Music to my ears? It's torture

22nd July 2011 at 01:00

Every year, I wonder why I put myself through this annual torture.

I'm in the hall with 60 children. It's Friday afternoon and we're doing a final run-through before the dress rehearsal of our summer musical. For the last 30 years my music co-ordinator and I have written these shows, and this year we're doing a version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinderbox.

But today it's unhelpfully hot and the children have end-of-the-week syndrome. Staff absences have meant we weren't able to rehearse as much as I had hoped. There has also been a playground incident, so the children did not come upstairs promptly and we are already pressed for time.

I start by rehearsing the scene with the comedy soldiers. There are seven soldiers, but Aaron and David are missing. I send two others to search for them, and the moment they disappear Aaron enters the hall from the other direction. He thumped Daisy at lunchtime and his teacher needed to sort it out. David, I suddenly remember, has gone to a family funeral in Scotland. We wait for the other two soldiers to return. They seem to take an inordinately long time, and Soldier Number Five offers to scoot off and bring them back in seconds.

It takes 10 minutes for him to return because he was been caught by a teacher and told off for running around the school. But, at last, all are assembled and they begin their routine. They are equipped with plastic rifles, but it's the first time they have used these props and Archie's falls to pieces as soon as they start singing. It's very funny, but there is no time to build new gags into the routine. The teacher responsible for props tells him not to worry, she will glue it back together over the weekend, and could he get through the routine today by just using the trigger.

Ellen, who is playing the Princess, makes a grand entrance, trips over the edge of the stage and falls flat on her face. The cast think this is very funny indeed, but she's not supposed to be a comic character. Hot and confused, she muddles her lines and jumps half a page ahead in the script, confusing the other characters so that nobody quite knows what is happening.

We return to the start of the scene and try again. Amran, the King, is mumbling his lines. He's usually brilliant and a pleasure to watch, but he has had a disagreement with a mate and is in a bad mood. We try to cheer him up, but I get more and more depressed. He's just not lighting up the scene. My Year 6 teacher, whose class he is in, offers to have a word with him, and she takes him to the back of the hall while I rehearse a dance.

When Amran returns to the stage he is amazing. I haven't the slightest idea how the teacher did it, but, unlike me, she obviously didn't feel the most promising technique was to put her hands round his throat.

The skeletons arrive on stage to rehearse their dance and the teacher puts their music on. It's the wrong music. We lose more precious minutes while we hunt for the correct CD. Two of the infant cast members sit anxiously with crossed legs and tell me they are desperate to go to the toilet. The afternoon toils on.

The funny thing is, when we perform the show next week it will probably be fine. For the last 30 years it always has been. The parents love it, the children rise to the occasion, and I go home with a warm glow of satisfaction, remembering exactly why I put myself through this annual torture.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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