18th February 2000 at 00:00
You are six years old, kitted out in neat grey and navy blue uniform. It's a perfectly ordinary Thursday morning when you file into the pretty basement school hall and sit on the floor with your friends.

Suddenly the door flies open and in comes a toreador, not only glittering with gold embroidery but singing at the top of his very loud voice. Gavin Taylor, baritone and habitue of European opera houses, has arrived at a well-heeled prep school in Holland Park. There is a sharp intake of breath, then smiles. Gavin, here under the aegis of a small organisation called An Introduction to the Arts, changes from Escamillo in Carmen to avuncular visitor, talking about opera and asking lots of questions. A few go awry - "What languages do you think operas might be written in?" A small boy has his hand in the air. "My Daddy goes to Germany a lot" - but mostly he hits the right level .

Then it's time to join in. A miniature Carmen dons a frilly red frock and hurriedly snatches a bunch of flowers from her Don Jose. A chorus of dancers skips and the rest of us sing along encouragingly. By the end, the Toreador song is beginning to be familiar. But when it comes to questions at the end, there are still some worries. "What happens if you get chicken pox?" asks one worried future denizen of the Royal Opera House.

An Introduction to the Arts has been in existence for only a few months. Nicki McWilliam and Jane Bryden Brown, who set it up, would like to expand to take their professionals - there is a similar hour-long mime programme - into state schools but are looking for sponsorship. They charge pound;4.50 per child and provide follow-up sheets for teachers and pupils, graded in difficulty for older primary school children. For more information: 0207 2215554 or 0207 6023514.

People on the very edge of society have been sharing opera with children in Westminster in a scheme run jointly by Passage Nightshelter and the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. The Little Prince Project will culminate in a performance of the opera, based on the story by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, at the Linbury Theatre in the refurbished Royal Opera House next Wednesday.

The production team are homeless people who have been making sets, props and costumes in workshops on Monday evenings. The children, all from primary schools, have been learning about opera and homelessness and making their own soundscapes in workshops at the Theatre Museum led by Matthew Peacock of Opera now magazine. There will be 25 children in the chorus supporting four young professional singers at the performance to be attended by the Duchess of Ket, a volunteer worker at the nightshelter and the mayor of Westminster. Tickets: 0171 304 4000.

More than 5,000 primary children got the chance to attend a lively concert absolutely free on February 7 at the Royal Festival Hall and thousands more can do the same at Symphony Hall in Birmingham on March 20. These are the Lollipop Proms, presented by Music for Youth and supported by The TES Primary magazine, in which young performers play and sing a varied programme. The London concert included the 85 strong BYMT Berkshire Youth Orchestra playing excerpts from Copland's Billy the Kid, African Vibes, presenting their own brand of exciting percussion and the Burghclere County Primary School Brass Band from Newbury, which had half the school's juniors puffing away to great effect in "The Happy Wanderer" and "Marching Saints". The Icknield Choir and Signing Choir from Luton gave "Thank You for the Music" an original twist by including signers from their hearing impaired unit among the singers, and the concert ended with a terrific climax: Borlase Jazz Orchestra from Marlow playing themes from Sesame Street and Mission Impossible. Between items, presenter Shirley Court kept everyone on their toes by leading action songs. No escape for lazy grown-ups allowed. Music for Youth: 0181 870 9624.

Victorian songs are the centrepiece of a joint British Film InstitutePlayers' Theatre production, Movies at the Music Hall. Every term-time Wednesday morning, from March 1 to July 12, there will be a performance, linked to key stage 2 history, in which the young audience can take part. Song sheets and a BFI education resource, Entertaining the Victorians, will be sent in advance to participating schools. Actors, a real magic lantern, songs and early moving pictures will make the Victorian era come to life. The Players Theatre still presents music hall in its original venue, underneath Charing Cross Station. Tickets (0207 839 1134) are pound;6 per child, accompanying teachers free. Information: 020 7976 1307 or 020 7255 1444.

Meanwhile, enjoy half-term. The National Theatre is among many organisations to offer a special programme of events. La Fanfarra present Trinoceria, a one-man, hour-long show involving different styles of puppetry suitable for four to 10-year-olds. An Ugly Scene is a two-day acting workshop and performance run by cast members from the Olivier show, Honk! The Ugly Duckling, based on Hans Andersen's tale. There will also be a costume workshop and a "talk show" which will give a flavour of the work that goes into the making of a production, in this case Honk!

Heather Neill

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