City of London Sinfonia (CLS) has won the 2020 Royal Philharmonic Society Impact Award for its Sound Young Minds programme.
The accolade, supported by the ABRSM, is awarded to an outstanding initiative or organisation which set out to engage and have a lasting positive impact on the lives of people who may not otherwise experience classical music.
Sound Young Minds is a bespoke programme originated by CLS, in partnership with Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School and funded by Youth Music, that builds confidence and self-esteem in young people living with severe mental health and psychiatric conditions through music-making and sharing.
Now in its fourth year, it is the only programme of its kind in the UK and is one of the central pillars of CLS’ singular identity informing every aspect of its work from world-renowned concert stages to care homes, the digital sphere to schools.
Over the past three decades, CLS has engaged people in music-making in healthcare settings across care homes, hospices, children’s hospitals, and more recently survivors of brain injury and trauma.
As one of the most long-standing strands of its wide ranging participation programme, Sound Young Minds robustly articulates CLS’ vision that classical music is transformative and the joy and discovery of it must be wide open to everyone across all areas of society.
Fiona Lambert, Director of Participation at City of London Sinfonia, said: “We are thrilled that Sound Young Minds has been recognised by the Royal Philharmonic Society.
“We’ve learned so much over the last three years, working alongside school staff and project partners, developing a way of working that has brought joy, new connections and creativity to the young people involved.
“It has transformed how we as an orchestra connect with people and make music together, impacting not just our participation programme but also our public performances.
“As we enter our fourth year, Sound Young Minds is expanding its reach to Lavender Walk Adolescent Mental Health Unit and clinics at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge where we look forward to sharing the pleasure of music-making with even more young people.”
Children’s charities and health professionals have repeatedly warned that young people have been disproportionately impacted by the mental and emotional health challenges brought about by the isolation and instability of the Covid-19 pandemic, with Public Health England reporting that more than a third of young people said they were more worried (38%), more sad (37%) or more stressed (34%) than before lockdown.
For young people living with pre-existing mental health and psychiatric conditions, the current challenges are even more acute.
The Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School is a local authority special school based across two sites in Camberwell and Beckenham, attended by young people aged four to 18 from across London and the South East, all of whom are living with severe mental health and psychiatric conditions.
Since 2017, composer and sound artist Gawain Hewitt and City of London Sinfonia musicians have been sharing their passion for live classical music with groups of young people – both day patients and residents at the Hospital School – through bespoke sessions anchored around participation, improvisation, composition and performance.
Sessions take a piece of CLS repertoire as an inspiration point to stimulate in-the-moment, collective music-making. By establishing everyone as creative equals, Sound Young Minds promotes a comfortable and informal environment where inspiration can flourish, and uplifting moments can be shared in otherwise challenging times.
James Murphy, Chief Executive, Royal Philharmonic Society, said: “Congratulations to City of London Sinfonia on this outstanding initiative, proving what a positive, vital role classical musicians can play in our communities.
“Our panel, comprising experts from across the music profession, hopes it may become a blueprint for others to emulate and benefit from nationwide.”
Delivered as a termly programme, each annual cycle reaches more than 200 young people across the academic year and closes with the sharing of a collection of brand new compositions created by young people together with CLS musicians.
All sessions are recorded so these creations can enjoy an onward life in the form of sound sculptures, pop-up interactive installations that tour to CLS concerts and special events, such as the Tate Lates in 2019, offering an important bridge between CLS’ participation and performance work.
From January to April 2021, the public will be able to explore all three sound sculptures in a free dedicated exhibition at Bethlem Gallery.
Sound Young Minds has been reimaged this year in response to the pandemic, with some unexpectedly positive developments prompted by the need to explore the digital potential of the programme.
Together, Gawain Hewitt and CLS viola Matt Maguire have developed an in-person + digital hybrid framework for future sessions that combines the use of accessible, online music tools with live improvisation on classical instruments.
Beginning later this month, Sound Young Minds will be delivered in the Hospital School and, for the first time, on the wards and Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit at Bethlem Hospital thanks to the introduction of this new digital element, as the programme also expands its footprint with roll-outs at Lavender Walk Adolescent Mental Health Unit (at Chelsea Community Hospital School) and at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
As the programme enters its fourth year, CLS has embarked on a major piece of post-doctoral research with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London to establish what clinical outcomes can be measured across the Sound Young Minds programme. First findings will be shared in March 2021.