A team in tune

16th March 2001 at 00:00
Music has remained a vital part of the curriculum in the Midlands, as Tom Deveson discovers.

Birmingham's reputation for music-making spread across the world when conductor Sir Simon Rattle took the Symphony Orchestra to astonishing heights of innovation and eloquence. The city's reputation will be maintained by the performances at the Education Show next week.

Each day between 10am and 1pm, five young music groups from across the Midlands will perform three ten-minute sets as part of the exhibition's new Performing Arts Zone.

They have been invited to play by the National Union of Teachers and Music for Youth, two organisations that know at first hand the vital contribution made by music to any proper education.

Larry Westland, of Music for Youth, is certain of the special value of live music and fears that pressures on teachers and schools mean that youngsters might learn to play, but not perform.

"You might be the best cook in the world, but if no one eats your food, your gifts will be squandered." Getting up on a stage can augment skills to an extraordinary degree. Squeaky violins or reticent drum-kits can at last make the sounds for which they were originally created.

Harjit Singh, who works for Birmingham Music Services, brings together a Classical Asian Ensemble and a Bhangra band. Bth groups come from the city's secondary schools.

The classical players blend sitar and tabla, working in 16-beat rhythmic cycles. After thoroughly learning a number of classic ragas, they are now ready to improvise. Harjit Singh attributes this confidence to their learning aurally rather than on paper and to their joy in working together.

The same applies to the Bhangra ensemble, who use songs from the Indian charts. Their compulsively powerful playing features folk instruments and modern electronics, and has already been admired by television audiences.

No fewer than four groups come from Dudley where Keith Horsfall from the local music service exudes enthusiasm for the wide range of styles embraced by his performers. Close-harmony singers of jazz standards and 1960s favourites, keyboard players from junior schools with specially composed numbers, and a string orchestra performing Grieg represent only a tiny sample of the borough's repertoire.

"They reflect music's universal power, they learn a lot about themselves, and they give immense pleasure to others," he said. Percussion, steel pans, dance and music theatre are additional parts of the superb line-up. Keeping Music Live can be a pious aspiration. On stage in Birmingham it becomes a heart-catching reality.

Performing Arts Zone

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