Music is the food of self-esteem at primary proms

Diane Hofkins

Thank you for the chance to see a real live brass band, I have never seen a live band", wrote Bradley, one of the London school children who went to the Primary Prom last year at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Jennifer wrote: "I had never seen a washboard or even heard one until today... That also gave me some idea that I could design a new instrument one day."

Last week, with the venue moved to the traditional home of proms, the Albert Hall, 9,000 more London four to 11-year-olds had the unifying and revealing experience of hearing live music in a spectacular venue. They danced in their seats, clapped, swayed and sang along and to music as diverse as rock, orchestral, choral and dixieland jazz, played by their contemporaries and older students. Sitting in boxes, stalls and circles, they could feel as grand as those who will attend the main school proms, which are also run by Music for Youth and sponsored by The TES and other worthy organisations, next month. The Primary Proms are a highly interactive affair, with lots of joining in - even teachers were seen dancing in the aisles to the punk band's finale.

Proms perennial St Mary's RC primary in Clapham showed literally how music is the food of self-esteem, with the self-affirming songs of Stephen Fischbacher, sung by a 75-strong chorus. Little sketches were devised by the children to set the scene. Proms organiser Larry Westland had asked St Mary's, the only primary school on the programme, to focus on something all primaries could do.

Fischbacher "uses songs to talk about issues that are quite difficult to talk about from cold", says the school's music co-ordinator, Julie McCann.

These include the discouraging remarks that parents make, and peer pressure to be like everyone else ("That dress is so last year", a girl is told in one of the sketches). The song "Be Yourself", with its chorus "You're meant to be yourself You don't have to be like anybody else", resonated with audience and singers alike.

Sheritta, 10, from St Mary's, said singing in a group made her feel happy and confident. And Abisola, 11 today, said singing was "good for your lungs, and your emotions and your social life".

Two Year 6 children, Fode and Lana, led the entire Albert Hall in the chorus of "We can sing". "I said to those two, this is your big moment. You have got that power", said Ms McCann.

DH Fischy Music's cheerful, child-centred website is

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Diane Hofkins

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