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Former Member Profile Archive

Posted by robert.briscoe on the Monday, 06 January 2014

This section will contain a record of all of the former member profiles which have previously been featured on the site

Former Member Profile No.16 - Anne Harper -Clarinet 1992-95

I started my musical education at the age of 6 at Primary school in Derry and continued it at the CBSM when my family moved to Belfast in 1986. I joined the Youth Orchestra under Stanley Foreman just before their America Tour in 1992 and have fantastic memories of playing in St Patrick’s Cathedral New York, under the St Louis Arch with the Stage Band, and in the amazing auditorium at Butler University Indianapolis.

Two years later I gave a performance of the Debussy Premiere Rhapsodie with the Orchestra in the Ulster Hall and I remember being so nervous waiting off-stage that I totally missed my name being called as the winner of The Stephen Parker Memorial Award!

In 1995 we toured France and I performed the Weber Concertino with the Orchestra in some amazing venues. I have many hilarious memories from that tour, sadly none of which I can share here! Suffice to say, the identities of some of those involved may surprise you….

I was awarded the MacFarlane scholarship to attend the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), and began my studies there in 1995 under John Cushing. A surprise failure in my very first exam gave me the kick in the backside I needed to work really hard, and in the end I graduated with a First Class degree in Music Performance in 1999. I remained at the RSAMD/ RCS for my Masters Degree (also in Performance), which I received with Distinction in 2000. During my time at college I had the opportunity to play many great works including the Copeland Concerto at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow and Covent Garden in London, the Mozart Clarinet Quintet at St Martin in the Fields, and the Nielsen Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. I was also awarded a ‘Silver Medallion’ by the Worshipful Company of Musicians at a ceremony in the Guildhall, London.

Whilst I was still an undergraduate I got my first call to work professionally, from the Orchestra of Scottish Opera. They were incredibly good to me, and really looked after me while I found my professional feet. I went on to work regularly with the wonderful Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, playing both Clarinet and Bass Clarinet. Despite establishing a busy freelance career in Scotland I always felt a bit homesick so after a couple of years I began hopping between Ireland and Scotland, working with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, the Ulster Orchestra and Camerata Ireland, as well as continuing to work with my friends in Scotland. Like many musicians, I seemed to live out of a suitcase! As well as travelling between Ireland and Scotland, I toured all over the place and got to visit countries I’m sure I would never have seen otherwise. I played wonderful music in incredible places, and with some of the most inspirational musicians in the world. I had a lot of fun Some memorable gigs from that time include performances at the Proms in London with the BBCSSO, playing Wagner’s Ring Cycle with Scottish Opera, and a jammy trip to Portugal with the SCO where I was only in one short piece!!

However eventually my homesickness got the better of me and I made the decision to move back to Northern Ireland full-time. Some of you reading this will probably think I was crazy to have taken such a seemingly backward step, but for all its faults, I love this country and I felt (and continue to feel!) sad about the brain drain. I genuinely felt I wanted to contribute something here and give something back. I continued freelancing and took on some teaching. It was while I was working with the Ulster Orchestra that I met my husband Jonathan, and we got married in 2007. Gradually over the next few years with the arrival of our children and various other changes taking place, I realised I needed to make some difficult decisions. Although my passion for the clarinet very much remained, I decided it was time to step back from some of my freelancing and spend time with my children while they were very young.

Now that my kids are a bit older I’m really enjoying having more time to focus on my playing and my musical life again. Working as a Freelance Associate for the Ulster Orchestra’s Department of Learning and Community Engagement allows me to use my knowledge and orchestral experience to help improve outcomes for young people from areas of social deprivation. And of course I continue to teach and perform because I love it and it’s a huge part of who I am.

The skills you learn as a young person playing in an orchestra are far greater than the sum of their parts. They help nurture communication, confidence, creativity, and community spirit. Those things will enhance your life regardless of the profession you choose. I’m grateful to the CBYO for so many things, it played a huge part in my musical education, gave me the chance to travel, and allowed me to develop life-long friendships too. It’s wonderful to see it thriving, keep up the great work!

