A feast of music
This year's Schools Proms will be better than ever, says Michael Burnett
Ten-year-old Daisy Bergonzi says: "I'm into the Spice Girls and Top of the Pops - and now I'm into Adiemus as well. Sometimes when I'm singing it I close my eyes and see a picture of what it's about. It's like holy music."
Daisy is a pupil at Lauriston Primary School, Hackney. She's one of 500 children from North London who are to sing two movements from Karl Jenkins's Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary during the third of this year's Schools Proms in London.
The performance has brought together children from 14 schools in the London boroughs of Camden, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Redbridge. Co-ordinated by Leonora Davies, music adviser for Haringey, the performance is a first for the Proms in that, as an educational project, it has been mounted specifically for the occasion. GCSE music students from Mount Carmel School, Islington, have created electronic and African drum music, while pupils from Fortismere School, Muswell Hill, will perform a dance they have devised.
"I was so excited when our teacher told us we were going to sing at the Albert Hall," says Michelle Effah, from Lauriston School. "It's a dream come true. "
The three Proms, mounted by Music for Youth, will help dreams come true for hundreds of other young musicians performing in over 30 choirs, orchestras and ensembles all over the country. And, for the Coffey String Quartet from Belfast, the first night will be especially poignant. They are the first ensemble from Northern Ireland to reach the Proms, not because the six counties lack talent, but because the costs of travel have always inhibited entries to the annual Festival of Music for Youth from which Proms participants are selected.
This year, for the first time, financial assistance for musicians from Northern Ireland has been provided by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland and Music for Youth, and the Coffey Quartet was selected from 10 groups which applied.
How were they selected? "We submitted a video showing us in rehearsal and doing a recital," says violinist Peter Hewitt. "We're performing a movement from the Dvorak American quartet at the Prom," adds Peter Black, viola. "And we'll get to hear other young musicians."
The Coffey Quartet is based at the Belfast School of Music, whose principal tutor, Robin Hewitt, thinks highly of Music for Youth. "They're doing an enormous amount for music and young people," he says. "There's plenty of youthful talent here in Northern Ireland. And parents and the education boards are extremely supportive. But there's a psychological, as well as financial, barrier, when it comes to travelling to England. So the subsidy Music for Youth and the Department of Education have provided is a very positive gesture. "
Tony Lloyd is director of St Gregory's Junior School Irish Traditional Music Group, Merseyside, who are to perform at the second Prom. For him, Music for Youth's main achievement has been that of raising the standards of children's music making. "They've offered the incentives to improve, such as the possibility of a visit to a prestigious venue and the opportunities of playing to a large audience and of hearing other excellent groups."
Why Irish Music? "Because it has an intrinsic beauty, with its exciting rhythms and often haunting melodies. And because learning and playing the music develops children's personal confidence. They gain from the discipline of learning the music by heart and from practising and performing it as part of a team."
Wardle High School Year 8 Brass Band, Rochdale, will be performing at the first Prom. It is one of six bands at this remarkable school. "There are several spin-offs from our many musical activities", says deputy head Tom Hobson. "They're a shop window for the school. And we've proved that children who play an instrument are more likely to be academically successful."
Music by Karl Jenkins and a Dvorak quartet alongside Irish and brass band music; jazz alongside Western classical orchestral music. Where else, but at the Schools Proms, could one hear such a variety of music, performed to high standards by young people from throughout the country?
"It's a joy for our children to play at the Proms and hear other youngsters performing so many different kinds of music," says Tom Hobson. "And that's what music's all about. Taking part and sharing."
Schools Proms are at the Royal Albert Hall, London, November 3-5, 7pm. Tel: 0171 589 8212. MFY is sponsored by British Aerospace, Commercial Union, Glaxo Wellcome, PJB Publications and WH Smith Retail, with The TES