Four in five children (80%) aged under 16 have experienced orchestral music – and 76% from as young as the age of six - although the classroom is no longer the home of music education, with many children saying their school does not even encourage them to learn to play a musical instrument.

With growing numbers of young people attending its matinee concerts, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned nationwide research to better understand how a representative sample of 586 children aged 6-15 were being introduced to orchestral music. The findings show film, gaming and online media are replacing the classroom in nurturing an early interest in the world of orchestral music.

Film has become the biggest single influence for introducing children to orchestral music (41%), followed by soundtracks to television programmes (34%). Children as young as six cite film (44%) and television (34%) as introducing them to the orchestral genre with YouTube also emerging as a growing influence on children of all ages (16%).

Only 29% of children said they had listened to orchestral music at school. In fact around a third of children aged 6-15 (32%) said their school did not encourage them to learn a musical instrument, a feeling that rose (44%) the closer children got to their GCSEs (ages 14-15). Children that felt their school did not encourage them to learn a musical instrument were more than twice as likely to say they had never experienced orchestral music at all (23% Vs. 10%). Further, they were more than twice as likely to express no interest whatsoever in discovering any genre of music in their own time (13%, compared to 6% that say their school encourages them to learn an instrument).

Despite the feeling that schools could do more to nurture children’s interest in music, the survey suggested that everyday home life encouraged children to experience orchestral music. One in four children (25%) said they had been introduced to the genre during a car journey and 17% said they had heard it on the radio when at home with their parents.

Computer games also look set to be a new source of cultural influence for children. Overall, 15% of children said they had discovered orchestral music as a soundtrack to a computer game they had played. Boys were more than twice as likely to mention computer games as a source for hearing orchestral music (21% Vs. 9% of girls) - and the influence of games starts early: As young as the age of seven, around 18% of children say computer games introduced them to orchestral music. At this age, it seems that gaming is more influential than music lessons (17%) in giving young people a connection to the genre.

Attending live performances from a young age also emerged as integral to children’s engagement with the orchestral genre. Overall, 15% of children said they had been introduced to orchestral music when visiting the theatre and 11% mentioned attending a music concert.

James Williams, Managing Director at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra commented: “There has been much debate about school cutbacks on musical education and our research certainly suggests this can have a lasting impact on a child’s interest in any genre of music. That said, in the fast moving digital age, children are getting a myriad of opportunities to discover the genre through visual and online media. Our work in film, the world premier of our PlayStation concert and the RPO’s recent partnership with Google Arts and Culture are all part of our strategy to engage younger audiences, enrich people’s lives and help people to start a lifetime’s journey through the world of orchestral music. Our Virtual Reality film of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, which we recently launched on Google Arts & Culture, also underlines that orchestral music does not need to be dumbed down to operate in the digital world. It’s a case of modernising, making it easy for people to start exploring the genre and orchestras being in the media that young people choose to consume. In a word, it’s about being relevant.

“Our new season offers innovative accessible concerts along with performances of core repertoire and our aim is to encourage new audiences to experience both. Our appointment of Vasily Petrenko as our new Music Director will give us the opportunity to take a further step in our journey to lead the way in modernising the orchestral genre for tomorrow’s world and tomorrow’s audiences.”


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