Profile No.15 Mark McCloskey - French Horn 2004-2007

My name is Mark McCloskey and I played French Horn in the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra from 2004-2007. My time with the orchestra took me from Belfast to the USA, to Spain, and to the hallowed stage of the Royal Albert Hall, to name but a few highlights. Since leaving the orchestra, I have been glad to maintain close links, returning as a member of staff on tours to Italy, Slovenia and France, and on three further visits to the Royal Albert Hall. (“Let go” I hear you say? Never…)

It is difficult to name a singular highlight from these cherished memories. The first tour is always a special one: as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 16-year old, I was dazzled by the opportunity to play at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. As an older (certainly not wiser) 18-year old, I was privileged to lead my section on the tour of Spain, a personal highlight of which was the opportunity to perform a movement from a solo concerto in Valencia.

Similarly, I have very fond memories of the tours on which I acted in a staff capacity: the thrill of watching the open-air opera in Verona, performing in the renowned Ravello Festival. By the end of the most recent Italy tour, I realised that every tour has its spine-tingling moment: the second movement of Dvorak 9 in Spain; the third movement of Brahms 4 in Italy; *that* flute and harp moment from the third movement of Shostakovich 5 in France, etc. Those are the moments that I remember the most clearly. Aside from the wonderful musical opportunities, even more important are the friendships that I forged (or forced) during my time with the orchestra, many of which have withstood the test of time. Not a Christmas goes by without some kind of reunion over (several) drinks and I am also lucky to be able to catch up regularly with those of my former orchestral colleagues who live in London.

If that were not proof enough, I have just returned from a wedding in France (of former CBYO leader Michael Trainor) where the craic was had and old memories relived with a formidable cast of CBYO alumni.

The CBYO would be nothing without its dedicated staff team. The indefatigable Robert Briscoe keeps the group running like clockwork on a weekly basis and does a tremendous job of (single-handedly) organising the unfailingly successful international tours, alongside his numerous other work commitments. Thank you, Robert, for the chance to travel to so many incredible destinations.

Paul McBride is an inspirational musician and teacher who is always conducting! At times fearsome, but always kind-hearted, he generously gives of his limited time to lead the orchestra and maintain its rigorously high standards which audiences worldwide have grown accustomed to – I know of no other local youth orchestra that could hold a candle to the maturity and depth of repertoire and sound that the CBYO consistently produces, which is a testament to Paul’s brilliance and devotion.

Finally, the CBYO’s sectional staff, most of them members of the Ulster Orchestra, bring the voice of orchestral experience to bear, working tirelessly to prepare the players for their many performance engagements.

I now work as a lawyer in London, though I have by no means left music behind. I was thrilled to take part in the CBYO’s 60th Anniversary celebrations as part of the alumni orchestra recently. I also sing a lot and play in concerts, both here in London and at home in Belfast. Going through the legal graduate recruitment process, I was struck by how interviewers would highlight my orchestral credentials as a point of interest, telling me that it indicated creativity, flexibility, time management skills, etc.

All of this is to say that your time with the CBYO will prepare you for the future in many more ways than you can currently envisage. So take in all that wisdom, harness it and put it to its optimum use, but most of all, make friends and enjoy the ride!

Profile No.14 Aidan McLouglin - Oboe / Cor Anglais 2009-2011

My name is Aidan McLoughlin and I was an oboist with the CBYO from 2009 until 2011, as well as a student mentor in my final year with the orchestra.

Right now I am spending a year in Japan on an EU-funded internship programme.

It was recently, when I was asked to explain (in Japanese!) about a club or society I had been involved with, that I really reflected on my time with the orchestra. Struggling with vocabulary and grammar, I couldn’t properly describe just how valuable the experience was. What I wanted to say was, even though I am not studying or working in music, I really feel that I wouldn’t be here in Japan if it wasn’t for the CBYO and my other experiences with music


If you take a look through the former member profiles you will read about some amazing musicians excelling in their field. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only are they incredibly talented musicians, but they are also hard-working, determined and well-rounded people. Many are also brilliant scientists – a correlation that is not coincidental. All these attributes are, in a large part, due to their involvement with the orchestra and their dedication to music as a whole.

I am not particularly talented at music and certainly not nearly as talented as most of the musicians I have played with in CBYO, but I am reaping the benefits of a host of other skills that being a member gives you.

Being a mentor is a great way to develop leadership skills and is always useful to call upon in an interview situation! It also gave me a new-found confidence that I think still pushes me to challenge myself.

A few years after leaving CBYO, I helped out with the running of Queen’s University Symphony Orchestra - a completely student-run orchestra which has been founded and led by former members of CBYO and St. Malachy’s College. This proves that it’s not just musical skill which is developed, but also a passion for classical music and a drive to help others get involved and appreciate it.

