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Edinburgh's educational festival

Drama, dance, music - they are all part of a schedule of workshops allied to the annual gala. Denyse Presley reports.

Since the Edinburgh International Festival relocated last year to The Hub, Pugin and Tindall's stunning Gothic building at the foot of the castle, the accent has been on producing a richer year-round education programme.

It has been presented this year under the banner Music of the Millennium, aiming to spark debate about how and why music developed over the past 1,000 years. The variety of workshops have been a prelude to 10 Music of the Millennium concerts and other Festival productions.

During March, The Hub ran The Art of Listening workshops, developed from the successful Connecting to Music series which has operated since 1996. More that 800 P6 and P7 children from 27 Edinburgh primary schools participated, learning how listening stirs our imagination. The multi-media approach included having images photographed by the Hubble telescope, that were downloaded from the NASA website, being projected on to screens.

As well as straight breathing and warm-up exercises to show that we listen with our entire being, focused breathing exercises encouraged the children to consider our inherent musicality. After this, they listened to Western music spanning centuries, from Beethoven to Arvo Part.

A P7 from Drumbrae said: "I did enjoy the workshop because it was fun, exciting and educational" and a P7 pupil from Craiglockhart remarked: "I really thought the workshop helped people express themselves."

A total of 54 schools had applied for places at the listening workshops but the unsuccessful applicants were treated to the New York City Ballet's workshops entitled The Rhythms of Life. More than 800 pupils from 30 primaries throughout the central belt took part at The Hub and other venues during June.

New York City Ballet star Zippora Karz and trumpeter and pianist David Healey compacted a millennium of music and dance into an exciting romp. From the medieval dance Estampie, through Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake to the modern dances of the NYCB's co-founder George Balanchine, they added slivers of social and cultural history into the mix.

The children were asked to recognise instrument sounds, follow their development, compare instruments from different historical periods and discuss the relationship between music and dance. Co-ordination, memory, arithmetic, communication and creative skills were all called upon in the 90-minute sessions as the pupils enthusiastically tried to copy every dance step.

The workshop featured some elaborate costumes - a few were musum pieces from the NYCB's archive - and a specially edited video recording from the company's repertoire, showing dances with old and modern influences including country, jazz and blues music.

As a bonus, children who were involved in the workshops, accompanied by up to four teachers, are entitled to pound;2 tickets for NYCB productions at the Festival. The programme at the Edinburgh Playhouse includes Symphony in C by Georges Bizet, choreographed by George Balanchine.

You can meet and quiz the NYCB's ballet master-in-chief, Peter Martins, at The Hub next Thursday, August 17, at 5pm. It is one of 12 conversations forming part of the Festival Insights programme.

Sally Hobson, the Festival's education programme development director, says that because the educational events are directly linked to the upcoming festival, they are often irrelevant to S4 and S5 pupils concentrating on their exam commitments and it can be difficult to get more teenagers involved. However, much of the drama explores different twists and turns on universal themes which can link to core texts, if somewhat obliquely.

Take Gravity for instance, an EIF collaboration with the Traverse's dramatist Zinnie Harris and Georgian composer Marina Adamia. They created a rites of passage play which used words and music to explore key emotional states. It toured from Musselburgh's Brunton Theatre to the newly revamped Tramway in Glasgow, but there was limited interest from the S4s and S5s who were targeted.

Ms Hobson doubts that workshops might have provoked better responses from the pupils. "In the past, the theatre workshops have been regarded as too adult. Complex pieces, including last year's India Song and 1998's Caligula, both directed by Ivo van Hove, were workshopped with little success," she says.

Those who did see Gravity will be offered a 20 per cent discount on tickets for Mozart's piano concertos. Regarded as a landmark in Western music, the seven concerts are to be performed at the Usher Hall during the Festival by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Christian Zacharias.

There is a chance to discover more of Mozart's piano concertos at the Reid Concert Hall, too.

The 10 Music of the Millennium concerts feature music from the past 10 centuries performed in settings appropriate for the pieces of music. They range from Bruno of Toul's first century "Gothic Voices" through to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra performing Stuart MacRae's "Stirling Choruses" at the new Scottish Widows atrium in Morrison Street, Edinburgh. Students and children can get half-price tickets for selected concerts.

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