Prom revival for steel band

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Thirty years ago, Elmwood junior school steel band provoked controversy at the Royal Albert Hall, by playing upbeat music that audiences wanted to clap along to.

But now Music for Youth, organisers of the annual Schools Prom, hopes the musicians will return to the stage. To mark the 30th year of the concerts, all players in the first-ever performance are being invited to take part next year.

The Schools Prom came into being after Larry Westland, executive director of Music for Youth, and Richard Paterson, an impresario better known for staging Shirley Bassey concerts, convinced the Royal Albert Hall to allow school bands to take over for a night. "People were beating our doors down to come and play," said Mr Westland. "For most performers, playing at the Royal Albert Hall was one of the biggest experiences of their lives. We thought it would be fantastic to get some of them back."

This year, almost 3,000 young people, chosen from 54,000 applicants, travelled from all over the country to play in the prom. In addition to conventional wind bands, brass bands and choirs, audiences heard pupil percussionists hammering out music on bottles and chairs. A jazz band rounded off the evening with its own, up-tempo version of the national anthem.

Many pupil performers who have appeared in previous proms have since gone on to careers as professional musicians. Nigel Kennedy, the best-selling classical violinist, originally performed on the Schools Prom stage.

Ethel French, the retired head who took Elmwood pupils to the 1975 prom, believes that her pupils gained greatly from the experience. She said: "The children were very excited. But I don't think the more serious orchestras were enamoured of us.

"They didn't appreciate it when the audience started to clap along. They thought we were too popular. But we loved it. It would be a very special if Elmwood played next year."

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