So if you’re a current member, or a prospective one, I really encourage you give it your best shot and you will reap the rewards for years to come. There’s a great team in place, with Paul McBride and Robert Briscoe striving to mould great young people both musically and personally.

All the hard work will pay off and who knows where it will take you – I never thought I’d be working as an engineer in Japan! But perhaps the most important thing you will gain from CBYO is friends for life. To this day I would say most of my closest friends are ones I’ve met through music. So get yourself to Duke’s (…Claudine’s?) after the concerts!

Profile No.12 Gareth Stitt - Flute 2002-2006

My name is Gareth Stitt and I played flute (but mostly piccolo) in the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra from 2002 to 2006.

During my time in CBYO, I went on two summer tours with the Orchestra. The first was to France, Germany and Poland in 2003 and the second was to the USA in 2005 under the baton of Stanley Foreman. Throughout my time in the orchestra, I got to play at amazing concert venues like the Royal Albert Hall at the Music for Youth Proms in 2006, JFK Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC and the Filharmonia Hall in Krakow.

After the tour to America in 2005, I had just finished my BMus in University of Ulster and wasn’t sure if I was coming back to CBYO. Paul McBride was set to come in as the new conductor of the orchestra and Robert Briscoe was taking his new role of Orchestra Manager. I decided to stay on for another year and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

The friendships I formed with people in CBYO 14 years ago are still alive and well today, as some of my best friends in this world are people I met in CBYO all those years ago. I was part of a group of people that, in 2005, set up and arranged the first ever formal and to know that it still runs to this day brings a big smile upon my face.

The amount of work that Robert puts in to making everything about CBYO run so smoothly is unprecedented and he is continuously going far beyond his job description states. Paul is able to get the orchestra to raise their game and play at a level that no youth orchestra on this island comes close to. I’ve had the privilege of working with the orchestra in a welfare role on the last two concert tours to Italy and USA, along with accompanying them on their last 3 Royal Albert Hall trips and I am amazed every time I hear them play. Their recent performance of the last movement from Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony at the Music for Youth Proms in the Royal Albert Hall was as fine a performance from any orchestra I’ve heard – amateur or professional.

When Helen Mackie was Head of Woodwind in the CBSM in 2004, she asked me if I would do some evening teaching cover for my teacher at the time, Richard Douglas, and I jumped at the opportunity. Upon graduation, I started day school teaching for CBSM and taking the flute sectionals in Junior Band – 12 years later, I am still in both of these roles. I am also conducting (hopefully) future members of CBYO in CBSM Junior Winds and my first performance with this group was at the opening CBYO concert of this academic year. In recent years, I have taken up a welfare role with Ulster Youth Choir and Ulster Youth Orchestra.

The tuition and “craic” I got from the City of Belfast School of Music and in particular the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra have inspired me to try my best to make a difference in young peoples’ lives and hopefully they can get the same experiences that I received.

Profile No.11 Emma King - Percussion 2006-2009

Hello there, I’m Emma King and I played Percussion in CBYO from 2006 until 2009. During that time I was fortunate enough to play at the Closing Ceremony of the School Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and tour Spain, Italy and Slovenia with the Orchestra. Spending so much time with my colleagues both in rehearsals and on tour led to developing friendships, which remain strong today.

There were many times when I thought; I’d love to have Saturday mornings free instead of doing my usual 60 mile round trip to get to rehearsals, but I’m glad I persevered as being a member of CBYO definitely has had an impact on who I am today as a person.

In 2008 I decided that I wanted to make music my career and applied to music colleges in London. I was offered a place at Guildhall and grabbed it with both hands. I was fortunate to receive the Stephen Parker Memorial Award in 2009. It was an honour to accept the award and be acknowledged by the board for the hard work and determination I had shown throughout my time in the Orchestra.

It wasn’t until I moved to London and played with semi professional orchestras that I realised how high a standard CBYO really is compared to County Youth Orchestras. Simple things that had been drilled into me in Belfast like arriving early before a rehearsal to tune instruments, warming up and sitting properly on your chair were alien to colleagues who had attended similar youth orchestras throughout the UK. I learnt basic life skills that although related to being in the orchestra at the time can be transferred into whatever profession you decide to take after leaving CBYO. Self-discipline, determination, professionalism, good work ethic, having and reaching goals both small and large, preparation, respect, being part of a team and leadership were all instilled in me at CBYO.

