NYJO in Wales: Music for Social Engagement

February 27, 2024

In January 2024, Vikki Maudave (Head of Learning) and Beth Ismay (Learning Programmes Manager) visited Cardiff and Rhondda Cynon Taf to discuss emerging partnerships with three organisations in the local area: RCT Music Service, Community Music Wales, and The Talking Shop.

We were excited to visit an in-school performance delivered by RCT (Rhondda Cynon Taf) Music Service as part of a tour that they are running, bringing full Big Bands into local secondary schools. It was amazing to see young people living in these rural areas getting to enjoy a large ensemble performing in their own school hall. The Band was predominantly made up of musicians studying Music at University or Conservatoire level. This project enabled young people in the school to understand how studying music could become a viable career option for them in the long-term, and to be inspired by the potential of where this could take them. The Band asked the young people if they had ever heard live jazz before; almost all of them said that they hadn’t. It was clearly a new experience for them, but they approached it with great willingness and interest. Other students at the school had their noses pressed to a window overlooking the hall in order to listen to the music and were so excited when they were invited in to join the audience!



We have just launched our first Widening Access project with RCT Music Service in 2024 with a CPD day for local music tutors, led by NYJO Educator Vij Prakash. Local tutors will deliver a Second Line project, mentored by Vij and then co-delivered by Vij from June. We feel really strongly that everyone should be able to access music education wherever they grow up, and that we should be working to challenge issues such as rurality which may otherwise be preventing young people from taking part in musical activities. RCT’s work in schools across the Rhondda Cynon Taf area models this belief that access to arts and music education is a basic right for all young people, and we are excited to work together to see how we can support this vision in practice.

We then met with Community Music Wales to hear more about their work. They provide a range of opportunities for participatory activities, training and mentoring, using music as a primary tool of engagement. Their work is founded on the belief that participation in the arts is essential in creating a cohesive society. Again, it was really interesting to unpick with them how our work and aims could align more closely in the future. Instruments and instrumental tuition can be extremely expensive to access, and often becomes inaccessible for lower-income families. We believe that it is essential to give everyone the opportunity to make music, and feel so excited by the chance to work with organisations who share in this ambition to put music-making skills into the hands of young people who really need this means of pride and expressing themselves. An emerging theme throughout our meetings so far was this link between music and the political – if we demand access to strong arts education in schools as a basic right for our young people, how can this help us to build a better society for everyone?

This leads us to the final meeting of our trip – this time at The Talking Shop. This is ‘a shop that sells nothing’. It is managed by trained hosts who encourage members of the public to drop-in and engage in open conversations around democratic and cultural engagement. They use a range of creative approaches to draw people into the space and facilitate these discussions in a relaxed environment – including arts & crafts workshops, poetry writing, drama sessions, and music.



Arts and culture are a public good and the creative arts help us to express ourselves, make sense of the world and fine-tune our critical thinking, debating, collaborating and consensus-reaching skills, encouraging us to challenge and critique, which are key to a good working democracy.

The Talking Shop


The Talking Shop model was established by Yvonne Murphy, who became interested in the ways that cultural and democratic participation intersect. Research from the Cultural Learning Alliance has shown that students from low-income families who engage in the arts at school are 20% more likely to vote as young adults. The Talking Shop is therefore founded on the idea that increasing access to arts across the board will give young people the skills they need to engage in our country’s democratic processes.

The Talking Shop recognises the potential of arts engagement to enable young people to develop core skills in collaboration, critical thinking, and challenging the status quo. These same ideas are key to how we want to work with our young musicians at NYJO moving forward. We want them to think about how the music that they are playing interacts with the world in which they are playing it. Where does this music come from? Why was it created? What was the artist trying to say to society at the time?


At points throughout history, jazz has soundtracked an urgency for change, a desire to come together to celebrate community, and the power of protest. It is so important to us that we never lose the power of this in our work moving forward. Visiting some of these local community groups and speaking to young people who had often never encountered jazz before felt really inspiring for us. Music, and jazz in particular, can help young people to find a voice; to speak to what feels meaningful to them and to explore what space they want to carve out for themselves in our wider society. There is nothing more fulfilling for us as a team than the chance to give young people the space and tools to get started with exploring this for themselves.

