'We want to give free music lessons to talented Doncaster kids'
Whatever happens over Brexit, there will be some things in Doncaster that will not change.
For the last 25 years, the Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra has swapped visits with a similar band in Germany. Year in, year out, the group has been out to Herten, in an exchange scheme with the Erich-Klausener School Big Swing Band.
And the band has just seen a big landmark – with the latest show marking a quarter of a century of visits.
This year, the trip co-incided with what was at the time due to be the date that the UK left the EU – October 31 – meaning that the date was expected to be a poignant moment for the two bands.
As it happened, the date for leaving the EU was put back.
The first exchange between the two groups was back in 1994, as part of celebrations marking the 800th anniversary of Doncaster's charter. Every second year since then, the DYJO has gone to Germany to perform, with the German band visiting Doncaster in the years in between.
DYJO founder John Ellis said: “We’re very proud that we have done the visits every year since, us going out to Germany one year, and then hosting the swing band the next.
“The band members stay with host families, so they get to know more about what it’s like to live in England. The result is that they stay in touch for a long time.
“At one point we did a similar scheme with Limonest in France, but sadly that finished.
“The first time we went out to Germany, I was a bit nervous. There were a lot of young people doing a trip for the first time. They were playing concerts at schools all across Herten. But after they had played their concerns, you could see the feel good factor from the smiles on their faces. Their audiences, kids of their age, were so enthusiastic.
“I was so proud of them when they had an amazing round of applause. These are good kids who put in an amazing amount of time and practice into what they do.”
John set up the orchestra when he was working as a music teacher in Doncaster back in 1973, and has been involved ever since.
He is determined that leaving the EU will make no difference to the exchange arrangements.
He said: “The final concert that we played in Germany would have been on Brexit night, October 31, at the Glashaus, Herten. You can imagine how we built up for that. With all the build-up, I was nervous in case anyone was pulled out of the trip, but no parents took their children out of the visit.
“There was an atmosphere of genuine friendship, and we are determined that this will continue. They have already given dates for when they will come over next year.”
John’s son, Mark, a former DYJO member himself as a youngster, is now getting more involved in the organisation too.
And another former member, Stuart Garside, is now the musical director. He currently plays with the 1980s band Bad Manners among other groups.
And since September, Charlotte Arrowsmith has taken over as chairman.
Mark still plays in bands and teaches the saxophone. He is becoming more involved in the youth orchestra and a number of schemes it is looking to roll out.
The orchestra is self funded since austerity ended its funding, but has kept going through donations which have included the proceeds of a fundraising concert by a former member, the Groove Armada star Andy Cato.
They are in the middle of re-decorating their base on Beckett Road, Wheatley, an old school site. That has been done with help from Dobson and Hodge Insurance, a local firm whose staff did some of the work.
There are also plans to find sponsorship for a scholarship scheme that would pay for music lessons for talented children from hard-up backgrounds.
There are also plans to hold what is thought to be the first ever youth jazz festival in Doncaster next summer. The plan is to hold the festival over on June 26 and June 27 at the Cast theatre on Waterdale. There would be three bands, and a number of famous guest vocalists.
Mark said: “I was involved in the orchestra from the age of 12, and I joined at the same time as Stuart Garside in 1986. I've been teaching here for 15 years, but I’m now getting more involved in the administrative and business end of things.
“There have been so many highlights – we played to 6,000 people at the Royal Albert Hall at its schools prom. We were also asked to represent Europe at an international jazz festival at the United Nations building in New York, and we played in Russia before the Cold War ended.
“Since austerity, we think there has been a significant fall in the number of kids learning instruments. We know that because we’re struggling to get new members, and the number of people coming into our building to take grading exams is dropping. We are concerned music is becoming an elite subject. We want to address this and bring in more and more children.
“We want the orchestra to grow, and we want kids from all backgrounds to be able to do things like this – not just the wealthy.”