And NCO is evolving to make even more of a difference.

We want to share with you our refreshed values, purpose and priorities for the coming years, as a charity with young musicians at its heart. So we're launching our Music Matters campaign - showing just why music matters at NCO and beyond - because it drives wellbeing and happiness.

Read on to discover more! If what we say matters to you too, we hope you'll join us on this journey in whatever way you can, small or large.

You can:

Music Matters. At NCO:

  • We provide aspirational and transformative orchestral experiences for children aged 8-14, supporting their musical development and ambition

NCO currently comprises of over 650 remarkable young musicians, aged 8-14, who come together in three National Symphony Orchestras for residential orchestral activity and in four regional Projects Orchestras for non-residential orchestral weekends.

This annual programme includes exceptional in-person orchestral coaching with incredible tutors, artists and conductors, as well as enriched musical learning through our established digital programme. Children are supported to reach their full potential at NCO, surpassing all expectations.

NCO provides powerful motivation for children to continue to progress in music as they transition to secondary school, a time when many give up.

From 2024, we're also launching a growing programme of music making activities with local partners for children early on in their musical discovery.

  • We enable children to explore their innate capacity for creativity

They do this through their musical activities including composition and improvisation, body percussion and spoken word.

Our Surround Sound sessions in our National programme are led by creative professionals like Jonathan James, Sarah Freestone and Lucy Drever. They challenge children in our National orchestras to respond to a theme related to the music they are playing at their orchestral residential by improvising and composing new music that they can be proud of.

Our Projects orchestras play new commissions exploring body percussion and the use of non-conventional instruments and they perform them with style, commitment and enthusiasm!

Creative practice feeds excellence and builds critical thinking; it enables less confident children to shine and brings experimentation and new ideas fizzing to the surface. These are skills for life and a dynamic future workforce. 

  • We encourage children to prioritise their wellbeing and to find their own voices and direction - different for every child

Wellbeing professionals design sessions and offer support at residential activities in our National programme. Current Wellbeing Leads for NCO include Ninja Warrior Henry Cookey, Olympian Clare Bennett, Physiotherapist Sarah Upjohn and Performance Coach Tom Taffinder). Digital resources, available to all children in NCO, explore physical fitness, posture and injury avoidance; body scanning and mindfulness. Our Support Teams - under the guidance of our Head of Safeguarding and Support - prioritise the best pastoral care for children taking part in all of our activities. 

We’re increasing pathways into NCO and helping children discover how they might take their music beyond our programmes – there is no single way and no ‘right’ way, only the one that is right for each young musician. Children’s voices are heard as young presenters, creatively through Surround Sound composition and improvisation sessions and through the ideas and content they help us to create for social channels and communications. Children’s feedback through interactive digital evaluation, time capsule postcards and orchestra councils shape our plans, and our response nurtures musicians, audiences and advocates of the future.

NCO is committed to listening and to responding to the voices of all children taking part in our activity, from all lived experiences and backgrounds. New NCO activities from 2024 (see below) will enable us to hear the voices, opinions and ambitions of even more children.

  • We have an improved Financial Support programme which will make it possible for more children to join NCO, those who could not otherwise access our programmes

Orchestras are ginormous, complex, wonderful things. This also makes them expensive! Each membership fee for NCO Projects or National programmes covers around 45% of the costs we spend to make each programme happen. Even this is unreachable for many families, especially right now. Our Financial Support programme prioritises the children that need it most and who would otherwise miss out.

  • We are building partnerships and creating musical communities through new free activities for early music making and more

We want more children currently underrepresented in NCO to thrive - especially those children from families with a lower income (below £32,000 annual household income); children who are Black, Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Indian including those of mixed race or heritage; Disabled children; and those who identify as Hearing impaired or whose first language is BSL.

We also want to increase the number of participants in state education because we recognise that there are less opportunities to learn and progress in music than are available to a young person at an independent school.

We’re working with music education hubs services and schools to support progression pathways for all children in orchestral music making; musical organisations such as Open Up Music to research and develop the accessibility and inclusivity of our programmes; venues to support and increase diversity within our audiences; Higher Education establishments to develop and diversify our future workforce and our expansive network of individual musicians, to expand opportunities for children to experience the joy and power of orchestral music making.

New NCO programmes will include First Access Concerts, free NCO Concert tickets and opportunities for side-by-side music making with NCO Members and Alumni.

Representation, identity and belonging matter – at NCO children build lifelong friendships they might otherwise not have discovered, with orchestral music as the binding connection. 

  • We are strengthening the music industry workforce whilst discovering how we can adapt, improve and lead

We work with 200 freelance musicians and other professionals every year – tutors, conductors, support team, as well as creative, sport, health and wellbeing practitioners. 

Together, we learn and we develop how NCO supports and feeds the wider music education and music industries; championing a focus on physical and mental wellbeing alongside musical ambition and creativity. 

We prioritise relevant formal professional development and training for all our teams, celebrating the organic, informal professional development that thrives when bringing highly skilled musicians together. 2024 sees our NCO Student Horizons programme provide placement opportunities for students to develop mentoring and tutoring skills.