Young Musicians Project

To coincide with their latest music-themed exhibition Paint the Town in Sound, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens have collaborated with We Make Culture’s Young Musician Project, a dynamic group of young musicians from Sunderland, to curate their latest Arts Council Collection print display located in the Museum’s Art Lounge.

In this blog, we hear from We Make Culture’s Laura Brewis to hear all about The Young Musician’s project; who they are, what they do, how they’ve adapted over the past year, and their place in Sunderland’s thriving music scene.

There’s something about putting something in a museum that makes it feel like it’s finished. And that was always the danger of trying to make an exhibit out of a city’s music – it inevitably has to stop at a certain point. And when the exhibition was talked about, the members of Young Musicians Project, quite rightfully, made the point that music in Sunderland is very much alive.

Group of young people sitting around a table playing guitars

Young Musicians Project (YMP) has been running for 6 years in the city. It’s a pretty straightforward concept. In pre-COVID times, the group met for two hours on a Saturday in Pop Recs, providing a safe space for young people (aged 12-21) to write songs together, with the support of professional local musicians Marty Longstaff (The Lake Poets), Beccy Young (This Little Bird) and Natasha Haws. The project has a couple of founding principles: anyone can come, we write and play original songs, and we try and make space for female and gender non-conforming young people, who might have found it more difficult to navigate a male-dominated scene. We also give young musicians the opportunity to gig and record, and support those who are ready to make their first steps as independent artists. 

Group of young people clustered around, playing a keyboard

As for the whole of the music industry, it’s been a challenging year for YMP. But we moved the project online quickly, learning as we went along, and, through a combination of large group zooms, 1-2-1s and socially-distanced studio sessions in the Field Music studio, we’ve kept the group together, and the young musicians who come along have kept coming along and writing astonishing songs. They’ve done online gigs, got their first plays on BBC Introducing North East and been featured in NARC Magazine. We’ve had new members join and we’ve even done new projects, like our Lasses and Lyrics project with English Heritage and Sound Connections. Taking part in this exhibition feels like a milestone – after 2020, it’s amazing that we have a music project at all, let alone that it has grown and flourished.  

And the most exciting thing is that YMP is just a small part of what makes Sunderland a really exciting place to be a young musician right now. There’s Right Track Music who meet at Arts Centre Washington, and Sunderland Music Workshops led by Sunderland’s king of youth music Dave Murray, whose SCCDYP workshops in the early 90s started all of this off and to whom we are all hugely indebted. There’s all the amazing bands, musicians and projects who meet at The Bunker, there are venues supporting grassroots artists, like Independent and Pop Recs, and even a new degree on the Modern Music Industry by Northern Academy of Music Education launched from The Peacock. There are young promoters, Unison Music and Events, and websites like Spotlight Music UK. There is the Youth and Community orchestra, stage schools, in-school groups run by New Writing North and the mighty Sunderland Music Hub who are doing so much to make music more accessible for all young people.

As the exhibition shows, Sunderland’s always been a music city and now is no different.

To view the exhibition online featuring artworks selected by the Young Musicians alongside their own artwork and portraits visit:

Large group of young people sitting and standing in a room, looking towards the camera

More information on Young Musicians Project, here:

Link to our YMP SoundCloud:

Link to our Lasses and Lyrics:

Paint the Town in Sound and the print display by the Young Musicians Project are part of Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme. Find out more about the programme here.

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