Carving out a professional career is a difficult enough task for any young musician – but for some it is harder than others.
For whereas there is a well-established network of venues and performance opportunities for up-and-coming rock and pop artists, be they solo musicians or bands, the same is emphatically not the case for those who choose to play a classical or jazz instrument. Where are their equivalents of the Friday night pub-back-room gig, or the multitude of bands constantly looking for a guitarist or drummer? Quite simply, there are none.
It is in recognition of the difficulty faced by such musicians in securing opportunities to play and gain exposure that the Yorkshire Live Music Project launched a three-year bursary scheme to support a graduating student. By providing financial backing and organisational assistance for them to showcase their abilities in front of an audience, YLMP aims to ease the transition from playing to learn into playing to earn.
YLMP, which was founded as the Wakefield Live Music Project in 2009, is a community interest company masterminded from her Walton home by Sandra Carlon, a one-time journalist and herself a trained musician. Its objectives are summed up in its motto – More Music for More People in More Places – with the bursary scheme forming an important part of this remit, as Sandra explained.
“When YLMP started out in late 2009, part of our our mission was to support young classical and jazz musicians, because those first years on leaving higher education are very critical. The market place is nervous about engaging young professionals and, sadly, people can get lost quite quickly if they're not managing to generate the interest they feel they should.
“What also makes classical and jazz music different, we believe, is the amount of training and commitment that goes into it tends to be either taken for granted or overlooked. A really good pianist might start learning to play at four and grow up with this commitment in the same way an Olympic athlete might – so to come out of the last three years of higher education and then fall off the edge of a cliff, simply by dint of a lack of support, is tragic.”
The bursary comprises a sum of money – a minimum of £850 over the three-year period – to help meet the musician's expenses, as well as assistance with securing performing opportunities. In return, applicants must demonstrate their educational achievements and make a commitment to performing contemporary classical or jazz music. A six-person selection panel is convened – “it's a bit like the Booker Prize!” joked Sandra – to run the rule over the contenders and decide who to support. However, despite the organisation's name, applicants need not be from Yorkshire: “northern” was Sandra's only geographical qualification.
“Our first recipient was a marvellous young jazz pianist, Declan Forde, who became a bursary holder in 2014 and will finish in 2016. So now we're starting to get cracking with the marketing for next year, when it'll be time to select a new bursary student for 2017 to 2019.
“Declan's been able to use his bursary money to help with the cost of his first CD, it's helped with travel costs and instrument maintenance. “That last cost can be very significant: a good quality cello string can cost up to £200, for example.”
Right from the beginning, the YLMP (which swapped the W of Wakefield for the Y of Yorkshire in 2012) made a commitment to young professionals through its Featured Artist scheme. “Under this, we engaged a young musician and pledged to provide them with at least one performance a year over a three-year period,” said Sandra. “However, during 2013 and 2014 the funding scenario for the arts didn't just become difficult, it became and absolute wasteland.” YLMP had a policy of staging concerts in a wide range of venues but, as financial assistance to support this dried up, a change of tack was required – and thus Sandra and her colleagues devised the bursary scheme.
Another change of emphasis was adopting the Yorkshire title, driven by a realisation that in order to achieve its wider aims, the project needed to spread its net wider. “They're very peculiar markets for jazz and, particularly, classical music and part of our remit is audience development. I'd say 60 to 80% of our events have been in the Wakefield district – but by having the word 'Yorkshire' in there, we're hoping to draw wider attention to what's happening in Wakefield.”
Sandra doesn't believe, however, that the change will make much difference in terms of funding availability. “What's tending to happen with funding is that it's becoming more and more specific, down to single events or projects, rather than on something that's spread regionally. However, where the name change will be beneficial is that it helps say 'look at the phenomenal amount of good work that's going on in the north'. It doesn't all happen in London. We see ourselves as an agency to celebrate local talent but to give it as wide an exposure as we possibly can.”
As for generating finance to run the bursary scheme, one crucial source of income is as local to Sandra as it is possible to get: her back garden. That's where customers can drop into the Odd Things Shop and Cafe.
“It's very important to us, not just because it's now the biggest source of funds for the bursary scheme, but because it's local people doing something which spreads out over a much wider area,” said Sandra of an initiative which began in 2014. “It's been fantastic, it's absolutely brilliant. We sell plants, crafts, vintage books, tea, coffee, home-made cakes and people seem to love it. For next year we want to expand it: we're planning a short series of music events – Declan will perform at one of them – and responding to customer feedback and suggestions.”
For 2016, the shop will be open 10am–5pm on Thursdays to Sundays, plus Bank Holiday Mondays, from Easter to Christmas.
By then, perhaps, former Leeds College of Music student Declan will be starting to forge a successful career. And while he will owe much of that to his inherent talents and also to the major institution at which he studied, the role of a uniquely grass-roots organisation cannot be underestimated, either.
For more information on the bursary scheme and the rest of the Yorkshire Live Music Project's activities, go to www.ylmp.co.uk