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28th Music for Youth Schools Prom: final night

28th Music for Youth Schools Prom
Nov 456 2002

November 6th

Perhaps Fanfare for the Common Man now sounds like a rather old-fashioned title, but the nobility of Copland's music remains undiminished after 60 years. Its immense power filled the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday night as the Greater Gwent Youth Brass Band opened the final session of this year's Schools Prom.

The ensemble selects from no fewer than seventeen local bands, and the superbly accomplished young musicians continued with two more pieces. Gaudete! added the sound of bacchanalian drums and tambourines. Gaelforce linked three folk tunes into a whole; the middle section, in which The Minstrel Boy appeared as a flugelhorn solo, was especially beautiful.

A hundred-strong choir from St Mary's RC Primary School in Clapham turned the stage into a scene of Carnival. It began with the children sleeping. As they awoke, they introduced clapping games, hula hoop dances, giant birds, a marching band (playing a pupil's own composition), a Bob Mini-Marley in a huge pink wig assuring us that every little thing was gonna be all right, and much more.

It was especially pleasing to see a stage-filling group representing the entire cultural and ethnic diversity of contemporary Britain. Cheerful improvisations and sweet songs slowly subsided and the troupe of highly talented children lapsed back into well-earned sleep.

Next up were the Jordan Junior Strings from Buckinghamshire. The oldest of them is only 13, but they played with the confidence and composure of much older teenagers, and did so without printed music. This was remarkable, as their piece was a medley of British airs that cunningly seguednbsp; phrases from different sources when the listener least expected it.

The Floral Dance , Shepherd's Hey and the Archers theme wove in and out of one another, giving way to My Old Man's a Dustman - a timely tribute to the late Lonnie Donegan - and the national anthem. They made it all sound as natural as breathing.

Ysgol Glanaethwy from North Wales provided their first-rate senior choir. Cwyn Y Ferch was an unaccompanied song in a composed folk-idiom, dealing with a wife's troubles with her in-laws and effortlessly covering large changes of dynamic and modes of vocal attack, moving between the hushed and the obstreperous. Rew Di Ranno was a sprightly song about a carefree bird, delivered with well-tuned clarity and animation.

A Beatles arrangement led from Ticket to Ride and She Loves You to Let it Be , performed not just with bright accurate harmonies but with mime and graceful gesture. The choir provided an excellent demonstration of how 1960s favourites can become the fitting artistic property of a new generation, forty years on.

ConFUSION is no ordinary jazz quartet. They are four friends from Abbot Beyne School in Burton-on-Trent, playing drums, keyboard, bass guitar and trumpet. The name of their first item was What Four? Like the title they themselves go under, it contained punning hints about their music. It derived from improvisations, and played around with a number of blended cool sounds from funk and jazz to Latin and blues, the whole piece being in effect an eloquent tribute to musical friendship. Night in Tunisia allowed the musicians to intrude on Dizzy Gillespie's work with clever paradoxical juxtapositions of control and confusion. When bebop comes to Burton, it's certainly worth hearing.

Fair Oak Junior School from Hampshire supplied a remarkably large contingent, and their hundred or so performers werenbsp; - justifiably - supported by a large gathering in the hall. Dressed elegantly in green, they divided into a choir and a concert band, the latter having played together for only a year.

There was no hesitation in their playing, nor in their singing. We heard (and saw) a number of cats, some of whom emerged from Lloyd Webber's imagination, others from Burt Bacharach's. James Horner's Somewhere Out There was a challenging piece for such young instrumentalists. The horns especially were out on their own at one point, and if the tuning wavered momentarily (and entirely forgivably), the wizardry of John Williams's Harry Potter music brought things to a triumphant conclusion.

The Orpheus Centre in Surrey, founded by Richard Stilgoe, is the home of fifteen young disabled people who work with tutors and students to perform songs and stories in many high-profile locations. They united with the National Youth Music Theatre and the Voice Squad in three songs.

Jam Tomorrow was a comic item about crowded roads where `the jam-jars multiply'. Wheel-chairs confronted one another on stage and the music became more busily contrapuntal as the song reached its riotous end. Don't Go was a quieter song of regret and feeling, performed gently and movingly.

In between, we heard In My Own Time, written by Maddy Norman from the Centre using an alphabet board to communicate her ideas. It had a lovely refrain and contained a wide range of subtle sentiments - and the composer's evident delight at the audience's huge enthusiasm was an added pleasure.

Saxophony are four girls from St Margaret's School in Exeter. They had already sung two taxing items on Tuesday night. Now they picked up the instrumental challenge of a piece by their resident composer Brendan Ashe. Deliberately flirting with chaos but always managing to avoid it, Slightly Frantic made the players cut rhythmic corners and steer round tight melodic bends, which they did without any apparent strain.

In Czardas, the beloved Hungarian dance took on new colours. Elizabeth Drury played an especially eloquent soprano sax, negotiating a torrent of semiquavers with virtuosity, steering the band through a lyrical interlude, and ending with prestissimo panache.

An uncountable number of young people from Dorset - The Massed Choir, the Adiemus String Orchestra, the Dorset Youth Percussion Ensemble, and The Dorset Youth Music Theatre - filled both the main stage and the centre arena in a version of Karl Jenkins's Songs of Sanctuary , given with the composer present.

The music blends a multiplicity of sounds in a variety of ethnic styles. Huge antiphonal vocal gestures were eloquently signalled across the Hall's spaces. Silver balloons rose and fell to accompany hushed strings. Quiet singing erupted into ecstatic chants, uniting moods of peace and jubilation. This was a performance of power and grace.

Highstyle are seven girls from Bedford High School, including two pairs of sisters. They comprise a string quintet, a keyboard player and a singer with a strong and expressive voice. Two of their numbers were new arrangements of old hits. Your Song turned the Elton John classic into something broader and more interesting.

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free provoked the audience into such a frenzy of handclaps that some of the accompaniment was buried - was that bluegrass fiddling we heard underneath? It sounded good, anyway. Finally Sam Vaughan sang her own composition I Can Sing , proving it to be an entirely true assertion.

Barber's Adagio for Strings is something of a show piece for the marvellously skilled Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra. Tonight they played it at the end of the concert, matching the Copland at the start with another American 20th century masterpiece. It was like a magically prolonged moment of calm before the final celebratory storm.

The audience added to the effect with tiny torch-lights, illuminated piecemeal to match the work's one real crescendo. We could withdraw briefly into thought and self-communion, aided by playing of measured refinement. Then it was Pomp and Circumstance for the last time, and the Schools Prom went out with a glorious rush.

Music for Youth have, for the 28th successive year, provided relaxed happiness, stirring thrills, poignant memories and heart-stopping beauty for thousands of lucky performers and even more lucky listeners.

Pictured: Singers and musicians from the Orpheus Centre, thenbsp;National Youth Music Theatre and the Voice give a rousing performance at the last night of the schools prom. Photo: Andy Howes

Music for Youth is sponsored by:
Halifax plc
National Union of Teachers
Norwich Union
PJB Publications
The Times Educational Supplement

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