I’m currently working for the International Percussion Show STOMP as part of their world tour cast. Although it’s a little different to playing in a professional orchestra and I’ve swapped Timps and Cymbals for bin lids and paint cans, I’m very happy to be travelling the world and making music every day. Hopefully the show comes to Belfast in the future, it would be amazing to play to a home crowd and show my friends and work colleagues where it all started for me, and, the amazing wealth within the arts that is currently on display in the city.

CBYO wouldn’t be complete without Mr Paul McBride and his baton. We had our share of run-ins during the years but you were the first conductor who really encouraged me to push myself to the limit, thank you. The concerts and tours would not have been as successful without the organisational skills of Robert Briscoe and I’ve been on professional tours since that haven’t ran as well as CBYO did. Finally I’d like to say a massive thank you to Mr Michael Smyth for all the hours you spent with me in sectionals at CBYO, helping improve my playing as a percussionist and getting me to the highest level possible during my time in Belfast School of Music, I owe you a few beers Mike!

I have so many fond memories of my time at CBYO, which I will cherish forever. Enjoy every moment of it guys and take as much out of it as you put in to it.

Profile No.10 David Bennett - Bassoon 2007-2011

My name is David Bennett and I played bassoon in the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra for four years, from 2007 to 2011.

I really enjoyed my time in the orchestra, especially when we got the opportunity to tour abroad. While I was a member I was able to take part in concerts in Italy, Slovenia and France and performed in some brilliant venues including the Madeleine Cathedral in Paris and the Royal Albert Hall in London. As orchestral manager, Robert Briscoe always puts a huge amount of work into organizing these tours and they are always great experiences for the members of the orchestra.

I think that one of the best things about CBYO is that it isn’t afraid to take on big repertoire, and during my time there we played some of the great symphonies by Beethoven, Shostakovich, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Conductor Paul McBride’s leadership is exceptional and he really encourages and inspires young musicians. The sectional coaching provided by members of the Ulster Orchestra is also invaluable.

CBYO is a very friendly and welcoming group and I met some brilliant people there. Each year the orchestra gives several students the chance to play solo concertos with the orchestra and these were always highlights; I particularly remember accompanying performances of the Elgar cello concerto and the Arutunian trumpet concerto, and hearing Czardas arranged for tuba! I also enjoyed playing the Weber bassoon concerto in Belfast and on tour in France.

Since leaving the orchestra to study at Selwyn College, Cambridge, I’ve continued with orchestral playing, as well as performing a lot of chamber music with my wind quintet, and taking lessons at the Royal Academy of Music. With CBYO now in its 60th anniversary year, I am looking forward to playing in the alumni concert at Christmas and seeing lots of old friends there too.

Profile No.9 Rosin Martin - Double Bass 2004-2009

My name is Roisin Martin, the classy artist formerly known as Roisin Lamb. I was in the CBYO for a total of five years, beginning in 2004 and ending in 2009. These five years were spent providing the orchestra with a steady(ish) beat and a strong back bone in the Double Bass Section.

These years included three wild tours and one superb trip to the Royal Albert Hall to perform in the Youth Proms. Before joining the CBYO making music and playing the Double Bass was a hobby that regretfully dragged me out of bed on a Saturday morning and kept me at orchestra rehearsals during school lunchtimes when I would much rather have been gossiping with my friends. However during the years I spent at CBYO, my opinion of this hobby changed and Saturday mornings quickly became the focus of my week.

On my first Saturday morning in CBYO I was filled with nerves. I was worried that my playing might not be up to standard and that I wouldn’t know anyone in the orchestra. These nerves quickly dissipated and over the years I realised there were three important elements of CBYO that prevented these fears from becoming reality.

Firstly CBYO is made up of a rich variety of young musicians. For me, the fellow musicians in my orchestra provided many laughs (often during the most inappropriate times during the quietest part of a symphony), and a lot of guidance. Whether they realised it or not playing alongside these other musicians, many of whom who performed at a higher standard than myself, taught me a lot. Sometimes without even being aware of it my standard of playing was improving and I was pushing myself a lot further in an attempt to keep up with these individuals. During my time in the orchestra I also made many friends, friends who I am proud to call friends for life.

Secondly all students in the orchestra are privileged enough to be tutored by fantastic musicians who take a personal interest in them and their playing. These music tutors saw beyond our regular bluffing and encouraged us all to push ourselves and our standard so that the overall quality of the orchestra was improved. We were also given the opportunities to watch our tutors perform in the Ulster Orchestra. These concerts allowed us to see a familiar piece of music often transform into something completely different and provided us with the opportunity to see what was possible when musicians applied themselves and came together to perform.

