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The man behind the masque

The project, Michael Price says, has been "remarkable. The whole class has snapped it up. And working on the project has enabled some children, who are not so successful at ordinary classroom work, to blossom dramatically.".

Price teaches Year 6 pupils at Grasmere Primary School in Hackney, east London. He is commenting on an English National Opera project, based on the company's new production of Purcell's masque, The Fairy Queen, which was mounted recently in schools in London and the South-East as part of the company's Baylis Programme.

After preliminary visits to the schools by a designer, choreographer and musician from the production team, pupils involved in the project took part in a "Preparation for a Masque" workshop with singers from the ENO. Teachers were provided with education packs containing historical background, music and follow-up ideas relative to Purcell's work. The project culminated in everyone who took part attending a performance of The Fairy Queen at the London Coliseum.

Price says: "The children's involvement with the masque has made the period come alive for them. Curriculum-wise, I'd recommend it to anyone".

Rebecca Meitles is director of the "Preparation for a Masque" workshops, which were held in the 17th century banqueting house in Whitehall. She said: "The Fairy Queen project is part of our Opera in Context series. Our aim is to expand people's horizons, enabling them to understand the arts through participation. The Baylis Programme is central to the work of the ENO. And meeting professionals who have real commitment, passion and skills has a large impact on children."

How do schools find out about the programme? "Through our mailing list mostly. In the past we worked with local music advisers in selecting schools. But the breaking up of local education authority music services has made things more difficult. It's much more up to individual teachers' initiatives now."

Later, I sounded out participants at one of the workshops. Hugo Donaldson, 13, from Judd School, Tonbridge, said: "I liked making the wigs best."

Emma Claridge, from Chichester High School and also 13, was bowled over by the magnificent surroundings. "The banqueting house is really big and beautiful", she said. "And we're learning a lot just being here."

The Fairy Queen is at the London Coliseum on 11, 17 and 21 November at 7.30pm and 23 November at 6.30pm. Box office tel: 0171-632 8300. Baylis Programme tel: 0171-836 0111.

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