FIRST IN THE WORLD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL YOUTH ORCHESTRA OF WALES. By Beryl Bowen James and David Ian Allsobrook. University of Wales Press Pounds 7.95. - 0 7083 1296 9.
This book chronicles the history of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales from its conception in pre-war years, its birth in the immediate post-war period, through the development and triumphs of the 70s and 80s, up to the present - one of the great educational and musical achievements of our time.
For the child educated in Wales during this period the very names - Walford Davies, Rae Jenkins, Grace Williams - are evocative. We were the children of a musical tradition which was being developed before our very eyes - and ears, and part of the interest of the book is in the lists of names of past members.
The opening chapters express the optimism of the years between the wars when state education was opened up, and inspired individuals were able to share their skills and enthusiasms with young people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Before this time, the musical tradition of Wales was almost exclusively choral. The impetus to develop orchestral music came from men and women who were often the first generation to receive their formal musical training and experience in England before returning to their homeland.
The foundation of the NYOW coincided with the expansion in post-war years of instrumental teaching in schools and the orchestra is shown to have given focus and incentive to young musicians.
One of the most interesting elements of the book is the selection of personal reminiscences by past members of the orchestra. Many are now household names, such as Alun Hoddinott and Osian Ellis, and many, though not all, went on to become professional players and educators. All highlight the excitement and challenge of the musical opportunity, but also the social and emotional benefits.
The book is fascinating in its evocation of the early years of the orchestra, and deals satisfactorily with the achievements of more recent years, though the Coda, "Past and Future", does little to express the challenges facing Britain's youth orchestras in the 90s.
One is left with a feeling of optimistic complacency which is out-of-tune with a world where instrumental teaching and government funding are under threat, so that the solid foundation upon which these national institutions have been built will, if not guarded with the same enthusiasm and vision as was shown by such men as Walters and Raybould, crumble away.
Maxwell Pryce was formerly music inspector in the London Borough of Barnet.