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28 September 2020, 14:34 | Updated: 28 September 2020, 17:02
This inspiring youth orchestra blew away audiences with its incredible talent – but who are its members and what’s their story?
The Chineke! Junior Orchestra is a dynamic British youth orchestra of Majority BME (Black and minority ethnic) players aged 11 to 22 years old, which was founded in 2015 along with its sister ensemble, the Chineke! Orchestra.
The orchestra has garnered widespread attention over the past few years owing to its ongoing mission to create opportunities for emerging and established musicians of BME heritage, with many of its players already benefitting from other youth schemes, junior music colleges and specialist music schools across the UK.
The young musicians – who are all Grade 8+ and between them have secured scholarships to the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music – work closely with Chineke!, whose senior members often act as mentors, teachers and role models.
Inspired by their love of classical music, the Chineke! Juniors are certainly on the path to musical success, with previous performances including the 2019 CBeebies Prom, a chamber ensemble at the Foundling Museum for HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, and for the Mayor of London at City Hall to celebrate 2019 Black History Month.
In 2019, the orchestra was also nominated for Best Classical Music Education Initiative Award (voted for by Classic FM listeners), which honours an education project that has shown musical excellence and had a positive impact on a significant number of participants.
Award-winning cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, is among the orchestra’s talented alumni. He told audiences on TV show, The Voice: “Chineke! Orchestra was so inspiring for me because I was then suddenly surrounded by musicians and hearing their stories and being able to directly relate to them in a way I hadn’t been able to before.”
Following on from its musical successes and high standards of playing, the Chineke! Junior Orchestra was invited to audition on the 2020 season of popular ITV talent show, Britain’s Got Talent.
Its members were watched by the show’s panel of judges – Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams (host of our David Walliams’ Marvellous Musical Podcast) – as the young musicians competed against some of the nation’s most talented entertainers.
Audiences were clearly impressed by the Chineke! Juniors and gave them a standing ovation for their incredible medley, which included an epic intro of Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra, an energetic cover of Beyoncé’s pop hit ‘Crazy in Love’, a heartfelt rendition of John Legend’s ‘All of Me’ and Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, among other well known tunes.
On 26 September, the group performed an electrifying mash-up of classical and contemporary music at the show’s semi-finals.
Launched in 2015 by Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, along with Chineke!’s two orchestras, the Chineke! Foundation exists to champion change and celebrate diversity in classical music.
Nwanoku says: “My aim is to create a space where BME musicians can walk on stage and know that they belong, in every sense of the word.
“If even one BME child feels that their colour is getting in the way of their musical ambitions, then I hope to inspire them, give them a platform, and show them that music, of whatever kind, is for all people.”
‘Chineke’ derives from an Igbo word meaning ‘God’.
Nwanoku coined its name from the word ‘Chi’’ in Igbo – the native language of the Igbo people, an ethnic group of southeastern Nigeria – which refers to ‘the god of creation of all good things’ or ‘the spirit of creation’.