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Sounds by the river

National Festival of Music for youth 1997. South Bank Concert Halls, July 7-12

Philippa Davidson and Michael Burnett pick highlights from last week's National Festival of Music for Youth 1997

Pupils from the King James I School in Bishop Auckland had more qualms about using London's Underground system than about performing in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, one of the capital's major concert halls. Their lively Abba medley, played in the pop rock and electronic section, had panache and some impressive vocal teamwork from their two lead singers.

In this category judges also look for originality, commitment and attention to presentation. The Smithills Percussion Group produced astonishing sounds from an array of instruments that included digeridoos and dustbin lids, and their spectacular visual and aural extravaganza won them an Outstanding Performance award. Groves High School's Blues Band won two awards for original compositions and technical expertise, with a special mention for their lead guitarist. Their wistful, folky ballad "Beautiful You" was especially noteworthy. The group Rachel (Shepperton) was also commended for the ballad "One More Chance".

Next door in the Purcell Room, serious business was taking place in the senior chamber music section. The King Edward VI College Flute Quartet played Debussy's Arabesque crisply, the West Glamorgan Youth Brass Ensemble performed work by Bach, Handel and Sondheim, and the Wakefield College Woodwind Quartet ended the section with a lighter programme of pieces by the British composer Richard Rodney Bennett.

Adjudicators of the senior music ensembles praised all the participating groups for their musicality and ingenuity, although they were disappointed that so few of the competitors stayed to listen to other participants. Regular contributors Claythorne Early Music Consort (Glasgow) were professional in their presentation, sense of ensemble and ability to switch instruments. High Wycombe Music Centre Brass Ensemble offered some attractive Renaissance brass, and the accomplished Kirklees Senior Percussion Ensemble delivered seamless percussive sounds with impressive dexterity. Pantastic Steelband from Sunderland played a lively "Mango Walk" and a measured version of "Summertime". The awards in this category went to four contrasting groups: Ysgol Glanaethey, St John's Comprehensive School, Gravesend, the Northamptonshire Clarinet Choir and Bravura, Birmingham.

Saturday, the last day of the festival, was given over to choral work. The junior choirs all brought a freshness to their work. The JSS Junior Ensemble from Worthing was particularly outstanding in a round made up of Praetorius, the rhythmic Israeli song "Dodi Ui", the Elton John song "Hakuna Matata" and the haunting "There is no Rose".

The 96 members of the Avenue Middle School Choir from Norwich delivered "America" from West Side Story with such enthusiasm that the audience cheered. Their "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" was well arranged and clearly enunciated.

Other choirs included Pilgrim's Way, Farnham, which sang "Love the World" sung with commitment, the Henstead Choir from Beccles ("Home" from Wind in the Willows was my favourite) and the Dame Alice Harpur School (Bedford), which sang the demanding "Duck and the Kangaroo" by William Mathias. The morning ended with the Falcon Chorale singing, and moving to, four lively dance songs in different styles, composed and directed from the piano by their conductor.

As we emerged into the sunshine one of the senior choirs, the Kinder Choir from High Peak, was limbering up for the final afternoon session with an al fresco medley of Tyneside songs. It would be hard to think of a more perfect ending to the 1997 Festival of Music for Youth.


The festival saw the introduction of a new primary curriculum class. This got off to a resounding start with a lively performance by 80 children from Downsell Junior School, London.

Excellent singing and instrumental work marked "Sounds of the Sea" from Amport Primary, Hampshire. "I played a flute solo," said Alex Belbin, 11. "I had butterflies but they went away once I started." Alex's teacher, Maureen Peck, approved of the new class. "There's a good spread of groups and I'm pleased it's not competitive," she said.

Foxdenton Junior, an Oldham special needs school, staged some popular songs. The dancers, in wheelchairs, managed their movements well, the choir projected the songs confidently and the performance as a whole was inspiring.

The class ended with a stunning performance, by Longley Primary, Sheffield, of their composition, "Colours".

Also new to the festival were workshops for school groups not involved in the competition. Workshops mounted by the Music Industries Association enabled children to try out instruments. "It's cheered me up playing the drums, " said Sacha Harrison, 10, from Albemarle Primary, London. "I'd like to have lessons. "

Composing in the classroom featured prominently in the festival. "Icarus Allsorts", composed by Key Stage Four, Halifax, demonstrated originality and good performance standards in the 11-18 class.

Bishop Auckland's 3+1 played some stylistic rock numbers with well-disciplined backing. Lead singer Bicky Moody, 18, remarked how "performing your own compositions, you can really get your emotions across".

The Wakefield College Piano Sextet ended the 11-18 composing class with some fascinating minimalist pieces.

During the traditional and international music class, adjudicator Barry Russell complimented Isleworth and Syon Gamelan, Hounslow, on their "musical understanding". The Waverley Bhangra Dancers, Birmingham, contributed some marvellously synchronised performances, and Palt"g, from South Lancashire, skilfully played and sang Irish melodies accompanied by bodhr n (frame drum).

"The bodhr n's difficult to play because each instrument is different and you have to learn so many rhythms," said group member Lisa Foxcroft, 14.

Isleworth and Syon Gamelan gained new composition and highly-commended awards in the class. Also highly-commended were Featherstone Sitar Ensemble, Middlesex, and Riding Mill Fiddlers, Northumberland. And outstanding performance awards went to Dryzabone, Inverness, and St Martin-in-the-Fields Gospel Choir, London.

To conclude the traditional and international music class, the Gospel Choir repeated their wonderful performance of "Something Inside". Later, soloist Charlene Braithwaite, 15, said: "I wasn't worried about winning an award. We just felt privileged to take part in the festival."


A list of all National Festival of Music for Youth 1997 awards is available from Music for Youth on: 0181 870 9624. MFY is sponsored by British Aerospace, Commercial Union, Glaxo Wellcome, PJB Publications and W H Smith, in association with The TES

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