Heart beat and birdsong melody;Arts

5th November 1999 at 00:00
Brian Hayward watched 100 youngsters learn to analyse music and bop till they drop

The Music of Life and 1719 Scottish Opera For All touring schools from South Ayrshire to Aberdeen until March 2000

David Munro and Ross Stenhouse want to demystify music. In The Music of Life, Scottish Opera For All's new touring show, Munro's music and Stenhouse's words show how rhythm and melody is all around us, in heartbeat and birdsong, ticking clocks and sirens. Making music is mixing rhythm and notes in musical form, and the 100 P6s on stage for the performance that ends the day's work demonstrate exactly how that's done.

After the performance at Netherlee primary in Glasgow, the headteacher made a point of congratulating the teachers and pupils on their command of the music, which she rated as the most difficult from SOFA so far. Depute Brenda Williams added that the children were daunted at first, but once they learned the music, they loved it. Her comment vindicates SOFA's policy - they try never to patronise children or make concessions to their alleged musical taste.

On the morning of the big day the SOFA team - a music specialist and three actors - hit the ground running. They were here two weeks ago for a vocal workshop. Now musician Lynn Fraser takes the percussion workshop, a popular option, and in the afternoon performance the group adds its punctuation to her score. She plays the Korg. It looks like a keyboard, but can be a symphony orchestra, a pair of castanets or an explosion to rock the building.

Mark Kydd organises the rhythm group. They act out the b-boom of the heartbeat and the hands of the clock, and finally jive to their own saxophones for the syncopation. In the afternoon, Kydd mischievously coaxes the group in word and deed, with his conniving smile and his baseball cap back to front, you hope his resemblance to Neil Morrissey behaving badly does not unnerve the watching parents.

Paul Featherstone (who will take a week out to sing in the Scottish Opera chorus for Carmen) makes the most of being chef Monsieur Melodie, making a cooking programme out of tune-making. His fellow cooks are the white notes, from head to foot, and he teaches them to live with the jarring sharps and flats, who hang out on the wallbars and wear black leather.

But melody and rhythm are nothing without form. Enter Maria Miller, bespectacled and white-coated among her crowd of doctors, construction workers, professors in gowns and mortar boards, police, musical comedy chorus and soldiers. Designer Helen Keenan makes light of dressing unseen the P6s of Scotland, and handing out costumes is always a high-octane event.

"The costumes make you look good, but they can't improve your performance," cautions Maria Miller. During the afternoon performance she is in the middle of everything, singing and modelling moods and actions, and her ebullience mesmerises her group.

In repertoire with the new production is the well bedded-in 1719, a Highland battle with costumes for Redcoats, Spaniards and Scots and music to match. I saw this in a Drumchapel primary struggling with falling rolls, where the combined strengths of P5-7 were needed for the three armies. But the children's forthright singing and acting was of the same high order as Netherlee.

Helen Bradford lays no claim to specialist music skill, but she taught the singing with nothing more than the SOFA cassette.

The music and the language are very challenging," she says. "It was unbelievably difficult, but the children were so determined to do well." It is this extra motivation that raises the quality Scottish Opera For All achieves in schools. Small wonder they are fully booked until March.

Scottish Opera For All, tel: 0141 332 9559

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