Not some fancy way of saying to bring your own drink on a party invitation, but this is the Berkshire Youth Guitar Orchestra, whose genial conductor, Steve Christmas, invited me to their Wigmore Hall recital in London today.

I normally avoid London whenever possible but thought it was only polite to turn up – besides, I was curious as NYGE (the National Youth Guitar Ensemble, which I conduct) has had a few good players who were also in this group.
The Wigmore stage was packed – 28 guitarists! The main hall wasn’t too bad either. It was great to see such support for this group.
The playing and conducting were good, with real commitment and a sense of purpose.

On the way home I started thinking about the number of guitar groups in the UK – lots of enthusiastic children and conductors. As well as BYGO, there is the Guitar Circus, the Corinium players, NYGE and many other groups of mixed ages and abilities in this country. The tradition of amateur music making is alive and well, and it is so heartwarming to attend a concert like this. I feel privileged to be in a country with so many dedicated teachers and keen players.

What do we get out of playing in guitar orchestras? The guitar is a solo instrument or it is used to accompany singing, yet I think many people get a real buzz out of playing with others. It is also a way of hiding from the spotlight which solo playing doesn’t allow you to do. For me, it is like being in a sports team – everyone plays a part (literally!). It is team building and sociable.

This makes music a social activity again – something which we as soloists might have forgotten existed?

But the choir (BYC – I’ll let you work it out yourself) who also took part in this concert – the joy and passion in the eyes of the performers as they followed the conductor and made wonderful sense of the words! This was something else. Guitarists have much to learn, and conductors of guitar groups (by that, I mean – me) even more so!