Hall of sound

26th September 1997 at 01:00
The Queen's Hall is no stranger to school concerts, but the three-night Edinburgh Schools Showcase launched last week is a new departure in the way they are presented. The concept of an extended showcase came from general manager Paul Gudgin, who had previous experience of a similar venture while working at Snape Maltings in Suffolk.

"At Snape Maltings," Gudgin says, "we did a week of concerts by both primary and secondary schools in the area, and they were very successful. The standard of instrumental tuition is much higher in Edinburgh, but we wanted to maintain the idea of an open invitation to any schools who wanted to participate, rather than starting to apply any kind of selection process."

Alison MacDonald, education officer at the Queen's Hall, stresses the importance of that egalitarian approach, and was particularly keen to ensure that the concert programmes would feature both private schools, where music tuition resources are often much greater, and state schools, which are often seen as the poor relations.

"I felt that a mix of sectors was crucial," she says, "and also the fact that there was a non-competitive atmosphere." This showcase is not about putting the stars of the school music department into the spotlight, it is about giving a platform to the whole range of a school's work, and encouraging the enthusiasm of the pupils and teachers taking part. "We see this as an annual event, and there may be scope at some point to introduce dance or multi-media elements. "

The opening concert reflected these wishes, with six schools taking part. Mary Erskine School Senior Choir got things off to a strong start with an accomplished performance of Howard Blake's All God's Creatures.

The remainder of the first half was given over to Boroughmuir High School Ceilidh Band, which offered traditional reels and jigs, including several composed by the band (an aspect of these concerts which may take on greater prominence with the emphasis on invention in the curriculum) and the modern jazz of the Mowic Jazz Quintet from George Heriot's School.

St Thomas of Aquin's Chamber Orchestra opened the second half with arrangements of three well-known works from symphonic music, opera and jazz, but still have a bit of developing to do. The George Watson's College Baroque Orchestra were markedly more confident in a concerto by Telemann, although they were bolstered by the presence of several tutors in their ranks, a luxury denied the St Thomas players.

Portobello High School Jazz Band, with slightly less tutor reinforcement, rounded out the evening with exuberant arrangements of soul, blues and pop tunes.

There was a considerable variation in standards, not only between ensembles, but also within them. However, this was an occasion when the well-worn cliche about taking part being the most important thing was palpably true, and although much sounded like work-in-progress, the performances included a great deal of enthusiastic and often accomplished music.

If there was a disappointing aspect, it was the surprising lack of support from parents, given that this was a big stage for most of the children. Based on the Snape experience, Paul Gudgin is confident that the event will pick up better support as the bandwagon begins to roll, and has already had enquiries from schools who ignored the initial invitation letter, but are keen to be involved in future.

One obvious problem is that the concerts have come too early in the school term for many of the teachers and ensembles to prepare properly, or compensate for the absence of the summer leavers. Both Gudgin and MacDonald acknowledge that problem, and will be looking to see if a more suitable slot can be conjured up within the hall's busy schedule.

The presence of 16 primary and secondary schools as well as the Edinburgh Schools Jazz Orchestra in this year's three concerts seems more than enough justification for this kind of high-profile presentation. The Schools Showcase looks set to become a perennial part of the Queen's Hall's expanding education programme.

Queen's Hall, tel: 0131 668 3456

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