THE news that the Galloway branch of the National Youth Choir of Scotland is to merge with the Dumfries branch has left one 10-year-old member from Kirkcowan “devastated”.
Libby Adams, from Clugston Farm, has been an enthusiastic singer in the choir for the past two years. But a letter sent to her parents earlier this week informed the family that the Galloway choir, which meets in Newton Stewart on a Thursday evening, is to be merged with the Dumfries choir, meaning a two-and-a-half-hour, 120-mile round trip for Libby and her friends if they want to continue singing.
Catriona Adams, Libby’s mum, said: “My husband, myself and especially our devastated 10-year-old have been both extremely disappointed and angered by this decision, which has been made without any consultation with parents or, it seems, any consideration given to the children involved and how it would affect them. The NYCoS Galloway choir is there to provide the children with a local environment to enjoy the experience of learning to sing and to associate with like-minded individuals.
“It also provided them with opportunities to perform together. We love seeing her perform and being able to take her younger siblings to see her. We will be able to do none of these things with a choir based in Dumfries.
“I am absolutely stunned that no thought has been given to the huge increase in the time and financial commitment expected from parents, including the extra fuel costs. This is a rural area and the increased distance involved for us is just beyond belief. No-one has considered the time this takes and how this will impact on families with other children and/or working parents. It is impossible for most, if not all, to even consider attending NYCoS Dumfries.”
The letter, from Joan Gibson, the NYCoS chief executive, informed parents that the two choirs would be merged after the school summer holidays and that, from September, the weekly meetings would be held in a primary school in Dumfries.
The reasons given were the small numbers and the wide age range meaning the Galloway choir was “not providing the NYCoS experience for choir members”.
She added that the merging of the choirs would mean the children concerned would have a “positive time socially and musically”.
The Galloway choir has 30 members at the moment, over four different age groups, and choir organisers were due to have a new intake workshop day in June – the invites for which have already been sent out.
Galloway MP Russell Brown said: “Parents are understandably angry about the merger, because it means a long drive for them and their children. The National Youth Choir has said that it is doing it because there aren’t enough members in the Galloway branch, but I would have hoped the response to this would be a membership drive locally rather than transporting everyone all the way through to Dumfries.
“Being part of a choir is a great thing for a young person to do and the National Youth Choir does excellent work across Scotland. During these difficult economic times I appreciate that budgets are tight and difficult decisions have to be made, but effectively closing the Galloway branch must be the last resort. I have written to the chief executive of the National Youth Choir to offer to do what I can to help keep the Galloway branch open.”
Galloway MSP Alex Fergusson added: “I am devastated to hear the news that the local branch of NYCoS is to be merged with the Dumfries branch, given that would effectively disenfranchise many of my constituents from participating in this excellent organisation. I am taking the matter up with NYCoS to see if this decision cannot be revisited, as I believe it should be. NYCoS is an organisation that should cover the whole country – this decision, if implemented, would prevent it from doing so.”
Chief executive of NYCoS Joan Gibson explained: “Over the past few years there has been a steady decrease in the number of choir members at the NYCoS Galloway choir and recruitment has become increasingly difficult. NYCoS has been continually considering ways of ensuring that NYCoS Galloway choir is supported and delivers to the highest standards expected by NYCoS.
“However, with such small numbers across a wide age range, the experience is now not considered to be educationally or artistically viable for the choir members. Along with this, there is an issue in recruiting and retaining staff in the area that are trained by NYCoS to deliver the programme. To add to these concerns, the choir has been running at a deficit for a considerable period which is not sustainable.
“The decision was not taken lightly as NYCoS appreciates that parents will have to travel a greater distance to take their children to rehearsals but it felt it to be the right decision to assure that the young people receive the highest quality provision in choral singing.
“Discussions will continue with Dumfries and Galloway Council to work in partnership on singing projects across the authority.
“I hope this explains the reasons for the decision taken by the NYCoS board regarding NYCoS Galloway choir.”