LYC Blog #4: In unison

LYC Head of Engagement Ishani O’Connor shares her incoming experiences of LYC, and talks about the power of inclusion. 

Published June 2022

To be truly inclusive, you need to create an environment where everyone feels safe, secure and enabled to be themselves in all their natural glory. For organisations which put young people at the heart of their work this becomes existential, a core motivation for being. I recently joined LYC at an exciting time when the need for growth and development of the charity is an understatement. The charity has big ambitions for the young people of London who are in real need right now. The welcome from the LYC team, the music staff, the children and young people has been extremely warm and as a newcomer, I have not felt shy to ask questions (silly ones and difficult ones) and I have felt included.

The LYC team put pastoral care at the centre of their work with the children and young people of London, but this fundamental caring is integrated with the musical journeys they are all taking. The young choir members are not just ‘participants’, ‘stakeholders’ or even ‘singers’ they are nurtured, listened to and supported in such a way that they can be themselves, whoever they are and wherever they come from. Respect for each other is a foundation of what LYC are doing.

The reason why I can say this with certainty is I have already had the great opportunity to be an observer at the weekly term-time LYC rehearsals for all age groups and regions of London (Central, South East and West) and I have witnessed many moments of trust and impact that have stuck out for me; When young people have been asked to sing alone, a solo audition in front of their peers and the leaders that conduct and teach them, they have been bold and courageous, singing at the tops of their voices without prompting or pushing. At the age of 8, I don’t think I would have had this courage. This speaks volumes (pardon the pun) to the ability of the adults who coach and encourage the choirs with dynamic energy and bucketloads of fun. But it is also evident that the LYC team have woven a safety net made of kindness around the young people’s space to create.

Members of LYC Cambiata Girls in concert, December 2021. Image: Belinda Lawley

You may think I’m being soppy but this really matters. Starting from a point of acceptance and respect, children and young people thrive (and so do adults!). Difference is celebrated not quashed and this energy is even harnessed to be part of the session where the adult leadership adapt to the children’s needs whether they are responsible for the musical, logistical or pastoral. When a child sings that solo and they happen to be out of tune or not at the correct tempo, they’re not lambasted or embarrassed either by their conductor or their friends, they are complimented on their willingness to contribute. If a young leader takes a sectional or conducts the choir for the first time, they are cheered and clapped and they feel that maybe, they will try that again.

This bonding approach enhances the overall beauty and quality of the sound each choir makes which is so powerful and moving. The warm-ups are designed to be fun but also about focussing the young people’s energy and getting ready for the serious pursuit of musical excellence. LYC provides a memorable time together for its members and the consistency of weekly meetings highlights the importance of the social aspect which is integrated within the musical and learning experience.

‘Youth Voice’ has become such a buzz phrase for cultural organisations in recent years and LYC really do forefront the needs and self-expression of young people. During the 2020 full-lockdown year, the staff were a lifeline for choir members whose only online contact outside of their homes for a time, was a weekly meet up with LYC (when there was no school). Being able to support their members during this time, solidified and built relationships, even though choirs and singing together were a casualty of the pandemic. I feel lucky to be reaping the dividend this year; the power of this relationship-building and the way LYC demonstrates support for its members is a strong base to grow from.

When observing the choirs, I can see how different every voice is – each singer’s individuality and identity shines through, with utter joy! Singing, as we know, is a truly affirmative type of human expression and it requires only your body to take part and it is also the most democratic form of music making. I can see with every choir group in each diverse area of London, there are so many young personalities in the making, who are given the opportunity to express themselves and take personal risks in a safe atmosphere. This is not only about self-confidence through singing and creativity but also feeling part of a family that accepts you for everything that you are.

Members of LYC Chamber Choir in rehearsal, December 2021. Image: Belinda Lawley

I hope that I can translate this unique and careful way of working to benefit many more young people in our capital city. This is my home-town too; where I was born and grew up, had my first music lessons, sang in choirs and felt so lucky to be part of an active and often free-of-charge cultural life. I know that many, many more children can be this lucky with our support. On my first day in post I was introducing myself to the eldest group of young people and when it came to the Q&A one of them asked, “What are you going to do in your first 100 days?” which I know you would normally ask politicians! I can safely say that as I am rising to this challenge, researching and developing a strategy for the coming months, that I am energised by what I have seen so far which is, everyone involved with LYC likes to sing in unison as much as they do in harmony.

One of the aims and part of my remit in this new role is to widen LYC’s reach to include more diverse groups and those within the bottom 25% of the most deprived areas of London and with this inclusive, warm welcoming approach I can already tell that this will be a very fulfilling task. LYC’s reputation not only for delivering musical excellence for everyone involved but also creating this relaxed, family atmosphere is a key to its success and three weeks in, I already feel welcome and part of a uniquely skilled team.

I want to end with a quote I saw recently from David Attenborough, “The arts are for everyone – and failure to include everyone diminishes us all.” Feeling included should not be underestimated and being part of an LYC choir is a great place to start.

Ishani O’Connor

  • LYC Head of Engagement
  • Years with LYC: Just over a month!
  • Favourite London view: From Horniman’s Park (and museum), next to the bandstand looking across to the city, because it’s where I grew up. 

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