Dreaming of the Royal Albert Hall

17th October 2003 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh bangs the drum for another year of the Schools Proms

Asmall child picks up a plastic beater and attempts to reproduce, on the bars of a metallophone, the sounds she is hearing in her head. Her classmates do the same, using tuned and untuned percussion and their voices to bring an extra dimension to a story or a piece of drama.

The children are acquiring what the national curriculum calls the "interrelated skills of performing, composing and appraising". In their terms, however, they are just having a good time. Such classroom performances are, inevitably, transient but occasionally it is good to present them to a wider audience in an assembly or at the annual school concert. But suppose the performance could go further, breaking out beyond the school and ending up on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall?

It is that experience that now lies ahead for 38 groups of young musicians, from sixth-form rock bands through county orchestras and massed choirs to primary percussion groups, all of whom have been selected to appear at one of three consecutive schools proms. Some are veterans of public performance - orchestras, choirs and bands of the highest standard. Others, though equally accomplished, are emerging for the first time.

Typical of these classroom-generated groups is Stanley St Peter's Infant Players from Wakefield: a primary class of 26 eight-year-olds who give a wonderful and colourful account of the story of the willow-pattern plate.

The show was developed by the children themselves over a term and a half.

They act out the story and provide their own atmospheric music on classroom instruments. There are costumes, movement, a party with jugglers and plate spinners, and, because the children were not so keen on the traditional sad ending, there is also a dragon who rescues the souls of the dead lovers and releases them, very movingly, as birds that fly free.

Their teacher Stephen Peace says this is just the sort of imaginative curriculum-based production that is within reach of many primary teachers, especially if there is strong support, as in his case, from the local authority music service.

The national curriculum links across a range of subjects are strong and easy to identify. "The children's pride in their achievement is really evident," he says. "I saw improvements in concentration, behaviour and attainment. It reinforced my belief that music should not be marginalised in the curriculum."

The Schools Proms are at the Royal Albert Hall on November 3-5. They are sponsored by The TES, Halifax, the National Union of Teachers, Norwich Union and PJB Publications. The event is organised by Music for Youth, a national charity that promotes music teaching and performance.www.mfy.org.uk

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