As the 25th anniversary of the Music for Youth Proms approaches, Nigel Williamson sees what it takes to play the Albert Hall.
It will start with a fanfare and end with a bang, as befits a 25th anniversary celebration. In between, more than 3,000 talented young performers from six to 21 will take part in the annual Music for Youth Schools Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, where the TES Millennium Anthem, by Debbie Wiseman and Don Black, will be performed by Cantate Youth Choir in the presence of the Prince of Wales, attending for the first time.
The Proms, which take place over the evenings of November 8-10, will also see the premi re of the Music For Youth Fanfare, composed for the anniversary by Christopher Slaski and performed by the Berkshire Youth Music Trust. The bang which ends the Proms will be the sound of the audience, under the direction of Richard Stilgoe, popping paper-bag "cannons" during Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, accompanied by the Egglescliffe School Orchestra.
Over the past 25 years the Schools Proms have showcased an impressive stream of young musical talent. But, just as importantly, they have been a testament to the dedication of music teachers, often working against the odds and with limited resources. Many have brought groups of talented students year after year, introducing new generations to the pleasures of music-making.
Keith Hewson, who conducts Egglescliffe School Orchestra, will be bringing his charges to the Proms for the 12th consecutive year. Over that time, choirs, brass bands and orchestras from the Stockton-on-Tees comprehensive have all appeared, and for the past six years the orchestra has won an outstanding performance award. "You build up a tradition and students prepare all year for it. But it's only possible if the kids are focused," Mr Hewson says. "Our pupils have got so much out of Music for Youth. It is the highlight of their musical year."
Mr Hewson has been head of music at Egglescliffe since 1979. His wife, Carol, joined him there 11 years ago and takes responsibility for choral work. Earlier this year the school of 1,200 pupils gained arts college status and the music department increased its staff to three. "Our new status is based on music and drama and involves making our expertise available to local junior schools, going out into the community and bringing young musicians through the system," says Mr Hewson. "Like everyone else we've been starved of funds for years so this has been tremendous for us." To win its new status Egglescliffe had to raise pound;100,000 (sponsorship from record company EMI accounted for half). The school also qualified for government funding of pound;500,000 over three years. Part of the money has gone towards a new music wing with expanded rehearsal space, a recording studio and seven practice rooms. The facility will open in January and will be shared with the local community.
"We've appeared on the last night but never closed the Proms before, and I'm not sure how it is going to work," Mr Hewson says. "We were asked if the brass section is loud enough to compete with Richard Stilgoe and all his paper bags. But the orchestra will be about 100 strong so we should be all right."
At Longley Primary School in Sheffield, musical co-ordinator Virginia White has coached groups through to the Proms for nine consecutive years. "It's a small inner-city school with no musical resources to speak off," she says. "Most of our kids have never been to a concert, so when they perform at Music For Youth it is the first time they've been inside a concert hall. It has allowed them to explore a world which would otherwise have been closed to them."
The Longley project, called Vibration, is unusual in that it seeks to integrate music across the curriculum. Ms White teaches music two-and-a-half days a week and other subjects for the remainder. "We start with an idea and see where it goes. This year, because the topic was vibration, we started in the science area. Then it spread to other classes."
Few pupils can afford conventional instruments, so improvisation is the order of the day. "A few have lessons on brass or woodwind, but we have to find any instruments we can use. This year we got the children to bring in all kinds of household items. We ended up with an orchestra of paper and comb, hose pipes, elastic bands and goodness knows what else. Anything that vibrates is in there."
The pupils composed the music, then set about developing storylines and choreography in English and drama lessons to create a performance piece. Longley's Albert Hall performance intriguingly includes a piece called The Noise Police, composed by Year 6's Kyle Pickering.
"They proved so inventive and we learned a lot. Most of the children didn't realise space is silent because you need air to create sound. That was a revelation, so they wrote a piece called Outer Space," says Ms White. "They have been so energised by the project. It spread across the whole school and dovetailed into the rest of the curriculum."
The Music For Youth Schools Proms are sponsored by The TES, CGU, the National Union of Teachers and PJB Publications. A TES bursary of pound;1,000 will be presented to a promising young musician