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; brings multiple benefits, including confidence and self-esteem, self-efficacy and cultural awareness; can provide a safe space for young people with complex lives possibly even an escape from challenging home or school lives. Playing in an ensemble or orchestra provides additional proven benefits. It gives young people access to a broad and diverse social networks, increases teamwork skills and improves communication skills.

Yet access to high quality musical experiences, especially ensemble music-making, is inconsistently resourced across the UK. Young people with complex lives are often the first to miss out. Opportunities for orchestral music-making too often go towards those who are already privileged in some way. A 2014 Youth Ensembles report conducted by the Association of British Orchestras concluded that 92% of British Youth Orchestras set a minimum standard required to get in and 80% charge an annual membership fee. This is deeply unfair. It means disadvantaged young people repeatedly miss out on the unique opportunity of ensemble music-making and cannot realise all the non-musical benefits that flow from it.

The solution

In 2011, Marianna Hay, former Director of Music at Highbury Grove School, set out to address this social injustice and Orchestras for All was born. She started by forming a national orchestra for 40 11-18 year olds, in 2011. Since then Orchestras For All has evolved into a three distinctive and innovative activities:

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?

Many excellent youth music organisations exist in the UK and do valuable work with participants of varying needs, experience, ability levels, backgrounds and interests. So what makes Orchestras for All unique?

Creating a range of activities: we run a unique combination of in school and term-based / out of school and holiday-based activities as well as programmes that operate at school and community level, regional level and national level.

Removing barriers to access: we tackle the issue of access from every angle and on a child by child basis, and look at both artistic and logistical challenges. To do this, we:

  • create bespoke arrangements responding to the needs of our players
  • embrace all musical genres and involve young people as co-creators
  • provide a non-competitive, safe and supportive environment
  • focus on enjoyment, removing anxiety and building confidence
  • solve practical problems to get all our players to every event
  • build and share understanding of barriers and develop solutions to tackle them

Supporting music teachers: we provide hands on support for secondary school music, rooted in the reality of challenges faced by over-stretched teachers working in under-resourced secondary school music departments.

Valuing dedication above ability: we prioritise commitment and dedication to music over technical ability across all our programmes. The National Orchestra for All is the only non-auditioned national youth orchestra in the UK.

Encouraging late starters: we focus on secondary school pupils and believe that young people who make a late start on an instrument (over the age of 11 or even much older) and are therefore excluded from traditional progression routes can still access the musical and social benefits of ensemble music-making.

Working with others: we are committed to working in partnership with organisations across social change and education sectors ensuring we are accessing young people previously out of reach to other youth music organisations. We work with disadvantaged young people not just through Music Education Hubs and other youth music organisations, but also through schools and teachers in low income communities through partnerships with national non-musical organisations committed to social change such as Teach First.