Orchestras for All has a big vision: music without boundaries.

Our mission is to unlock access to the life-changing experience of ensemble music-making for 11-18 years olds with complex lives.

The challenge

The importance of access to high quality musical experiences is widely accepted. Research shows us that music-making transcends educational ability, socio-economic status and disability; gives young people a unique way to express themselves; improves confidence and self-esteem, self-efficacy and cultural awareness and can provide a safe space for young people with challenging home or school lives. Ensemble music-making extends these benefits further, giving young people access to broad and diverse social networks and developing teamwork and communication skills.

 Across the UK, a wealth of high-quality music-making opportunities for young people exists, both at local and national level. The government continues to fund the work of Music Education Hubs, applications to higher level music courses have risen from 25,000 in 2007 to 40,000 in 2016, and the benefits of music education are lauded: indeed, a longitudinal study published in 2018 found that ‘test scores on inhibition, planning and verbal intelligence increased significantly’ for primary school-aged children who had music lessons.

In spite of this, research from the University of Sussex, leading music researcher Professor Sue Hallam and Sound Connections for Arts Council England explore the range of barriers faced by young people in accessing existing music provision. Recent national studies and surveys have highlighted a significant decline in uptake of GCSE music, reduction of compulsory music at Year 9 and falling music staff numbers in state secondary schools.

A key challenge addressed by OFA is that young people who lack financial, social or cultural support repeatedly miss out on the unique opportunity of ensemble music-making and cannot experience all the non-musical benefits. A 2014 report by the National Children’s Orchestra noted that 70% of its successful state school applicants received private instrument lessons and a 2014 Youth Ensembles report conducted by the Association of British Orchestras concluded that 80% of youth orchestras charge an annual membership fee – one of only a range of significant barriers faced by a prospective young member.

With reduced support in school for music and music teachers expressing a sense of isolation, it is increasingly important that we continue to work with partners across the country to reach young people who would otherwise miss out on the life-changing experience of making music together. Many excellent youth music organisations exist in the UK and do valuable work with participants of varying needs, experience, skill levels, backgrounds and interests. So, what makes Orchestras for All unique?

The solution

In 2011, Marianna Hay, former Director of Music at Highbury Grove School, set out to address the inconsistency of music provision and barriers faced by young people to accessing opportunities by forming the first National Orchestra for All for 40 11-18 year olds in 2011. Since then, Orchestras for All has evolved into three distinct and innovative programmes with the core aim of bringing the profound musical and social benefits of ensemble music-making to 11-18 year-olds with complex lives.

  • We identify young people who lack opportunities to access ensemble music-making and have shown a dedication to music in the face of challenging circumstances

  • We equip music leaders with the skills, resources and networks to establish inclusive ensemble music- making opportunities and, in the long-term, cultivate a culture of music-making in their community

  • We collaborate with young people, music leaders, professional musicians and music organisations, and cultural venues to create exciting, innovative and inspiring events and performances around the UK, that express the identities of the young people we work with

We do this through our three programmes:

National Orchestra for All: A unique, mixed ability youth orchestra comprising 100 young musicians with complex lives from across the UK, who come together throughout the year to learn, compose, rehearse and perform ensemble music. Find out more about the National Orchestra for All!

"It's made me more confident in everything I do. I'm not as shy and held back any more... When I start new things outside of NOFA, I find that the confidence is still there." - Emma, NOFA member

Modulo Programme: An innovative in-schools programme which supports under-resourced schools and community groups to run ensembles (‘Modulos’), regardless of level of skill or instruments available, brought together regionally and nationally twice a year to form large scale symphony orchestras.  Find out more about the Modulo Programme!

"There had been such a lack of opportunity for ensemble work in school prior to the Modulo Programme... this has really inspired lots of change in the music department." - Charlotte, music teacher

Conductors for Change: A training programme for music teachers and community music leaders to develop their conducting skills and musical ensemble leadership skills so that they can help transform young people’s chances in life through music. Find out more about Conductors for Change!

"I now have 100% confidence in conducting at school as previously I hadn't had any experience of doing this." - Rebecca, music teacher

What makes us unique?

Inclusivity: We deliver our programmes in a flexible and inclusive way so they are accessible to all, regardless of instrument skill level, additional needs or background. We value commitment to music above ability and aim to provide high quality artistic experiences to young people at any point in their musical journey.

Wellbeing: We believe that, regardless of individual instrument skill level, ensemble music-making is uniquely placed to significantly improve personal and social skills, and as such, should be available to all. We are committed to ensuring the safeguarding and welfare of the young people we work with in all of our activities. We expect all of the adults we work with to demonstrate understanding and awareness of our expectations, and create a safe and supportive atmosphere for our participants. 

Collaboration: We work with external artistic partners, freelance music arrangers and composers, workshop animateurs, cultural venues, social and additional needs experts, and a team of highly trained and experienced orchestral and pastoral tutors to ensure our programmes are delivered to the highest standard and give our participants positive and memorable experiences of music-making.

Ownership: We value and actively seek the perspectives of all our stakeholders in guiding the artistic output of Orchestras for All. We strive to continually develop our approach in placing the voices of the young people and music teachers with whom we work at the centre of our programmes. Our priority is giving participants a positive and memorable experience of ensemble music-making, sowing the seeds of long-term community belonging and musical identity.