London Youth Folk Ensemble received a Music for Youth Connects Award with The Musicians Union in 2018/19. Ensemble member Elye Cuthbertson reports on their activities...
Last year the London Youth Folk Ensemble entered the Music for Youth Regional Final and we were invited to play at the National Festival, and we are very lucky to have been awarded the Music for Youth Connects award in partnership with the Musician’s Union. Aside from getting to go on a trip to Birmingham for the Music for Youth National Festival and taking part in a thought-stimulating workshop led by the National Youth Folk Ensemble team, this award has allowed us to book several of the leading English folk/electronics artists and composers to come in and impart their vast knowledge to us in the form of exciting interactive workshops, and learn more about the Musician’s Union and how it supports young musicians like us in the business.
Unfortunately I could not attend the visit the Ensemble had to the Musicians Union’s offices on 18 February in London, but luckily my brother, Aaron, could. It was hearing about it from him that persuaded me to join the Union and take advantage of its many benefits. As a young musician starting to play some gigs it is invaluable to have an organisation like this to turn to for help or advice about anything! It may be that I don’t quite know how to write up a tech-spec for a gig, or perhaps a venue is trying to rip me off as a young artist; well the Musician’s Union will do their absolute best to help out. In addition, they also offer a complimentary £2000 worth of instrument insurance, and outrageously cheap student rates.
I’m pleased to say that this only scratches the surface of what this award has educated us about! We were able to choose what to use the funding on, and we were all very interested in finding out a bit more about how electronics/recordings/mixing fit into the folk scene! It was great that we in the ensemble were able to give our input about what we would like most, and we got to invite three guest tutors in, who provided us with amazing workshops on electronics, recording and mixing.
This series of workshops started off with a bang at the beginning of the year on 3 March, with a workshop on electronics by Tom Moore, who shared his expertise on equipment such as loop pedals, and reverb and distortion effects. Somehow I also managed to be unavailable for this fantastic opportunity (I had to go to a rehearsal for something much more boring – we’ve all been there), but again luckily my brother went equipped with notepad, pen and speedy handwriting. Aaron says, “The workshop we did with Tom Moore on how to use electronic elements in folk music was immensely helpful in learning how to use seemingly complicated equipment with relative ease. Working with a professional musician was a great experience, and helped expand what I thought was possible in a live performance.”
The electronics workshop on 3 March with Tom Moore, in Kennedy Hall at Cecil Sharp House
I would let nothing stand in the way of attending the next workshop on 19 May. Here we had the folk extraordinaire and composer John Dipper lead a session recording our pieces. Not only was this a unique first opportunity to professionally record our music, but we learned about the recording process too. John was also very helpful in accommodating us, and despite our age treated us like professionals. He helpfully set up the mics in a circle, just like we rehearse, so we could make eye-contact and communicate while playing. He also dealt with any problems that arose, such as a strange and apparently non-existent noise coming through on the mics, while making it clear it was not our fault, and outlining his process of dealings with these issues. Overall this was a great session, led by a very nice and experienced professional.
The recording session on 19 May with John Dipper, in Kennedy Hall at Cecil Sharp House
Next up was mixing these lovely shiny new tracks we had recorded. And who better to guide us through this than producer, composer and mixer Ben Corrigan. This was a wonderful and intimate workshop on 9 June, where Ben led us through how to mix, and, helpfully for me, what mixing is! Any musician will have heard that word, but until this session I really had no idea what it actually involves. But Ben took us through the process that he uses, answered and expanded upon any questions we had, and was very willing to try our strange and random ideas for how to ‘jazz folk up’ our tracks! I found this workshop extremely enlightening. Ben showed us the importance of the subtle nuances, which before I may not have thought would make a difference. He also showed us the tools he uses for his mixing, i.e. Logic, and a quick summary of how to use them.
Each element of what this award has allowed us to do has really helped London Youth Folk Ensemble in a unique way. Working with several professional musicians and producers generally has boosted our confidence as individual musicians and as a group. It has also made us more aware of what we can do. I think we all felt a slight thrill as we heard the track we mixed ourselves with Ben Corrigan for the first time. The combination of learning how to use electronic equipment, having our music professionally recorded, and getting to work with a producer and composer to mix the music, have all not only given us professional recordings – which will be very helpful for publicity and sending out to other organisations and venues – but it has developed the whole group and each one of us as musicians. We now have a better idea of how we can sound if we communicate and work as hard as we did this year.
As I write this in July 2019, it is two days before the London Youth Folk Ensemble will travel up to Birmingham again for this year’s Music for Youth finals. As it is our second time now, I’m sure we will be less nervous and more excited! I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for the London Youth Folk Ensemble. You can read more about what this award has allowed us to do in this news item.