The National Youth Orchestra, one of the main aesthetic educational programmes in Sri Lanka will mark its 25th anniversary with a free orchestral concert on September 22, 2017 at the BMICH
The National Youth Orchestra was established in 1992 through a Japanese grant of Rs. 54 million and was founded as a Ministry of Education Project by Ms. Maya Abeywickrama – a consultant and former Deputy Director of Western Music. This venture is the only State-sponsored project of its kind in the SAARC region. Ushitha Samarakoon, Asst. Director of Western Music of the Ministry of Education answered a few questions about the youth orchestra.
Our objective is to "teach students to appreciate orchestral music and to provide them with the opportunity to learn the art of playing any western orchestral instrument that may lead to a professional career, " said Ms. Samarakoon said.
"We enable students develop the most important skill of reading, understanding and interpreting western musical notation, thus making them competent exponents of one of the most dominant musical art forms in the world," she further added noting that even Sri Lankan Folk music has been documented using western notation and could be performed in any part of the world following the notation - "Western Music may therefore be considered a primary international language in the world."
What skills do the students acquire during their period of training with the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) ?
Ms. Samarakoon: Students develop their teamwork skills, working towards a common goal and the importance of having to work together to produce a unified and focused performance. Participation in orchestral performances enables students to develop a deep understanding and appreciation of western classical music as well as modern-day music. They also learn to develop their organizing skills and discipline - balancing their schedule with practicing amidst schoolwork, play the instrument skillfully and overcoming technical difficulties whilst developing their self-motivation.
What are your sources of funding?
Ms. Samarakoon: The orchestra is maintained from funds in the Western Music Deposit Account. We organize an annual in Colombo an event that has been held virtually unbroken for the last 24 years. Whenever possible, concerts are also held in the provinces. However, students from nearly all provinces attend the concerts in Colombo and on average, about 800 students avail themselves of this opportunity to experience a live orchestral performance and listen to music that is often dealt with in the school music curriculum.
Concerts are usually held free-of-charge but there have been occasions where tickets are sold to the public and the proceeds credited to the Western Music Deposit Account.
With around seventy five students how do you manage practice sessions and administration of the orchestra?
Ms. Samarakoon: The orchestra is administered by a Co-ordinator, currently the Assistant Director – Western Music at the Ministry, together with a Western Music teacher and 2 office-assistants. There are 3 conductors responsible for maintaining and developing the musical standard of the orchestra. Instrumental instructors are engaged as required. The Principal of Royal College, Colombo 7 has kindly permitted the use of their premises subject to the priority requirements of the school where Sessions are conducted usually on Saturdays from 1.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. at the premises of Royal College, which is the current home of the orchestra.
On the selection process and the acquisition of instruments by students
Ms. Samarakoon: Membership is open to students from all provinces and who are admitted to the performing orchestra on successfully passing an audition process. Beginners and other trainees are coached in their respective instruments until they reach a level of adequate competency to join the main orchestra.
Owing to the prohibitive costs of most orchestral instrument the NYO provides talented students the facility of a loan-instrument free-of-charge issued against a signed agreement, supported by a guarantee provided by the Head of the student’s school.
On other institutional support
Ms. Samarakoon: Yes, of course, The Japan International Co-operation Agency - JICA - supports us by providing us with orchestral scores and other printed music as required by the players, they also assist us in the training process by periodically sending us instructors to develop the playing standard of the orchestra. The Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka also assists us by permitting the free usage of their music library.
Some Music-based institutions also provide opportunities for NYO players to receive advanced training through scolarship schemes and the experience of performing under foreign trained conductors.
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