Heather Neill

Young people have been making music in great numbers this week. Ten and a half thousand of them came from all over the UK to play and sing - everything from choral pieces to jazz, rock to chamber music (including five harps with woodwind from Ceredigion) - at the Royal Festival Hall in London. This was the 31st National Festival of Music for Youth, probably one of the strongest ever.

On July 4, teachers, advisers and representatives from the Department for Education and the National Foundation for Youth Music came together in a forum to discuss the teaching of rock and pop alongside more traditional music. This came about after Richard Jones, head of popular music for Solihull Music Services, contacted Larry Westland, director of Music for Youth. Westland was so impressed with what was happening in the area that he wanted to share the good news. Samantha Smith, head of music at the Heart of England school near Coventry, was among the speakers last week. She reported that young people who were involved in pop as consumers but who didn't usually take part in school music became enthusiastic when offered the rock and pop option and often went on to join choirs and orchestras.

A day of workshops in the Queen Elizabeth Hall culminated in a concert that made the RFH ring like Earl's Court. Bands came in all sizes, including one from Leicester, LMF26, in which the six-year-old drummer was dwarfed by his kit and only his frantic sticks could be seen flying in action.

For the moment, Music for Youth is financially secure, being funded by Norwich Union, the NUT, PJB Publications, the Bank of Scotland and The TES. The next big MFY gathering will be the Schools Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on November 5, 6 and 7. Information: 020 8870 9624.

Seven hundred children hurled themselves with enormous enthusiasm into the Peckham Splash in south London last week. Eight primary schools, one special and one secondary constitute a mini-educational action zone there and Joe Rea, its co-ordinator, sees an important role for the arts, especially music. "It is one of the aims of EAZs to enhance self-esteem and increase self-confidence. And it is an aim of this project to recognise the enormous talents of the 4,000 children in the area, to show the best that kids can do. Everything they hear about Peckham is negative."

Professional artists (including Drumhead, whose African arts were particularly popular) have been working in schools since May under the guidance of project leaders Andrew Peggie and Richard Mallett. Then, for a week, Warwick Park school, the only secondary involved, became a venue for Underwater Circus, when the other schools, having formed "consortia" in threes, put on very different shows.

The hall at Warwick Park had been transformed into a big top with looped streamers up to the ceiling, and there were whale paintings on the walls and floor cushions decorated with fish as the theme cleverly combined circus and underwater motifs. Standing by on my visit were two magnificent puppet tigers, made by children and needing about eight to operate them, but they would be used in another show. Children from Gloucester school (which has an impressive wind band), John Donne and Oliver Goldsmith schools came together to dance, to tell a story about a polluted river, to sing, play and have a jolly good time. They were introduced by two professional presenters, Pearl Jordan and Morgan Crowley, who brought a real sense of occasion.

This has been the first phase in a three-year project, a chance, as Andrew Peggie says, for everyone to make a big noise and enjoy themselves. Plans for the next two years include more sustained instrumental teaching and probably Inset. Meanwhile, the performances took place in the context of an exhibition of artwork and with a handsome poetry anthology, This is Just to Say, published by the Centre for Language in Primary Education, newly launched. This has some excellent poems and a selection of arresting local photographs. CLPE:020 7401 33823; If you've had enough of Shrek and can't bear the thought of Tomb Raider, how about The Farewell: Brecht's last summer? This is a film with fewer physical thrills and spills, it's true, but the emotional temperature makes up for that. The tension is palpable as Brecht's women and hangers-on gather in the idyllic German (actually Polish) countryside, while the Stasi circle on the fringes like sharks. Students may find that the film, directed by Jan Schutte, throws little light on the playwright's work, but it provides illuminating background and an excellent sense of period. There are some stunning shots, in particular as some of the party swim naked in the glassy lake. On general release from August 10.

The staff and children at Cross-in-Hand CEP school, East Sussex, are coming to the end of a remarkable fortnight. This evening they will bring to life through dance, drama, music, art and storytelling, The Legacy of Tara Chund, a specially written story. The performance celebrates the conclusion of Colours of India, a two-week immersion in the culture of the subcontinent. This is not a particularly ethnically mixed area - all the more reason, believe headteacher Gillian Mills and teacher Jo Clutton, to explore another culture. Indian dance classes have been led by Champa Maynard and everyone has had the chance to sample Indian art and food. Visitors can see some of the resulting work displayed throughout the day. Cross-in-Hand CEP school: 01435 862941.

This is the last issue of Friday magazine until September. Have a good holiday - and look out for Artbeat and other arts coverage in the main TES.

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Heather Neill

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