Opinion

YolanDa Brown: 'I want to make classical music for everybody'

Award-winning saxophonist YolanDa Brown is a breath of fresh air who’s fighting to inspire a new generation of young musicians. Ahead of presenting the CBeebies Prom, she explains why music must be inclusive not exclusive

Music is powerful. It doesn’t matter the genre, who is playing it, or where you hear it. It has the power to change your mood and bring back a memory. One of my first musical memories was going to the theatre with my parents. I grew up with reggae, ska, classical, jazz, Latin, Motown…and then the record collection continued to sprawl. I never thought of music in terms of genres, it was just music and developing an open palette for it.

I had always heard about the BBC Proms and enjoyed watching the broadcasts on TV, but I had never had the opportunity to attend. Like many, I don’t think I fully understood how it worked and how accessible the festival is. Three years ago, my heartfelt relationship with the Proms began, when I was invited to host a special Gospel Prom as part of the festival and perform at the Royal Albert Hall. I immediately said, “Yes, count me in.” The words “gospel” and “Royal Albert Hall” alone were enough to convince me.

For the first time looking deeper into the Proms website, I was thrilled to learn that this was a festival celebrating classical music from traditional to modern-day inflections. From jazz fusion to concerts with orchestras in car parks and late-night proms. The programme was eclectic and prices started at £6. How on earth did I not know more about this amazing festival?

I was then asked to present a film for BBC Two on “the art of Promming” following my first experience as an audience member. Since the first ever Proms concerts in 1895, Promenaders had the unique benefit of queuing for cheap standing tickets for each performance. More than 1,000 tickets are available and it is an amazing way to get introduced to the world of the Proms.

More presenting followed, the centenary of jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie for BBC Four and Last Night of the Proms from Scotland then Northern Ireland for two consecutive years.

I feel that it is important to have a good representation of diversity in music and the Proms does just that,

It’s fair to say that I am now becoming a seasoned Prommer! It’s an incredibly diverse festival and there is definitely something for everyone. I feel that it is important to have a good representation of diversity in music and the Proms does just that, featuring an international line-up from many nations and a melting pot of music genres fusing together.

In January this year, my own children’s TV show YolanDa’s Band Jam aired for the first time on CBeebies and the response to the show from children and parents has been so overwhelming. All they want to do is express themselves to the sounds, no inhibitions… we could all learn something from them!

I am so proud to be one of the presenters of the CBeebies Prom this year at the Royal Albert Hall. Remembering my first live concert experiences, it was such an important stepping stone to be able to embrace new sounds. The Proms makes music inclusive, entertaining and accessible for audiences young and not so young.

As the BBC Proms celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of its founder Sir Henry Wood, it continues to uphold the values he set for the festival – to give access to the best in classical and contemporary music to as many people as possible. It’s an honour to be a part of it.

The CBeebies Proms take place at the Royal Albert Hall in London, July 21-22.  @YolanDaBrownUK

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