According to reports from the National Schools Symphony Orchestra (NSSO), the ‘Sheku Effect’ is in full swing, seeing young people across the country picking up a bow and dusting off their sheet music.
The orchestra, which offers a high-quality orchestral experience for young players aged 9-19, has seen an influx of new cello players signing up for the 2020 residential course: inspired by “the world’s new favourite cellist” (The Times). NSSO reports a 69% increase in applications from young cellists compared to this time last year, half of whom are first-time applicants.
They have also reported an uplift of 26% on recruitment across all instruments compared to this time last year, which is contrary to claims that music was becoming the preserve of the most privileged children from higher-income backgrounds.
NSSO also works with the London-based “music for social action” organisation Nucleo Project to offer places on their summer courses to children who show a gift for music but who would not otherwise have the ability to access courses such as these. NSSO awarded bursaries to 10% of the successful orchestral applicants in 2019.
Artistic Director of the NSSO, John Madden, said: “Malvern College, in the heart of Elgar country, is the home of the National Schools Symphony Orchestra. This year, with applications up by almost a third on our 25th anniversary last year, the number of cellists applying is double that rate. There can be no doubt that the artistry and advocacy of Sheku Kanneh-Mason has been an inspiration to many young players; those taking up the cello as well as those who want to join NSSO.”
The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), a music examinations board which accepts more than 600,000 candidates in over 93 countries worldwide each year, reported a spike in cello examinations following Sheku’s 2016 BBC Young Musician win. In 2017, the ABRSM received a 12.7% increase in cello exams undertaken on the previous year.
Music education provision remains a topic close to Sheku’s heart; he was recently appointed Ambassador for city-based charity London Music Masters (LMM), having lead string workshops with local schoolchildren in his role as Junior Ambassador for the last three years, reaching over 900 children through his work.
On receiving the news of his MBE award in the New Year’s Honours list, Sheku was keen to highlight those who had supported his music education thus far:
“I was so lucky to have the dedicated support of my parents in giving me the opportunity to have specialist music lessons from a young child. I also had incredible support from the state schools I attended in Nottingham where music was promoted for its value in developing listening skills, teamwork, self-expression and hard work. The love and enjoyment for this great art is something that should be available to everyone, regardless of background.”
Sheku is also an Ambassador for Future Talent – a charity supporting young musicians from low-income backgrounds. As part of his extensive concert tour of the USA, which continues throughout spring 2020, Sheku directs sessions with students of different ages and abilities, ensuring that his reach is not just confined to the UK.