Beth Ismay, NYJO Learning Programmes Manager


Politics, and these questions, have always sat at the centre of jazz as an artform. You can’t play Nina Simone, for example, without thinking about how her work is influenced by her commitment to the Civil Rights Movement and the overt racism that she faced throughout her life – these experiences are central to why she made the music that she made. This is true of so many jazz musicians throughout the decades – to separate their art from their politics and activism is to do a major disservice to the power of their work.


I know for a fact that many young people my age, including myself, have issues they are passionate about and would love to see change, yet have done nothing to actually fight for change. This may be due to lack of education or belief that change can start from them.

Talking Shop Participant


We are really excited to continue developing our relationship with The Talking Shop – we hope that being able to bring our musicians to perform at the centre, co-host sessions, and engage in these conversations with local people will encourage them as individuals, and also us as a wider organisation, to consider music’s potential as a tool for challenge, activism, and radical engagement.

Jazz is fundamentally a political artform, and we believe that understanding this will help the young people that we work with to, in turn, understand how they can impact societal change themselves. The skills that they develop in the rehearsal room – around collaboration, co-creation, and unpicking creative challenges – are the same skills that will enable them to stand up for issues that they feel passionately about in the world outside of these rooms. We hope that these new partnerships in Wales will help us to take this thinking further, and we can’t wait to see how this informs our wider work in the future.

Lucy-Anne (EP quote)

“Since joining NYJO, I’m so much more confident as a performer. Especially in terms of being able to entertain and keep the crowd engaged with you. It’s really nice to be able to feel that difference.” 

Lucy-Anne, NYJO Emerging Professional (Vocals)

Georgia (EP quote)

“It’s hard to just learn this music in the practice room but being immersed in the music at NYJO is a great environment to really push my playing. ” 

Georgia Ayew, NYJO Emerging Professional (Drums)

Sam Eastmond (MD quote)

"Giving them space to create whatever they wanted, without setting parameters of idiom or style helped them to conceptualise how they could bring these new concepts into their work without scaring them off, or mystifying the process."

Sam Eastmond, NYJO Educator

Jazzwise quote

"NYJO has never been conformist, never hewing to one particular line, never known for fawning replications and very deliberately these days a vehicle for new possibilities."

Jazzwise Magazine

Lydia (EP quote)

"The past year has been an absolutely incredible experience, pushing me way out of my comfort zone into playing with some of the greatest young jazz players of my generation and getting to call them my colleagues and friends has been beyond inspiring, and also an obscene amount of fun!"

Lydia Cochrane, NYJO Emerging Professional (Saxophone)

Anna (Learning national quote)

"[The NYJO residential in Cumbria] helped me to make friends with other young musicians. I enjoy playing a lot more and I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished. I feel more confident now. I have learnt different ways of coming up with solid melodies and also a little bit on harmonies. I think it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had."

Anna, NYJO Learning Widening Access participant

Briony (Learning U18s quote)

"I’ve felt very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing musicians, and I think that the environment at NYJO – which has fostered creativity and improvisation – has allowed my confidence and musical ideas to grow."

Briony, NYJO Under 18s

Oscar (Learning U18s quote)

"I think I’ve progressed a lot in my piano-playing. NYJO has helped me to flourish and really enjoy it. I’ve really enjoyed being engrossed in a high level of playing and learning things in a hands-on-way. I also like the diversity of perspectives and abilities of all the players and teachers which enables me to try things I might not normally."

Oscar, NYJO Under 18s

Jennie (Learning U18s quote)

"NYJO has got me listening to more jazz and learning more changes. It has also helped with working as a band. I’ve really enjoyed the free jazz, learning by ear, the people, and the atmosphere."

Jennie, NYJO Under 18s

Leah-Anais (Learning U18s quote)

"I love the people at NYJO. Everyone here is so encouraging and lovely and it makes the experience worthwhile. Though I have fun I’m still learning on the way which makes me feel productive too."

Leah-Anais, NYJO Under 18s

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