Music while you dream
Gerald Haigh enjoys a collection of folk stories for early primary pupils. Put music, story and pictures together in the right sort of imaginative way and you may get something which is more enchanting than the sum of its parts. This is what has happened with this Granada series, Stop, Look, Listen, of five 15-minute programmes for the early primary years.
Each is centred on a folk tale from a different part of the world - How Music Came to Earth from Mexico; The Nightingale, which is the Andersen fairy tale of the Chinese emperor and the mechanical nightingale; Kelele and the Musical Cow from Africa; The Irish Finbar's Tale and The Ruby Prince from the Punjab.
At the beginning of each programme the linking character Tayo falls asleep and is whisked off in his flying bed to where the story takes place. This opening sequence, by the way, with the bed silently leaving the bedroom window, and crossing a huge moon ET-style - is captivating in itself, and young children will enjoy the familiarity which develops as it repeats each time.
The stories are beautifully done - well narrated, with gentle and often under-stated music. The animation has been created with great care so that while it uses state-of-the-art techniques, it is always restrained and easy to follow.
Among the memorable images for me was the opening scene of The Nightingale - a wonderful panorama, in Oriental style, of a Chinese palace, a colourful hillside and a sea with fishing boats.
Equally hypnotic, in a different way, were the seals swimming underwater in "Finbar's Tale", which is a haunting story of a prince who falls in love with a girl who comes from under the sea and eventually leaves him to return there. I loved, too, the Indian style of the images in The Ruby Prince.
The music, of course, is not just incidental. Each story shows the use of sounds in a different way - How Music Came to Earth, for example, employs the sounds of the environment; The Nightingale links music with emotions; Finbar's Tale looks at a multitude of ways of making sounds, as the wind blows through a whale's skeleton on the beach and inspires the invention of the harp; Kelele and the Musical Cow shows how music can be used as a communicator.
At the end of each story, Tayo experiments with some of the sounds, using mostly classroom percussion, and one or two wind instruments. This is done, incidentally, in a refreshingly non-didactic way, without words, and not directly to camera.
So much school television is fast, funny and frantic. This series has, admirably, the opposite qualities - it is gently paced, thoughtful and reassuring. Aimed at the early years, it would be enjoyed by children all the way up the primary school. With older children it could very usefully provide a calming and absorbing quarter of an hour in a busy day.
A supporting booklet has further activities - as well, of course, as those tiresome national curriculum links.