School bands quietly blow their own trumpet

11th April 2003 at 01:00
Spring Concert. North Lanarkshire Schools' Music Groups. Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

North Lanarkshire Council is justly proud of its educational achievements.

In the foyer of Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall for the concert of its Schools' Music Groups were displays advertising its charter mark awards, the value of its outward bound activities and achievements in citizenship and the curriculum. It did not, however, over-blow its trumpet about its music programme; that was clearly the job of the concert.

The size of the North Lanarkshire groups - 160 musicians in the Preparatory Band and 120 in the Wind Band - means the Royal Concert Hall is the most viable venue. It is a difficult auditorium in which to perform with clarity, but the 540 youngsters filled it with rich, crisp sounds.

Mostly, the wind playing came across with clarity and conviction. The ensemble playing of the Preparatory Band was superb and in "Hero" emotional strength came through in the playing. The Wind Band performed with pronounced rhythmicality and delivered some fine colour and textural contrasts in "Canticle". In the second half, the Wind Ensemble had a lovely feel for exactly how Sparke's "Theatre Music" should sound: wistful, sonorous, with light phrasing and strong control of dynamics.

My main concern was that the film music fielded by the wind and choral groups - deceptively simple but tricky pieces from The Lion King and The Lord of the Rings - highlighted weaknesses rather than strengths. Karl Jenkins's "Agnus Dei" was also not a good choice to show off the boy-deficient Chorus, but it proved itself in "One Day More" with some heart-melting solos. In the first half, the Junior Chorus made its mark with crisp enunciation and beautiful solos.

The concert really swung at the end as the Jazz Orchestra burned a hole through its music and trumpeter Bruce Adams and vocalist Claire Miller made this an experience to match a night at Ronnie Scott's.

If a piece of classical music had been included in the concert, that would have given a better idea of the scope of North Lanarkshire's musical education programme. Perhaps the organisers will add one in next year: as their motto says, they will be "Aiming higher".

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