Have song, will travel;Arts;Music

27th February 1998 at 00:00
It's Schools Prom day in Wales next week. Michael Burnett introduces some of the participants

Ystrad Mynach is a town high in the hills to the north of Cardiff. next thursday, 60 seven- to 11-year-olds from the Llancaeach Junior School there will make the journey to St David's Hall, Cardiff, to take part in the Schools Prom.

How do they feel about it? "It's a bit scary, but I'm looking forward to it," says 11-year-old Melanie Powell. "Afterwards, our school might get on Top of the Pops," adds Daryl Andrews.

With five other Caerphilly schools they will perform songs specially written by Welsh composer Mervyn Burtch. On the night, they will share the stage with six other bands and ensembles.

Masterminding the Caerphilly group is the authority's music officer Keith Ellerington.

"We're drawing children from a broad socio-economic mix. Being involved in such a prestigious project will bring numerous benefits like raising their self-esteem as well as their musical awareness," he says.

During a rehearsal at Llancaeach, directed by Dr Ellerington and accompanied by the composer, the children manage Burtch's difficult rhythms and melodies with increasing skill. And, ultimately, they perform the two songs they have worked on with style and conviction.

Headteacher Stuart Telling says that 30 per cent of the children at the school have free school meals. "With that sort of economic deprivation a lot of children don't travel far, let alone to Cardiff. Enabling that to happen is one of the virtues of this kind of enterprise."

Mervyn Burtch is pleased with the children's achievements. "The songs are challenging to do. But if you don't tell children something's difficult they don't know it is."

Nine-year-old Hannah Simmons says it's exciting working with a real composer: "I was worried I might get the music wrong and he'd shout at me, but he's really very kind."

at Greenhill School, Tenby, head of performing arts Paul Rapi says: "We're a comprehensive and we believe in the comprehensive view of music. That's why we have three orchestras, concert bands anda chamber group."

Mr Rapi will be conducting Greenhill's 110-strong first orchestra at the Prom, organised by Music for Youth. their programme will contain arrangements of popular themes such as "The Empire Strikes Back". Mr Rapi says: "Playing at events like this gives the kids something to work for."

Oakleigh House School, Swansea, is staging How Does Your Garden Grow?, songs and dances about plants and the environment. Eleanor McLeod, the school's drama teacher, says: "It's going to be a marvellous experience for our five to eight-year-olds." Seven-year-old Rebecca Morrison says: "It's good doing the piece in springtime because it's all about the flowers growing."

Headteacher Penelope Cole says: "How Does Your Garden Grow? involves all of the children in Years 1 to 4 because it's important for every child to have an appreciation of the arts."

The children say that preparing for the concert has taught them about environmental issues. "You shouldn't cut down all the trees because they're alive like us and we need oxygen from them," says eight-year-old Jenny Stephens. And Elfina Valerio thinks that "we should keep all the grass and build houses on ground which isn't grass".

Schools Prom Wales: St David's Hall, Cardiff, March 5, 7pm. Tickets (pound;8, pound;7, pound;5) 01222 878444. Music for Youth is sponsored by Commercial Union, GlaxoWellcome, the National Union of Teachers, PJB

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