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And the band begins to sing

Summer concert

Stewarton Academy, East Ayrshire, and associated primary schools

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

A thrilling atmosphere surrounds almost every school's end-of-term concert, but Stewarton Academy's showcase of its prodigious musical talents last week was exceptional.

For a start, it was held in Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall. Moreover, the pupils from this East Ayrshire school, along with youngsters from its associated primary schools - Dunlop, Kilmaurs, Lainshaw and Nether Robertland - filled the venue with sounds that would be the envy of any musical group, performing jazz, opera and easy-listening choral numbers.

Eighteen months ago, the Scottish Arts Council awarded Stewarton Academy a pound;60,000 grant from its National Lottery fund to enable it to re-establish singing in parallel with instrumental skills and encourage versatility in musicianship. The project was the brainchild of principal teacher of music Nigel Durno, but it would not have been possible without Mandy Miller, head of music at Lochgelly High in Fife, who was drafted in to train the choirs. Together, Mr Durno and Ms Miller have ensured that every band in the school, of which there are five, now also sings as a choir.

Mr Durno is convinced of the benefits of this approach. "Every musician needs to have a good sensitivity to pitch," he says, "and singing is by far the best way of developing that sensitivity."

As well as boosting their musical instrument playing, Mr Durno hopes that singing will allow the students to be accepted in a broader musical world once they leave school.

Sixth year pupil Judith Bull is an outstanding example of Mr Durno's vision for using multi-tasking to enhance musical ability. A confident and immaculate soprano, she gave a crystalline performance of Handel's aria "Lascia Chio Pianga" (from Rinaldo), played flute in the senior wind band and sung in the senior choir.

The concert was made possible by a pound;5,000 grant from the Scottish Qualifications Authority. It was the first time this agency has sponsored such an event, but it is keen to emphasise that its remit extends beyond school examinations, as Anton Colella, its director of qualifications, explains.

"As the national awarding body, we need to look for opportunities to celebrate the achievements of young people," he says. "Stewarton Academy has shown marvellous endeavour and great achievement in its work and this is an opportunity to recognise that.

"It is important that the SQA plays a part in supporting, in different ways, initiatives, innovation and high standards of attainment in education. This is a clear example of that. It is an exemplar school music programme."

Stewarton Academy could get used to national recognition of its musical attainments. Its senior choir and wind band, including Judith Bull and 94 other pupils, is now in Florida, singing and playing at Walt DisneyWorld. If last week's showcase was anything to go by, audiences in the United States will be delighted.

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