Crash, bang, shake, rattle and drum roll;Arts

10th December 1999 at 00:00
Judy Mackie joins a primary jam session

Any after-lunch lethargy at Greenbrae Primary school, Aberdeen, is soon shattered by the crashing of cymbals, dramatic drum rolls and the weirdly wonderful sounds of odd-shaped reverberating instruments.

"I hope you've come equipped with paracetamol," says professional percussionist Pam Dow to the adults in the room as she launches her workshop for P6.

First she asks the children to guess the number of percussion instruments that exist. They gasp when she reveals there are many hundreds all over the world, some as old as the human race and designed mainly for communication.

Pam has brought in some of the most interesting specimens to demonstrate the skill and timing required of a professional musician. Retired from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra after a career of 30 years, she now links up with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland to help young people understand and experience the instruments at first hand.

One of their first lessons is that percussion is not a soft option. A "thumb roll" on the tambourine proves a problem for one young volunteer, while a rasping twang on the flexatone is a tricky business for a boy whose thumb is not quite flexible enough.

"You're doing really well, but it's not as easy as it looks, is it?" she says, rummaging in her goody bag for more curious-sounding instruments.

A sharp rap and rub of the tube-shaped vibratone produces a waa-waa wailing, which sparks delighted laughter. The metallic rattle of the cabasa and the bonging of the agogo bells get everyone in the mood for a samba, which Pam orchestrates with a mix of exasperation and merriment.

"Stop shaking those maracas for the moment - I'm about to go stark raving bonkers!" she cries, and then gives a quick coaching session to each impromptu instrumental section before the grand finale. This begins with a simple drum rhythm, builds into a colourful tapestry of sound and culminates in a crescendo of near chaos as youthful enthusiasm out-balances expertise.

The smiles on every face, including those of the teachers and onlookers, show the workshop has achieved its aim to stimulate interest and enthusiasm.

Pamela Dow's sessions in Aberdeen are part of a Scotland-wide series of primary school workshops organised by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and sponsored by Shell UK Exploration and Production

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