Spotlight on Charley

17-year-old Percussionist Charley Lia joined the National Orchestra for All (NOFA) in 2012, nominated by Teach First music teacher Adam Scourfield. As a little girl, she started on her path to orchestral percussion by running into the drum room of a secondary school, where her grandfather was caretaker, and playing on the drum kit while he did his rounds.

NOFA: Charley, what difference do you think NOFA has made to you?

Charley: One word. Confidence. I’m just much more confident as a person directly because of NOFA. I didn’t have a much confidence when I came on my first course. I was terrified of making mistakes. I couldn’t even make myself play percussion in rehearsals because I was so afraid of making mistakes. But me and my team got so much help from the tutors, from other players, from everyone at NOFA, that this year I’ve been helping the new, younger ones. When Stuart [Stuart Burns, NOFA’s 2015 Programme Manager] rang and asked me if this year I wanted to join the NOFA Young Leaders Programme I just said ‘Yes!’ This year I want to be that NOFA person who helps others.

NOFA: What about musically?

Charley: When I first came I was not a strong reader of music. But I’ve had so much help with reading the notes, how to play the beats, now I can read anything from the score in front of me.

NOFA: What have been your standout memories of NOFA?

Charley: This year in Leeds Arena without a doubt [at the Teach First 2015 Impact Conference]. Doing a tubular bells solo in front of 3,000 people was amazing. I was so worried about it but I did it. I’m very proud of myself for that. And nobody noticed the mistakes!

Charley has not always grown up with her parents. She currently lives with her grandparents, but she has, she says, “used my past experience to drive myself on.” The 2014 NOFA Summer Course coincided with a particularly difficult time and she only made it there with the help of a NOFA travel bursary, and some pocket money from a friend’s mum.

Charley: Personally, I don’t think I’d be here today without the help and support I had last year from the tutors, Marianna [Marianna Hay, Artistic Director], my NOFA friends and friends at home. I’d put it that strongly. It was a really rough time. But with the help of people at NOFA I went home with a much more settled view of myself and what I wanted to do.

A further breakthrough came when Charley was accepted on to The Prince’s Trust Team Programme, a 12-week personal development course for young people, many of whom are not in education or employment. Her course was run in partnership with the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, led by Detective Constable Joanne Watts, seconded from Haringey police. Charley loved it.

Charley: It was the most amazing 12 weeks of my life. There were 15 of us and we were like one big dysfunctional family. We ran a community awareness project on domestic violence and it was huge. We had a slot at a massive event run by Moneywise and the CAB, the Moneywise CA Beach on Ducketts Common in Haringey. We helped to turn it into a huge urban beach with a stage and to start with I just stood backstage. But then I got pulled into singing with this other guy from the Team Programme: two songs – Pink’s Family Portrait and Deepest Shame by Plan B. I really wanted to connect with kids in the audience who might have suffered domestic violence, singing from a kid’s perspective. The crowd just went mad and we got the most incredible compliments afterwards.

Then we were asked to perform the songs again at the Team Programme final presentation. I sang Family Portrait on my own. Then I started Deepest Shame, my fellow performer came on stage rapping and I rapped with him. He’d only been in the UK for few months, it was amazing, it just caught fire and the audience just loved it. Afterwards, the Deputy Mayor of Haringey, at least that’s who I think it was, he was in tears, he was still wiping them away when he spoke to me!

NOFA: Might your experience at NOFA have helped give you confidence to perform like that?

Charley: Undoubtedly. It’s not like I’d sung like that in front of a huge crowd before. I mean I cried before I went on I was so nervous. But I’ve been there before. I’ve kind of learnt. Before my first NOFA orchestra concert as a percussionist I was terrified. I cried while I was walking on stage. But Ollie [Ollie Tunmer, NOFA’s lead percussion tutor] walked right beside me and he said “You’ll be fine” and I was - I even made a speech. Then on my second course, Ella [Ella Howell, NOFA’s 2013/14 Programme Manager] heard me singing in one of the breaks. It was Someone Like You, by Adele, with me on the piano. She said, ”Charley, you have to do that again at our Recital Evening.” So again I was terrified, but again I did it and there was such support from the other NOFA players and staff who all felt like friends. So though I’d never sung in public like I did at Ducketts Common, I’d already learnt to push through my nerves and make it happen.

You could say I was able to make the most of The Prince’s Trust, go for it 100%, partly because of my experiences at NOFA. Because of NOFA I push myself to my limits and beyond. It’s the same for everyone there. Every year everyone works so hard, they make so much effort. We push ourselves to our limits and beyond. And every year, it pays off and it’s amazing.

In 2015 Charley’s life has turned right round. What she didn’t know was that several senior police officers were present at the Team Programme final presentation, as guests of Team Leader Detective Constable Joanne Watts and The Prince’s Trust. She had no idea that one of them had a brother in the music business. And she was astonished when he got in touch and offered her the chance to make a demo tape in his Shoreditch studio.

Will she back at NOFA next year as singing star, percussionist or both? Charley, an accomplished climber and sportswoman, says that music is a leisure activity for her. She is now trying to decide between an apprenticeship and studying sports science at college.

Watch this space!