Some 52 per cent of children in Manchester are now from non-white ethnic backgrounds, which shows us that, as far as diversity of our population and the loud discussions about immigration go, the inescapable truth is that we’re a historically, permanently and fantastically rich society that mixes wildly varying histories and cultures. In amongst the young people from these diverse backgrounds will be people with not only a distinct musical heritage, but musical aspirations that can be cultivated and, most excitingly, developed to reflect the new ‘sound of our society’. The challenge for all of us is to listen to the sounds that our children and young people are making.
All of us at MyHub (Manchester’s music education hub for children and young people) want to see how this can be achieved and find out what that hidden collective and individual sound could be. To get there, we have developed the idea of My Music, My Manchester, creating composition, music making and performance opportunities for young people from as many communities as possible across the city. Music blurs boundaries like few other art forms, inspiring people and forming bonds of mutual expression. The ideas of children and young people, in our experience, flourish in a shared creative environment.
MyHub has become a productive partnership between many of the city’s music organisations, which means that young people’s ideas can develop with the assistance of musicians at the top of their profession and that the final performances can take place at prestigious and inspirational professional working environments, such as MediaCityUK, home of the BBC Philharmonic orchestra. Of all of the projects MyHub has delivered to date, My Music, My Manchester stands as the most multi-faceted, setting the scene for further ambitious progress in 2017. It’s essential that young people are given opportunities like this and that they remain at the centre of the project, leading the composing and creation of their music with their thoughts, ideas and creativity, with the ‘professional’ leadership serving to explore and encourage their potential – potential that is perhaps beyond their own expectations of themselves.
To make it happen in this instance, San Fransisco-based ‘Ethio-American’ musician and activist Meklit will come to Manchester as My Music, My Manchester’s artistic director. She has the rare combination as an artist of being able to raise young people’s artistic aspirations through her talent and skill, while at the same time being an excellent facilitator and communicator. She has developed a framework that the young artists can work within to create a performance of genuine high quality, the Manchester Song Cycle. Meklit’s innovation will involve composing new music that references different musical genres, exploring and expressing all of the ideas that come to the surface and, ultimately, finding Manchester’s voice.
It will be the voice of our city and the place all of us, regardless of our birthplace or heritage, have chosen as our home. As Meklit eloquently puts it: “It’s not just about people who came before you, though of course that is part of the story. But a city can be an influence, a work of visual art, a state of mind.”
Our shared aim is to pave the way for the music of the future in our city, building more varied pathways for young people to progress musically and collectively. It feels like a natural way of building on the city’s reputation for original music making and trying to make the point, through sound, that the modern ‘voice’ of Manchester speaks so many different languages, whether in a literal or musical sense.
It’s important that we listen to our children and young people, and vital to us and our participants that this celebration happens on a large scale. We have the opportunity to herald the collective musical resources of one of the most culturally rich cities in the UK with a view to creating a life-changing experience for young musicians. MyHub and all of our partner organisations are now in the privileged position of watching 32 young musicians with specialisms across a range of genres and eight orchestral musicians from Manchester Camerata and the BBC Philharmonic join together and collaborate on something special. We’re listening to our young people, and hope that people will join us to hear a snapshot of what our diverse society really sounds like.
Sue Harrison is MyHub’s chair and Debra King is director of Brighter Sound. My Music, My Manchester is on Sun 30 October at 3pm in the BBC Philharmonic Studio, MediaCity, Salford. Entry is free