TES writers report on the National Festival of Music for Youth. Five infant groups opened a window on to primary classroom music on the first day of the 25th National Festival of Music for Youth on London's South Bank. Then it was the turn of 20 junior groups ranging from bands and instrumental ensembles to classroom orchestras and music theatre troupes. Of the Festival's 8,000 performers, aged between five and 21, the juniors are guaranteed to provide some of the week's best entertainment.
Many familiar names were there, performing to a predictably high standard. Wardle High School Year 8 Brass Band, which won a highly commended award, demonstrated superb control, precision and energy, playing quietly (in Aladdin) or in more flamboyant style in Drummers Delight (excellent soloists here). The performance was all the more remarkable considering that the players come from a single year group.
Two younger bands - Firbank Primary Wind Band and Thorpe Hesley Junior Brass from Rotherham - were also impressive. I particularly enjoyed Firbank's jaunty Connecticut Capers and Tango by Stuart Johnson from the Rotherham group. Brass did not have a monopoly. Judges noted young string players destined for musical heights in the Nicolaou Junior Strings from 0rpington, while Wiltshire sent the largest group of the day - 167 young string players who astounded everyone by playing from memory, an example, said the judges, that could well be followed by other groups.
Grangetown Recorders from Cleveland over the years they have been attending the Festival have so perfected their technique, presentation and now, even their instruments, that it is easy to forget that although their conductor and their music remain the same the children change and each year is a new challenge for indefatigable conductor Bob Mason. "Warm, sonorous, with beautifully managed phrasing," enthused the adjudicators.
Some schools chose to select their repertoire from shows. Green Lane Primary School Choir's Calamity Jane featured a circus in which everything went wrong. Judges praised costumes and staging in Ace in Space, from Arrowe Hill School, Birkenhead. The costumes in all the entries, they said, were bright and appropriate, but never detracted from the music. They showed just what could be done in a school with a limited budget.
Environmental themes were popular as ever, the most original title being Arnie (Acid Rain Nature's Insidious Enemy) from Creswell Junior School, Derbyshire. Abbotsmead Junior School (Barrow-in-Furness) won an outstanding award for A Day in the Rain Forest, written by pupils. This evocative, well-structured soundscape depicting bird song, chirping insects, swishing trees and sudden rainstorm, contained some of the afternoon's most sensitive ensemble playing and was national curriculum composition at its simplest yet most effective. The other outstanding award went to Putney High School for songs from its costume drama, Mistress of Charlecote Park. But, emphasised the judges, just being at the Festival Hall meant that every group was a winner in this Festival which strives to be uncompetitive.
National Youth Music Theatre director Jeremy James Taylor voiced the same sentiments as he reviewed the eight ensembles who took part in Wednesday's National Music Theatre Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Replacing the Barclays Awards which ended when sponsorship was withdrawn last year, this event has, it is to be hoped, found a permanent slot in the Festival. The eight entries ranged from Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat (JSS Ensemble, Worthing) and the GCSE composition Inside Story (from Weatherhead High School, Merseyside) to Einstein, an opera by Philip Glass (St John's Comprehensive School, Gravesend).
Pupils from Ermyseds Dramatic Society, disappointed not to be selected for an award for their fifties' rock and roll piece, The Wizard of Love, stressed the difficulty of cutting a three-hour epic to 20 minutes. Vocalists (male soloists and female backing group), saxophonist and Jerry Lee Lewis-style pianist were excellent and, although credit for unearthing rock and roll gems previously unpublished in the UK must go to their music teacher, the professional arrangements were by the pupils themselves.
The afternoon ended with an intense drama from the Palace Youth Theatre, Kilmarnock. Well choreographed, and visually stylish, Fire (the story of a girl who is burned to death after a relationship ends) was passionate and dynamic. It won this section's highly commended award, with the outstanding award going to Llandau Forte Youth Theatre from Derby.
The standard of live music has never been higher in this event, said Jeremy James Taylor. Bigger and better than ever, the National Festival of Music For Youth celebrated its 25th birthday in style.