouraging example of Music Education Hubs showing commitment to inclusive practice. Their investment provides sustainable ongoing opportunities for young people who might not otherwise get the chance to make music.