As thousands of young musicians prepare to converge on the South Bank in London for this year's National Festival of Music for Youth next Monday, the organisers are facing "a problem of success", according to Larry Westland, the director of Music for Youth.
He is seeking more sponsorship to cater for the increased demand from schools to take part in regional and national events organised by MFY. In 1992, 25,000 young people participated. Twice as many took part in 1995, and this year numbers were up by another 10 per cent.
Of 1,245 entries for the National Festival, 463 were recommended for a place. But only half could be accommodated. More than 50 of the 200-plus groups unable to get places were of exceptional standard and, according to Mr Westland, should definitely have been included. "We are seriously concerned that if we continue to exclude a high proportion of worthy groups, they will cease to enter," he said.
Howard Dove, former head of Hampshire's music service and the organiser of this year's MFY conference, which coincides with the festival, said it was anyone's guess why the number of festival entries had gone up. "There are no hard facts since the introduction of LMS," he said, although he suggested that one reason might be that governors and heads feel a greater need to promote their schools. "Participating in the festival looks good in the school's brochure."
Peter Dunkley, head of the music service in Northamptonshire, agreed. "It seems to be a deliberate tactic to enhance the image of the school in its community. " Parental pressure is another factor, he said, not least because there is new evidence to show that music helps children to learn other subjects such as maths..
To cope with demand, Mr Westland is considering splitting the festival into separate events - a youth orchestras festival, a jazz festival and a choral festival. But to do this he needs to attract more sponsorship. He would like another major sponsor for MFY, to join British Aerospace, Commercial Union, Glaxo Wellcome and WH Smith, which provide Pounds 45,000 in all. Supporters of MFY include The TES.
The annual programme consists of regional festivals at 30 centres, involving 35,000 young performers aged from four to 23; the National Festival on the South Bank; and the Schools Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring 1, 500 musicians, dancers and singers who are chosen from the festival.
This year's MFY conference focuses on music at key stage 2. It will give practical demonstrations for primary teachers on confidence-building, continuity and progression, composing and performing.