Thirdly and lastly there are two individuals within CBYO that bring this orchestra experience up to an entirely different level from other youth orchestras. There is the diligent and awesome Robert Briscoe who works above and beyond what he probably should. He goes out of his way to plan immense trips and tours for the whole orchestra whilst also ensuring that each individual is made to feel valued within the orchestra. He is personable, approachable and has a great sense of humour, which frankly is essential during orchestra rehearsals and events!

There is also the fantastic conductor Paul McBride. He sets the bar high and gives specific encouragement to ensure that each individual reaches their personal targets. He instils a passion and intensity in the music that is often difficult to find in youth music whilst also taking an interest in the eighty plus musicians in the orchestra. His high standards and ear for detail pushes each person on to try their best at all times.

During my time in the CBYO both Robert and Paul gave me the opportunity to develop not only as a musician but also as a person and in my final year of the orchestra I became a Student Mentor. Without even realising it my confidence, organisational skills and overall ability to approach new challenges grew. At the time I thought the role of a Student Mentor was to assist the orchestra, however in hindsight I can’t help but feel that it is the orchestra that assists the Student Mentors.

Now in the orchestra’s 60th year I have been given the opportunity to put these developed skills to use. I along with a few others have been asked to help organise a spectacular CBYO Alumni Concert which is to be held after Christmas this year. This concert will provide a trip down memory lane for many people with the appearance of lots of familiar faces. But it will also highlight the great success of the CBYO, by showing that the love of music that was instilled in many individuals during their time in the orchestra, still lives on.

50th anniversary year.

Profile No.8 Jonny Thompson - Tuba 2005-2011

My name is Jonny Thompson and I had the privilege of being a tuba player in the CBYO for six seasons, from 2005 until 2011. It is hard to believe that nearly ten years have elapsed since I first auditioned. My first season was under the baton of Paul McBride with Robert undertaking his new role of CBYO manager in what was the orchestra's

Looking back always brings back good memories. I had the privilege of taking part in two European concert tours and two Youth Proms held in the Royal Albert Hall. Participating in any one of these would have been a joy, but to have been involved in all of these high profile events was thrilling.

With hindsight I can say that this period of six years was when I developed most as a musician. While that was in part undoubtedly attributable to my fantastic tuba teachers at CBSM, I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Paul and Robert. Along with the team of dedicated tutors, they sacrificed their Saturday mornings to make the CBYO what it was and continues to be. I also had the opportunity to serve on the orchestra's student committee for a number of years. Being a member of the committee enabled me to develop and improve skills in teamwork and organisation - both of which have already proved to be invaluable during training for my chosen career.

If I had to chose one particular memory from my time with the orchestra, it would without doubt be from the 2009-2010 season, when I performed an arrangement of Czardas for tuba and string orchestra. Needless to say it kept me busy for several months prior to the concert and took many hours of practice before I could (just about!) play it. Performing it with the orchestra in the Ulster Hall will, for me, remain the highlight of my time in CBYO.

To the current members of the CBYO, all I would say is that they should endeavour to make the most of their time in the orchestra. Whilst it is often hard work, the opportunities to learn and be part of a first class youth orchestra are fantastic. Sadly my time with the orchestra and also my time playing the tuba came to an end in the Summer of 2011. Music has always been and will continue to be a passion of mine but I chose to follow my other passion when I embarked on a training course to become a commercial airline pilot. Having graduated from the course a little over a year ago, I have since started a programme for young pilots run by and this coming winter will begin operating as a pilot for the company. I will always have fond memories of CBYO and look forward to perhaps having them on board a flight at some point as they embark on a future concert tour!

Profile No.7 George Sandford - Trumpet 2009-2012

My name is George Sandford and, in the years 2009-2012, I was a member of the trumpet section of the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra. After Upper Sixth I left Belfast to study music at the University of Manchester and am now coming to the end of my second year.

My time at the orchestra has provided me with some of the most happy and also most challenging moments of my life so far. Experiences that I would imagine staying with any former member of the orchestra would be the amazing concert tours that the orchestra is fortunate enough to be able to go on and being afforded the opportunity to play in the Royal Albert Hall in London


I can honestly say how enjoyable they are and how much of a lasting impression the made on me. Furthermore, the repertoire that this orchestra gets through as well is absolutely phenomenal. Having the opportunity to play Shostakovich’s epic fifth symphony and two Tchaikovsky symphonies, to name but a few works, is an opportunity that members of other youth orchestras simply do not have. The friendships you make are another amazing consequence of being in this orchestra.

