Spotlight on Edward

15-year-old Edward Sharpe is NOFA’s principal double bass player for the 2015-2016 season. He first joined NOFA as part of the Leeds Day Player Scheme in 2014, and became a full member of NOFA in 2015.

Edward suffers from a rare endocrine condition, hyperinsulinism. This has to be very carefully managed to avoid life-threatening emergencies. It’s also required the care of top specialists since infancy and he has spent much of the early part of his life travelling from his hometown of Guiseley in West Yorkshire to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Neither his mother, Denise, nor his father, Paul, is musical and Edward’s musical talent seems to have come from nowhere. However it’s has been one great benefits of his tough start in life. Now, says Edward, “Music sort of distracts me. It’s always been a thing that’s distracted me from my illness.”

NOFA: When did you start learning an instrument?

Edward: I started the piano when I was eight. But I always wanted to learn the double bass. So I started in Year 7, at about 11. I’ve always been interested in large, unusual instruments.

From the outset, NOFA has welcomed young players with health conditions who may or may not have had musical support, but whose medical problems have inevitably lead to slower progress.

NOFA: Many NOFA players don’t have access to school orchestras, but you did?

Edward: Yes, playing the bass took me into the school orchestra (at Guiseley School, Leeds) and from there to the City of Leeds Youth Training Orchestra. Then the Head of Music, Mr Jones, nominated me as a day player when NOFA first came to Leeds in 2014.

NOFA: What do you feel is different about NOFA?

Edward: The other groups I’ve been in are smaller. This is much larger. It’s a national group and that’s great, it makes you feel special. Playing the Leeds Arena twice in two years to that huge audience - wow – that was amazing. Even though it’s a large orchestra, there’s the family atmosphere, everyone looks out for everyone.

NOFA: Can you tell me something more about the family atmosphere?

Edward: It’s a big challenge but it’s warm and welcoming. It’s not so much “Get this right” as “Let’s work together and get it right.” So then you’re not frightened of making mistakes. Because you’re not nervous you do get it together and your confidence grows. And then you do sort of get it right.

NOFA: Do you feel being part of NOFA has improved your confidence?

Edward: Definitely. Everyone is there for a reason, so it doesn’t feel competitive, it feels supportive and focused. I look forward to it so much, it’s really exciting.

“NOFA’s made him feel valued as Edward,” says Denise. “His condition isn’t a problem. And he loves the way everyone helps teach everyone else.” This year, Edward decided to stay with the other players in Leeds as a residential player, in spite of his health problems and the demands of managing his medication independently. “It was a big step for him,” says Denise.

NOFA: What about the residential side of it?

Edward: Well, that’s a big thing for me too. Because of my medical condition I’d never stayed away from home before. I was pretty worried about it beforehand. But afterwards I felt great that I’d done it.

NOFA: Do you think you’ve improved as a musician as a result of being part of NOFA?

Edward: I feel I’ve got a lot better. It’s taught me how good an orchestra can be. And I’ve taken what I’ve learnt and that new confidence back to the other orchestras I’m involved in.

Since he joined NOFA, Edward has travelled to London to take part in fundraising and other events – his first non-hospital orientated visits to the capital. At the same time, he’s been spreading the word for us. An article about Edward and NOFA appeared in the Ilkley Gazette this summer. It caught the attention of his MP, Stuart Andrew, who wrote to congratulate him – and then came to hear him in action at the 2015 NOFA Leeds Arena concert. “Absolutely superb performance by @NOFA_orchestra at Leeds Arena. There to support my young constituent Edward,” he tweeted afterwards.

In the last few weeks, Edward, much to his delight and surprise, has been offered a place at the Junior Royal Northern College of Music. There was just one hitch when he was told the news. “I can’t give up NOFA,” he said. So the RNCM went off and found out more about us. Then kindly said he could keep going with us as well.

Thank you Edward for being such a great NOFA Ambassador!