Spotlight on Noah

Noah (far right) with Ed and the bass section at the NOFA Summer Course 2017

Noah (far right) with Ed and the bass section at the NOFA Summer Course 2017

In July 2017, double bassist Noah took his place in the National Orchestra for All for the first time. Noah comes from North Yorkshire, and his nomination for the orchestra came through NOFA’s new partnership with NYMAZ as part of a Youth Music-funded project to broaden access to the orchestra. Noah, along with four other NYMAZ nominees, joined the 99 other NOFA members at the annual four-day Summer Course, this year held on campus at the University of Leeds.

“As a parent I have watched Noah struggle and hover on the edge of groups never really being able to join in,” says Noah’s mum, Su, who came along to the Summer Course to provide extra support. “He was adamant that he needed me to come with him and I am so grateful that you allowed me to accompany him. I was able to see him relax and join in and over the period of the course was able to take a step back knowing that he was in safe hands and supported by such a fantastic team. I loved the experience of attending but hope that by next summer he will come on his own and participate independently.”

Noah has autism, which for him means he needs extra time to process information and can’t always ask for clarification. It means he also lacks social and organisational skills and can become distressed by too many questions or instructions. At the fast-paced Summer Course, with a packed schedule of orchestral rehearsals, sectionals and team-building activities, the course would be a big challenge for Noah.

But Noah rose to the challenge! “The whole course was just one brilliant thing followed by another,” says Su. “I saw Noah talking to other musicians and interacting. [Lead bassist] Ed took him under his wing and gave him several mini masterclasses. He is a fantastic role model and ambassador for NOFA.” Following the Summer Course, Ed suggested to us that he travel down to the Winter Sessions together with Noah to make sure that everything goes well with the journey.

He had become so withdrawn and struggled so much. You have given him so much more than the already wonderful chance to perform fantastic music.
— Su Dixon, Noah's mum

At NOFA, we look to use music to develop key social skills, and Noah’s experience at the course showed just that. Su tells us that “by the end of the first night Noah had joined in with the icebreakers. During the teatime sessions, he spoke in front of everyone and then ended up playing a solo. He had become so withdrawn and struggled so much. You have given him so much more than the already wonderful chance to perform fantastic music.”

The Summer Course ends with two important performances – the Recital Evening on the penultimate night of the course where musicians perform for each other as soloists or in chamber groups, followed by the spectacular performance to over 3000 in the amazing surroundings of the First Direct Arena in Leeds. Here’s Su: “The Recital Evening just blew me away and seeing Noah perform made me cry! I couldn’t see how things could get any better but they did. I didn’t realise that Leeds Arena really is a vast arena. It sounds stupid but because it was so near the city centre I thought it was a local venue with an aspirational name and just expected something a bit bigger than our local forum. I just couldn’t believe what I saw and experienced. Thank you so, so much.”

Noah is now part of this season’s orchestra, reuniting at the Winter Sessions in November and December, and the Spring Course in April – and here’s hoping Noah will be back in the orchestra next season too. But the impact of the orchestra is felt back at home too. Su explains the impact the Summer Course has had on Noah: “Noah has finally got a place at a special school for autism but even before this friends and family noticed a huge difference in him after his time with NOFA. He stood taller and talked to people about the concert and the course.” And it’s Noah’s family that have felt the benefits too. “NOFA has also encouraged Noah’s 7-year-old sister to take up an instrument – she has started violin and percussion! She was inspired by the concert and attending it was one of the only things we have done as a family. She has sensory issues, but enjoyed it so much that she dispensed with her earplugs which was a huge step forward.”

We can’t wait to see Noah again for the next NOFA event, and are so grateful for parents like Su for the support they give to the orchestra to help us make it such a life-changing experience for the players.