Spending your Saturday mornings with the same group of people over the year means that you form some of the closest and long-lasting friendships you could hope to have Even now that most of my ‘generation’ of the orchestra have all gone their separate ways, it is still really nice to catch up with them over the holidays.

The orchestra has made as much of an impact on me now as it did when I was a member. It was definitely one of the major factors in my choice to go on and study music at university. Many of the skills that I gained with the orchestra I have been able to take with me and have proved invaluable. The high and professional standards that are expected of every single member of the orchestra were directly transferable to professional playing situations that I have found myself in whilst studying in Manchester.

A special mention must go to two individuals in particular who make the orchestra the incredible organisation that it is. Mr Briscoe’s tireless efforts over the years as the manager of the orchestra, have culminated in amazing concert tours, events within Northern Ireland, and have kept the orchestra the well run machine that it is. Rarely do you ever find him when he is not planning the next big project for the orchestra! Mr McBride is an extraordinarily committed man and a fantastic conductor. His attitude to music making is what draws the full potential out of each and every player and is the reason why the orchestra’s concerts carry such a high musical reputation.

All in all, as you’ve probably realised from what I’ve written above, I cannot praise the orchestra highly enough. The only piece of advice I could possibly give to any member of the orchestra is to simply get stuck in, do everything and make the most of your time there, because it is bound to be over far too quickly!

Profile No.6 Vicki Schmidt - Violin 2004-2011

My name is Vicki Schmidt and I was a member of CBYO from 2004 to 2011 – I had been there one third of my life by the time I left. I had a fantastic time in CBYO. I look back and feel it is somewhat of a national treasure to have a place to gather and make music with other talented and focused people under the guidance of limitlessly dedicated and patient tutors and a conductor committed to drawing the best out of each player, and then to have a manager working like a Trojan to ensure you have the time of your life with it all every other summer and every concert in between. When you leave CBYO, you will have difficulty finding its team spirit, ethos, professional resource and striving for excellence on a voluntary, amateur basis replicated elsewhere later on in your life – so make the most of it now!

You will have heard that the benefits associated with playing as part of an orchestra, particularly one performing serious repertoire that is technically and musically stretching, cannot be overestimated. First, you learn to bluff a little (an important skill in life); then, you learn to work, and do things you thought you could not do. Then, you learn to listen, watch, understand, interact, feel, respond, follow, anticipate, support, adjust… all the things that will one day make your other half glad you went to CBYO.

As with everything, you get out of it what you put in, and what you gain from it can be truly unforgettable. I had the privilege of going on 4 tours, to the US of A (back in the era when Stanley Foreman was conductor), and then with Paul McBride at the helm to Spain, Italy and Slovenia, and France. Personally, the most memorable moments in my life have come through elusive little glimpses within a piece of music, and that has happened several times in CBYO. So as much as it was special to play Vivaldi’s concerto for 4 violins in the Madeleine, Paris, alongside some good friends with a lot of my family being able to attend, points in Saturday morning rehearsal stand out in my memory… I couldn’t tell you the date or even necessarily the piece, but time gave way a little, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile to me. One of those times was playing Bach’s double violin concerto with Ruth Nelson prior to a concert in St George’s.

I have really enjoyed meeting people through CBYO and retain some amazing friends. Many of my contemporaries are now wonderful professional musicians, and it is very exciting to watch their careers take off


I cannot express my thanks enough to those who have shown faith in me during my time in CBYO, especially when I had little in myself. That really must one of the best gifts anyone can receive. I have had my second chances and won my little victories, and that has been immensely edifying to me.

I studied law at Queen’s and passed my bar exams in June 2013. I went to Italy as CBYO staff in July 2013. One week after returning, I decided to pack in the law and become a musician full time. Playing with CBYO again was another reminder that I love music, I love playing with other people, and I love what music can bring to us. I know you do too, so go for it, aim always higher and make sure you ‘milk it’ for all it’s worth!

