30 January-7 February 2017 | BELIZE CITY
This case study seeks to reflect upon the current state of the NYOB and analyze the orchestra’s growth potential. It is based on interviews with teaching staff and orchestra members, surveys conducted with the young musicians, and our observations over this ten-day period.
The National Youth Orchestra of Belize/Rainforest Symphony was founded, under the direction of Colville Young, approximately thirty years ago by the government of Belize. In 2013, The Orchestra of the Americas teamed up with Belize’s National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) to expand this program, creating the National Youth Orchestra and Choir of Belize. (The choir component is currently on hold.) As of 2017, the orchestra had approximately sixty members and had split for the first time into junior and senior orchestras. Both are full orchestras and include woodwind, brass, and string players between the ages of 15 and 30. The National Youth Orchestra (NYOB) serves all of Belize, a small Central American country with a population of 350,000 and an area of only 8,867 square miles.
Roughly 90% of the students in the orchestra are enrolled in either Pallotti High School, Wesley College, or the Pallotti School of Music, all located in Belize City. Pallotti High School and Wesley College are secondary schools co-sponsored (50/50) by the government and the church, as is typical for the Belizean school system. Both offer music classes as part of their academic curriculum. The program at Wesley College includes marching band and concert band, and students may choose to play any wind instrument they desire (including oboe and bassoon). The Pallotti High School program is much smaller, consisting of just one music class that focuses on teaching students to play recorder. Advanced students have the opportunity to play other wind instruments within the same music class. The Pallotti School of Music, though located on the Pallotti High School campus, is a private music school that operates independently from the high school. One building on campus is for music classes and rehearsals, and the NYOB currently rehearses in this space. Note that students that receive instruction at the Pallotti School of Music generally come from wealthier backgrounds, own their own instrument, and have access to more educational opportunities (weekly classes, travel opportunities for masterclasses, etc.).
NYOB students usually begin violin at age 12, though a handful of children start earlier with private lessons at the Pallotti School of Music. This school is the only option in Belize City for private music instruction and offers individual lessons on string instruments, flute, guitar, voice, piano, and theory/aural skills.
The orchestra’s wind program is just beginning to bloom. Flute students have access to a private teacher at the Pallotti School of Music but no private lessons are available for other wind instruments. With the exception of two flautists currently playing in the senior orchestra, the orchestra wind players all began playing in their high school marching band programs.
The youth orchestra depends greatly on the collaboration of international musicians, with many coming to Belize from The Global Leaders Program, MusAid, and the Honduras Philharmonic Orchestra to work for weeks or months at a time. During these visits, students receive group and individual lessons as well as coaching on orchestra repertoire.
According to orchestra members, music is not recognized by most Belizeans as a viable career option, although the field is quickly developing. Many members of the orchestra who are now adults earn their living by teaching music and playing occasional gigs. Some have formed quartets and are called to play gigs throughout the country. It seems that appreciation for classical music, and instrumental music in general, is spreading through the passion and enthusiasm of the orchestra members. NYOB members have gone on to study music at universities across the Americas and perform with notable ensembles such as The Orchestra of the Americas.