written by
Clifton Joseph

The Antigua and Barbuda Youth Symphony Orchestra celebrated its fifth year of operations in April with a series of concerts, workshops, master classes and appearances across Antigua.

Since its beginning in 2018, the ABYSO has established itself as one of the island's premiere arts organization with a roster of impressive activities for young people and music It manages and sustains two orchestras, the Junior Orchestra and the ABYSO, with weekly rehearsals, instrument clinics and sectional.  The Trainers projects, throughout the year enhances the skills of the young music educators teaching various instruments, sends members overseas to increase their knowledge skills and expertise and sustains an Inspired Youth Choir made up of singers from church, schools and community groups.  It has helped to inspire chorale singing amongst the island's youth, outreach programmes at various schools on the twin-island state; a composition program; and an instrument repair training program.

The celebrations was formally kicked off with a thanksgiving service at the St. John's Seventh Day Adventist Church on Nevis Street Sunday April 16, featuring an list of local and international musicians. Among them were the ABYSO and Junior Orchestras; the famous Kanneh-Mason musical family from the UK, which was instrumental in the formation of the ABYSO; the Inspire Youth Choir helmed by guest conductor Tom Featherstone-Haugh, graduate of Oxford University's Merton College and currently the Assistant-Conductor of the influential Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

More music happened Saturday April 22, with an expansive performance by the Kanneh-Mason family of music by Marley, Beethoven, Milhaud and others.

The ABYSO has had a tradition of inviting international musicians, conductors and soloists to its annual celebrations. It continues this tradition with award-winning saxophonist Jess Gillam. Gillam has won UK's major musical prizes and is the youngest ever presenter for the BBC with, "This Classical Life", her weekly show.

Students from sister island Barbuda made the trip to sing in the Inspire Youth Choir; and three students came from the Dominican Republic playing a trio of tuba, flute and French horn.

The final musical visiting performer was award-winning clarinetist Sophie Biddell, Director of Music at Christchurch Cathedral School in Oxford.

It was just a few months ago, in November 2022, that the ABYSO launched "Play Out" an impressive new series with mini concerts across the island from string and wind ensembles. The special guest was violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason, who performed and also conducted string master classes.

When the ABYSO was formed five years ago, there were high hopes for the venture.  Antiguan High Commissioner to the UK Karen-Mae Hill predicted that the ABYSO "will provide an avenue for young people with an interest in music to hone their talents and benefit holistically from the proven virtues of exposure to music education. Young people, regardless of their socio-economic background, who demonstrate a passion for and interest in developing as musicians will be given the opportunity".