Profile No.5 Katherine Sung - Violin 2007-2013

(photograph courtesy of Paul McCullough Photography)

My name is Katherine Sung and I was a member of the CBYO from 2007 - 2013. I'm currently in my first year studying classical violin at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

Throughout my time as a member of the orchestra, I was fortunate to get the opportunities to perform with CBYO on several tours, to Italy and Slovenia, France, and to London twice, getting to play in renowned concert halls such as the Royal Albert Hall and Le Madeleine Cathedral in Paris.

I am also very privileged to have had the chance to lead the orchestra and a highlight was leading CBYO at the Music for Youth School Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in 2012. Another major highlight was performing the Vivaldi Concerto for 4 violins in the Ulster Hall in 2011. These were amazing experiences that I'm sure will stay with me! It wasn't only the incredible concerts and performances that will stick with me, but also the countless different memories with good friends made through orchestra, which I will always look back fondly on!

Reflecting back on my time in CBYO, a massive thing which I really value seems quite mundane and obvious, but it is the experience gained from playing and rehearsing in an orchestra every Saturday morning, always learning and being inspired by those all around you.

I think the CBYO is a unique organisation in Belfast with it's drive to always achieve more no matter what, and I admire Paul McBride and Robert Briscoe for the tireless work and dedication they give to the CBYO, enabling it to take on bigger tours and projects than most.

I also feel I learnt a huge amount from the team of tutors, all professional working musicians themselves. I really think to work with them on a weekly basis is such a great opportunity and experience for everyone in the orchestra!

I am proud to have been a member of the CBYO, it is something that helped shape my musical development over a number of years and the people I have met along the way have truly inspired and motivated me. I am sure it will continue to do the same for other young musicians in Northern Ireland! Thank you CBYO!

Profile No. 4 Sarah McCafferty - Clarinet 2009-2013

My name is Sarah McCafferty and I was a member of the woodwind section of the CBYO from 2009-2013 and Principal Clarinet from 2011-2013.

Throughout my time as a member I was privileged to be part of two incredible tours, with the tour of Italy in the summer of 2013 being one of the highlights of any musical experience in my life, in addition to two performances in the Royal Albert Hall, first in 2009 and again in 2012. This was a privilege - a most prestigious venue which I doubt I will ever have the chance to play in again.

This orchestra is truly like being part of a family - a close-knit team who have good days and bad, but always pull together to perform in many memorable concerts. I have such admiration for all the musicians of the Ulster Orchestra who give up their time on Saturday mornings to come and impart some extra tuition and share their experiences with us and to Mr Briscoe who manages everything so efficiently.

In my four years, I believe I developed in more than just my playing - I gained friends for life; I now have social skills I never imagined I would possess (for those that know me, will know I was like a little mouse for my first year particularly!); I learned that self-discipline can only improve you as a player and a person; and above all, I fell in love with classical music.

The putting-together of a symphony requires commitment, practice, and patience. Not surprisingly, the most special symphony, as a clarinettist, for me, was Rachmaninov Symphony No.2 which we tackled in the 2012/2013 season. The concert in the Spa in Montecatini Terme in Italy was the best concert by far and the feelings and memories of how amazing the orchestra performed the Rachmaninov that evening will stay with me for a lifetime.

Finally, I have to give Mr McBride a special mention - without his sheer dedication, encouragement and persistence (also death stares at times!) I, as a player and the CBYO would not achieve its full potential and he really is a big softie at heart!

Relish the experience, enjoy every minute and strive to be the best you can possibly be and someday you will have these amazing memories that I and many others have.

Sarah :)

Profile No.3 Fergus McBride Violin 2009-2013

My name is Fergus McBride and I was a member of the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra, playing in the violin section, from 2009 until 2013.

It is often said that we do not really appreciate anything fully until it has gone. Now in my third year of studying Pharmacy at QUB I look back with very fond memories of my time in CBYO. Without doubt the highlight for me was to get to lead the Orchestra in my final year and to bring Rachmaninov Symphony no.2 on tour to wonderful concert venues in Italy. Other standout memories include performing in the Music For Youth School Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on two occasions, taking to the stage in La Madeleine Cathedral in Paris as part of the France 2011 tour and performing the Albinoni in G minor for strings and organ.

I frequently reflect on how CBYO has helped form me as a person, ready to face the big bad world! CBYO members are so fortunate to be part of this great institution, continually developing collaborative and leadership skills that can be transferred to most areas of life and work. Planning, practising, rehearsing and setting challenging targets are all ingredients of what lead to incredible performances. There is nothing like the feeling of walking off the stage knowing that we have outdone our previous best, and in this sense reached new heights. Over the past nine to ten years this has been a big part of CBYO philosophy. This competitive spirit is so subtly blended into a creative culture and embraced immediately by all who are fortunate enough to join CBYO. I just know that all you new members will be quickly encouraged and shown how to be the best yet!

