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An overture to children

The Band is delighted, the management thrilled, and the schools cannot get enough of it, so it seems. This is one of those leaps in the dark which has paid off handsomely. For the first time, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is staging not one, but two Schools Proms.

The Proms themselves have long been a regular feature of the summer months in Scotland. As a series standing outwith the orchestras main winter season, they cater for a slightly different audience your straight down the middle lovers of pops: film nights, Viennese nights, Mozart nights, and, of course, a Last Night, inviting banner waving and patriotism.

The question of creating a concert specially for schools, taking place during school hours at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, was greeted at first with a few furrowed brows. It was not that anyone felt it was not a great idea it was just that they were not absolutely sure they could sell it. These fears proved utterly unfounded and as it turns out the one Prom sold out so quickly that they had to schedule a second to cater for the demand from 95 schools.

Cynics might point out that caution was a little out of place. They are using a tried and tested, trusty formula: a celebrity musician presents shortish chunks of popular classics in a themed programme. It is a formula that stands or falls on the quality of the presenter and the selection of music. The RSNO has made an excellent choice in Scottish baritone Donald Maxwell, not only a familiar face from his many Scottish Opera roles, but also an ebullient and extrovert stage presence. A trip around the world theme offers plenty of opportunities for colourful music and presentation, so it should go with a bang.

Innovation, then, is not the essential quality of the Prom; instead it builds on the successes of the RSNOs education work to date. Much thought has gone in to preparing the children for the event they will not simply be turning up on the day for an outing. All of the 48 (largely primary) schools participating in special workshops have been presented with a very imaginatively put together educational pack to aid teachers with preparation. It is brightly coloured and full of inventive games and quizzes. On top of that, small groups of musicians from the orchestra will be visiting the schools, playing some of the music. The most valuable benefit of these visits is that half of the 4, 500 children who come to the Prom will have had personal contact with and know the names of musicians on the stage. The intention was to visit all schools, but the orchestra could not cope with the demand.

Hats off to the orchestra for taking this first leap in the dark. Heres hoping that in future years the idea could be developed. What about a whole Schools Week, full of events targetted at different age groups and skills, inviting participation possibly and turning that Royal Concert Hall into a frothing fulcrum of youthful music making and education?

RSNO Scottish Power Schools Proms are taking place at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on June 17 at 10am and 1pm. Both concerts are sold out, but if you would like to know more about the RSNOs year-round education work, contact Naheed Cruickshank at the RSNO, 73 Claremont St, Glasgow G3 7HA, tel: 0141 226 3868.

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