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Pupil bands come to a crescendo

Two terms' work by musically gifted primary and secondary pupils in Edinburgh built up to a crescendo in the past two weeks for the city's annual Spring Concert Series.

A total of 620 pupils performed all types of music from symphony and choral singing to jazz and rock in six concerts over 11 days, concluding yesterday.

The series kicked off at St Mary's Cathedral in Palmerston Place, with a classical guitar ensemble, primary schools string orchestra and wind ensemble among other bands, on March 20 and 21.

Rock was the dish of the day at the Queen's Hall last Friday, when the 24 members of the Edinburgh Schools Rock Ensemble performed a dozen covers and the Battle of the Bands was fought.

The rock collective, which rehearses weekly and is led by four instrumental music teachers, comprises vocalists, drummers, guitarists, keyboards and brass players in S5 and S6, who take turns in the lead roles. Among other well-known hits they played were "Ashes to Ashes" by David Bowie and "Get Down Tonight" by KC and the Sunshine Band.

Eight school rock bands competed to win the Battle of the Bands. Local musical instrument shops supported the contest with prizes worth pound;2,000. The first prize, for the best original material, was a recording session at Lighthouse Studios in Granton, where the winning band will produce a demo CD plus a vinyl disc. The winners also go forward to a national final next session. Other prizes included a Mapex drum kit for the best rhythm section, a Line 6 guitar, and a saxophone for the best wind section.

"They win it for the school, not for themselves, so that hundreds of kids get access to top of the range equipment," says the council's principal officer of instrumental music, Mike McGeary.

The Hub and the Royal High school hosted two other concerts, with the city's Voice Academy and schools jazz bands performing.

At the grand finale concert at the Usher Hall last night, the 92 members of the Edinburgh Secondary Schools Orchestra performed with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

The schools orchestra played the first half, conducted by Richard Lewis, a young professional conductor and former pupil of James Gillespie's High.

The leader of the orchestra, violinist Emma Lloyd, an S6 pupil at the City of Edinburgh Music School based at Broughton High, won a competition to perform a solo concerto at the concert. She played the second movement, Nigun, from Baal Shem by Ernest Bloch.

"It's quite an honour because the Usher Hall is so beautiful," says Emma.

"It's a very emotional piece to play."

The second half featured the schools orchestra and the SCO playing together. The internationally known conductor Nicholas Kraemer led them for the world premi re of "Six Shades of Blue", the third and final commission from Rory Boyle as Composer Laureate for Schools.

The closing concert of the spring series served as a culmination of the council's three-and-a-half-year Composer Laureate for Schools project, in partnership with the SCO. Through the scheme, Boyle has helped musicians aged 13 to 18 to compose their own music, with guidance from SCO players.

The concert at the Hub featured new music by composers from Portobello High.

The council's arts and learning unit manager, Mary McGookin, says: "Playing in any music group or ensemble does so much for young people. It does help learning but it's also about self-confidence, team building, social skills.

"The Spring Concert Series is the culmination of two terms' work for all the performers. They've got a lot of talent."

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