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Fast track up Abbey Road

Sebastian Lander tells how a children's orchestra raised money for tsunami relief in record time

The Beachboys did it. The Beatles did it, and made it famous.

Now the National Children's Orchestra has done it, in only four days. Still no idea? The orchestra has recorded a track at London's Abbey Road studios for an official album for the Disasters Emergency Committee, to raise money for the tsunami relief fund. The CDhas since reached number one in the charts.

Among musical greats such as Sir Cliff Richard, Bill Wyman and Boy George, the NCO took part in a project spanning Los Angeles, New York, London and Sri Lanka, where the Holy Family Convent Choir of Colombo recorded one of the tracks very near to where the tsunami struck.

Director of music Roger Clarkson, and his orchestra of under-14s, received the invitation to record a classical version of the song "Grief Never Grows Old One World", from record producer Steve Levine, who was working on the project with broadcaster and composer Mike Read.

The album had to be released quickly to achieve maximum impact. Roger Clarkson said: "I heard about the opportunity on a Wednesday in January; the piece had not been orchestrated and there was no booked recording studio.

"Mike Read then called on the Friday morning and we were told to be at the Abbey Road studios on the following Monday at 5pm to record the track."

The experience had a wide-reaching impact. Katie Kwong, a Year 4 pupil at the North London Collegiate School, has been with the NCO for two years and played violin for the track. "I was very excited to record the song at Abbey Road and see the layout of the studio. It's very important for people around the world to raise money for the tsunami victims to rebuild their communities," she said.

The project was supported by Katie's school and has been incorporated into the curriculum. Junior school music co-ordinator Rachel Lund made sure that Katie shared her experience with the rest of the school. "We brought her to the front of assembly to talk about the event," she said.

Rachel also linked the recording to topic work in music: "Some topics we will look at may include a project on the sea and weather, represented by different composers. We might also do something on world music and, for the topic 'listening', look at the piece itself and analyse the instrumentation and texture." And pupils are required to record their compositions, a topic relevant to the music technology aspect of the whole project.

Steve believes the experience highlighted implications for music in schools: "Most schools generally cater for traditional music playing. This project shows how the whole process of production and music technology can benefit the curriculum. For example, if a child wants to learn the flute, they should also learn music programming.

"Music technology involves computer skills, physics, electronics and even English. If children write rap lyrics, they are by default writing a piece of English and they don't realise it.

"Children need to learn that they don't need to be great musicians to be creative with music, but this album is a great example of the quality of music in British schools."

l www.nco.org.uktsunami.htm

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