All singing, all dancing

Philippa Davidson

As the festive season approaches, Philippa Davidson tunes in to appropriate entertainment. BBC DANCE PERFORMANCE PACKS THE CHRISTMAS STORY WE'RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT Book and cassette Pounds 11.99 each. BBC Education. TOBY'S ARK. By Sue Heaser and Alison Hedger Golden Apple Publishing. Teacher's Book and cassette Pounds 5.95.


RIGHT TO SURVIVE By Debbie Campbell. SONGS FROM HERE AND THERE. By Michael Hurd. ROCK THE WALLS. By Sheila Wilson Novello Publishing Pounds 3.95 each.

ALI BABA. By James Raw and Mike Cornick. Universal Edition. Piano score and CD (score and parts available on hire) Pounds 19.95.

SINGING TOGETHER THE CHRISTMAS COLLECTION Book and cassette BBC Education Pounds 12.99.

TRADITIONAL TORY: CHRISTMAS SONGS. By John Dickinson Book and Cassette Pounds 14.50 incl. pp from John Dickinson, PO Box 137, Scarborough YO11 1BR. SONGS FOR EVERY CHRISTMAS. By Mark and Helen Johnson Out of the Ark Music Pounds 12.95 plus Pounds 1 pp from The School House, 15 Esher Green, Esher, Surrey.

With Christmas fast approaching, planning the end of term show or carol service rises to the top of the priority list. To help teachers looking for original plays or songs, here is a crop of materials from BBC Education, several musicals that could be used all the year round, and two collections from teachersongwriters keen to share their ideas with others.

The BBC's Dance Performance Packs for five to seven-year-olds are well conceived and executed. The Christmas Story makes no attempt to depart from tradition - with the shepherds, wise men, angel, and traditional carols as music. The difference is that the focus is dance and movement, and with a teacher's book that includes words and music of the carols, a photocopiable script, ideas for dance teaching, costumes and staging, teachers have everything they need for a performance, even if they are not dance specialists. The cassette contains narrative on one side and music for performance on the other.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt, which follows a similar format, could be used at Christmas or at any time. Based on Michael Rosen's version of the poem which was used in the BBC Let's Move series, it has jazzy music and lots of ideas for movement around the children's journey to find a bear in a cave.

The next few publications could also be used for performance at any time of the year. Toby's Ark is a musical for four to nine-year-olds set in Victorian times. In seven songs it describes the adventures of Captain Toby, his crew and two fictitious explorers who sail around the world with the aim of returning all wild animals in captivity to their country of origin. The theme obviously lends itself to topic work on conservation, racial tolerance and cultural differences, and aspects of geography and Victorian nautical life. Helpful notes on staging, costumes and project work are a bonus.

The Novello Totally Topical series for top juniorslower secondaries provides in each 32-page booklet five songs and topic ideas that can be expanded into a complete performance or dipped into for an assembly or classroom project. The choice of topics - conservation, harvest and changing seasons - should be popular. Many of the songs have already been performed by schools, so come with at least some guarantee of success. Rock the Walls, in familiar pop cantata vein is the Joshua story - scarcely original, but possibly with more humour than most other versions. (A cassette is available from Redhead Music, Juniper House, 24 Spinfield Park, Marlow, Bucks).

Ali Baba is a pantomime with a difference. The story has been updated - Ali Baba runs a pizza restaurant and his brother a video rental shop - though traditional pantomime elements have been retained. The topical setting and the humour should appeal to primary schools with music specialists as well as secondary schools, who won't miss the fact that there are not too many hints on staging. The 12 songs would probably sound best with the suggested rock ensemble backing, but a piano score that includes a CD is alsoprovided.

The 15 songs in the Singing Together Collection, all taken from the successful radio series, are an enjoyable mixture of traditional carols, some from other countries, and some rock carols. There are suggestions for developing each song in the classroom, photocopiable songsheets, a glossary and a cassette with a vocal version on one side and accompaniments on the B side. The user-friendly Singing Together format needs no introduction and will find a home in most classrooms, regardless of whether teachers use the programmes.

Composer and teacher John Dickinson has published his own set of 14 carols which have been used in primary schools. Following the traditional Christmas story, and recorded on cassette with a very basic accompaniment, Christmas Songs are tuneful and very singable, though probably could be made to sound even better when performed live by an enthusiastic group of juniors with more elaborate accompaniment. The book contains music, lyrics and piano accompaniment. The author also offers teachers a songwriting service.

Songs for Every Christmas is just one volume in a series of seasonal songbooks written and published by a songwriting team experienced in composing for primary schools. The Christmas volume is refreshing in that it contains both religious and non religious songs, which benefit from having been professionally recorded with a children's choir and sophisticated backing track. The 64-page book is attractively presented, with piano music, melody line and chords.

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