Richard Stilgoe and Bob Holness jollied things along nicely on the second night of the Schools Proms, and even when one sensed that a performance was losing the attention of the audience, the performers were still rewarded with good-natured cheering. With all that foot-stomping and communal chanting, this was definitely a celebration.
Musically, the most impressive item of the second of the three evenings was a performance of Steve Reich's Drumming Part 4 by a percussion group from St John's comprehensive school, Kent. Reich is one of the most important - and accessible - of contemporary composers, one who has forged a new aesthetic and sense of time from the combination of minimalism and non-western sounds. His beautiful music should be at the heart of music education, but poses considerable challenges. Full marks to the St John's group and their director John Warwick Stone for bringing it off with such panache and hypnotic concentration.
With the exception of the Johl Quartet of Nottingham's confident performance of a new piece by Christopher Headington (interestingly, these young performers sounded more at home in his Jan#249;cek-like score than in the Dvo#249;rk which followed it), the repertoire of the remaining "straight" groups was fairly conservative. The wind bands, such as the Newport Music Centre Brass Band from South Wales and the Smithills Symphonic Wind Band from Bolton, were crisp and exceptionally well-drilled,though their programmes didn't pose many musical, as opposed to purely technical, demands.
Disappointingly, the only music theatre item of the evening, The Wiz from the JSS Junior Ensemble of Sussex, followed Broadway conventions and couldn't help looking like an imitation of the real thing. A more interesting mixture of music and dance came from the St Gregory's Irish Traditional Music Group from Merseyside. Their interpretation of Paddy Malone's Sea Image combined traditiona l sound and movement with a modern feel.
On the jazz side of things, Jazz Vehicle, a big band from Lincolnshire, are an outfit that must go down a storm at school dances. Their version of Weather Report's "Birdland" had all the pizzazz and precision it needed. They were clearly having a whale of a time, as was the audience. More modern were two smaller groups, the Tom Arthurs Quintet from Northamptonshire and the London Fusion Orchestra (actually a quintet). Trumpter Tom Arthurs had composed his own material, and his "One Foot Wrong" was nicely slinky and rhythmically sophisticated. It also featured a notably brilliant and effervescent alto sax solo from Kate Mlynar. The London Fusion Orchestra, looking back to the spare Miles Davis style of the early seventies, seemed fully at home in this rarified, probing idiom,but their choice of the meditative Joe Zawinul theme "Directions " (another Weather Report number) perhaps wasn't right for the occasion.
Back at the traditional end of the spectrum, the Egglescliffe School Orchestra, Stockton-on-Tees, showed the depth of talent that can be nurtured in one school, while the Surrey Heath Youth Orchestra ushered things efficiently to their inevitable Land-of-Hope-and-Glory conclusion.
In time-honoured tradition, the last night of the Schools Proms is party night. Dancing, clapping and even wolf whistles are all permitted in the interests of atmosphere. Rarely, though has there been anything like the rapturous welcome given to the Inverness group, Dryzabone, who brought the house down for a full 20 minutes with their seamless Celtic music played on whistle, percussion and electric guitars.
Jazz ensembles, rock groups and bands were much to the fore, all performing to an exceptionally high standard. Northamptonshire Concert Bank opened with the Star Wars Saga, while the Holme Valley Music Centre Big Band began the second half with a smooth rendering of Blue Bones, Azure Eyes and Tom Cat that belied the young age of some of its performers.Concierto de Aranjuez, played by Tapton School Brass Band on the flugelhorn, was unusually effective and Tico Tico with its Mexican rhythms was just the right follow-up.
The Blues Band from Groves High School, Wrexham, performed in gritty, bluesy style three of its own compositions that included some interesting vocals in Beautiful You.
With balance and variety in mind, the organisers always try to include at least one group of under-12s, although the youngest musicians do not always have the volume to make much of an impact in the Albert Hall. However, one of the evening's highlights was seeing the Falconers Marching Band (aged nine to 12) from Norwich, playing recorders and percussion, leading the audience in The Teddy Bears Picnic. These talented youngsters performed repertoire that was tailor-made for them (the tuneful Follywood or Bust was written by their conductor) with discipline.
The well-publicised showpiece was the Karl Jenkins Adiemus sung by 500 voices drawn from north London primary and secondary schools. Featuring a skilled group of dancers and instrumentalists as well as singers, this was a feat of organisation as well as a moving tribute to the multiculturalism that is the essence of music in London schools. Other choirs were the Gospel Choir of St Martin-in-t he Fields, who gave a polished performance of two contrasting numbers, and the Chanterelles from Leicester, a choir open to all, who sang with sensitivity music from Gounod to Bernstein.
Classical music was limited, but all the more refreshing when it came. The Mayfield Piano Trio's version of the Shostakovich Trio No2 was haunting and delicately played. The splendid Birmingham Schools Symphony Orchestra rounded off a rollicking last night on a serious note with the Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances before the traditional Elgar.
Highlights of the Schools Proms will be broadcast on Radio 2, November 29,7.30-9.30pm. Music for Youth is sponsored by British Aerospace, Commercial Union, Glaxo Wellcome, PJB Publications and W H Smith in association with The TES. In 1998 The TES becomes a major Music for Youth sponsor with #163;30,000. The first TES Schools Prom Scotland will take place in Edinburgh in June