My journey from member to Musical Director for Surrey's UP! Orchestra by Tommy Kenney
I’ve always known I would be an artist. Artists are often taught from an early age to follow a technical discipline whilst training, which I discovered through starting dance lessons aged 4, but I dreamed of what it might be like to have creative freedom. My deep love for music soon started to creep in to every corner of my life, and I realised that I wanted to be the type of musician that throws paint onto a blank canvas just to see what happens, rather than one who is conditioned to colour inside the lines. My frustration with traditional secondary education led me to stumble across the UP! Orchestra which, much to my surprise, turned out to be an unapologetic, magical outlet of boundless art from the moment I walked in. Just 4 years later, I found myself graduating from The BRIT School with an Extended Diploma in Music Performance, and I will always credit my time as a member of UP! for unlocking the ‘Unlimited Potential’ that I think I may have had all along. Now, at 19, I have returned as the Orchestra’s conductor and musical director, and couldn’t be more excited to share what I believe is the Orchestra's most ambitious work yet.
The UP! Orchestra is an all-inclusive, experimental music collective for young people, run by professional musicians out of a youth club in Leatherhead. In our bi-weekly rehearsals we compose and build original music inspired by all genres and global cultures, with no idea considered too crazy and nothing ever off limits. Many of our members are neuro-diverse, which has resulted in some unimaginably brilliant music that you have to hear to believe. Recently we have been preparing for the global debut of “Free Spirit”, a 6-minute suite which boasts a thundering chorus, an interpolation of Pachabel’s Canon in D major, a hip-hop breakdown and an opening monologue about an ‘icebird’ to boot. During its creation over the last 5 months the group has undeniably found a new confidence in seeing a former member at the front leading the group, which seems to be opening our members up to new aspirations and possibilities, just as UP! brilliantly did for me those years ago. This also provides me with a natural empathy for all our members and is the reason why I think UP! has never felt more like a family. No-one is ever overlooked or undervalued, and everyone is equal once we enter the music room, participant or tutor.
I'm incredibly grateful for the personal opportunities that directing an Orchestra at such a young age has presented me with, especially now I’m about to embark on my wildest journey yet: university. Working with the Orchestra again has helped me return to creating music as a solo artist, and I now view song writing through new eyes - I’m making the music I never dreamed I could make and I’ve begun work on a visionary, genre-bending project that blurs the lines of music and theatre. I also struggled hugely with my mental health during the pandemic, and I can honestly say that being the musical director of UP! has given me such a sense of pride and purpose, and helped me to see both the light at the end of the tunnel and the magic that exists all around us.