Of course, I have had that extra honour, or perhaps burden of being closely associated with the conductor. He is always conducting! The infrastructure has been so well thought out and organised. Robert Briscoe is always on hand - working tirelessly, reading the conductor's train of thought and helping to shape Maestro McBride's vision into a reality. Furthermore, the Orchestra is so blessed to have such skilled sectional tutors, the majority being professional musicians from the Ulster Orchestra.

So I urge you to learn from the Maestro - I still do from time to time! Embrace the CBYO philosophy, work hard and prepare well for rehearsals. Believe that you will raise the bar for others to follow and most of all, really appreciate this time you will spend with such a special team. Good luck!

Profile No.2 Alexander Stead - French Horn 2009-2013

My name is Alexander Stead and from 2009 until 2013 I was a member of the French horn section in the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra. Having just graduated from Queen’s University I am currently based in Cardiff working as a freelance musician and studying at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

I have a lot of very fond memories from my time in the C.B.Y.O, most notably performing with the orchestra in London at the Royal Albert Hall, in France at la Madeline Cathedral and in Italy at the outdoor music festival at Ravello. Other highlights include performing several major works like Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony and Schumann’s ‘Konzertstück’ for 4 horns. As well as performing in various countries around Europe the orchestra also appeared regularly at the historic Ulster Hall in Belfast, an event which we as musicians always looked forward to. I am very proud to have acted as an ambassador for Belfast and Northern Ireland both at home and abroad

I am very thankful for my time in the orchestra because, as well as playing lots of excellent music, I also met a lot of like-minded, enthusiastic people from whom I learnt much. My experiences taught me about commitment, timekeeping and the importance of always being prepared in order to play your best. Mr McBride is a real tour de force and he really does motivate you to play to the best of your ability every time you pick up you instrument.

Being part of the C.B.Y.O and other musical organisations made me realise that I wanted to pursue music as a career. My time in the orchestra helped me gain a scholarship to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama where I have played with various orchestras and ensembles in large scale works like Mahler’s 2nd Symphony and have worked with and learnt from amazing musicians like Mnozil Brass and London Brass.

Furthermore, in being a part of C.B.Y.O for so many years, I feel privileged to have met so many fantastic and talented people. These people are true friends and it’s always great to catch up with them whenever the holidays come around.

Profile No.1 Jimmy Donaghy - Viola 2011 - 2013

My name is Jimmy Donaghy and I was a member of the viola section for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons. I am currently on my gap year on a scholarship to Western Reserve Academy in Ohio, USA. As I write this I am watching the first snowfall of the year and marvelling at how just over three months ago I was in sunny Italy enjoying incredible Italian ice cream with my fellow orchestra members on tour.

The tour was an unforgettable end to my two-year tenure in the orchestra which was filled with many amazing moments. I’m very proud to have represented Northern Ireland on the national and international stages with our finale performance of the Finale from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 at the Music For Youth School’s Proms and our mountaintop performance at Ravello festival in Italy; as well as having taken part in the making of Northern Irish history when the orchestra performed at the opening of the Titanic centre and performing in the history Ulster Hall a number of times, a stage which has hosted Ash, the Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers.

What has made the most significant and lasting impression on me during my time in the orchestra was the weekly Saturday-morning rehearsals. I remember when my older sister Liz was in the orchestra I was dazzled at their performances, but I now realise that the magic does not happen on the stage, but during the preparation for these concerts. Working with Paul McBride and the rest of the teaching staff was inspiring. What quickly became apparent soon after joining the orchestra was that music was much more than reading dots on a page and following the conductor. Each section has a line to be sung, and we learnt to listen to how our part fits and blends with the rest of the ensemble. This is a very difficult concept that everyone in the orchestra began to learn naturally.

Were it not for the orchestra I doubt I would have been granted my scholarship to this school, not because it has given me accomplishments to write on an application, but because I have learnt so much about teamwork and have developed a better work ethic as a result. Since coming here I have honoured Mr. McBride’s request at the end of tour to keep making music; I am in the viola section of the Academy Orchestra, I will be singing in the school’s performance of Handel’s Messiah and recently took part in the school’s production of Chess, and I hope to continue making as much music as I can!