Schools prom

17th November 2000 at 00:00
SCHOOLS PROM. Royal Albert Hall, London.

Promise, enthusiasm and commitment are the sort of words most often used about youth music. But the Music for Youth Schools Prom proves that there is actually another, more important, word. Achievement.

The breadth of talent on display this year was such that it is invidious to pick out individual performances from almost nine hours of music spread over three nights and involving more than 2,000 young musicians. Everyone has come through the regional Music for Youth events and is a winner simply by being there. Yet there were undoubted highlights. Many of the strongest ensembles were inevitably assembled at regional or county level - which only made more remarkable the sophisticated and assured performance of the 70-piece Show Band from Abraham Darby school in Telford, Shropshire. How can one comprehensive possibly sustain so much prodigious talent, you may ask? Then we learned that Abraham Darby is one of only a handful of schools in Britain still offering free instrumental lessons.

The quality of the vocal groups was also extraordinarily high, but then the voice is a free instrument and it has been instrumental provision which has been hit disproportionately hard by cuts. Was it entirely coincidental that the show-stealers on the second night were Sweet Nothings, an a cappella female quartet from Pontefract, West Yorkshire? The Prom appearance was billed as their last, for these past pupils of New College have now scattered to different universities. But it seems hard to believe they will not continue in some form, for a successful professional career surey beckons if they want it.

Then one of the finest performances on the last night came from the Voice Squad from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, a 60-strong teenage posse (they hate being called a choir) which gives up its Saturdays to rehearse. They sang with refreshing vigour and uplifting harmonisation.

But the instrumental playing was also marked by great virtuosity and the standard of the jazz ensembles was outstanding. The Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra, the Northamptonshire County Youth Big Band and the Aylesbury Music Centre Brass Band all seemed to be packed with potential stars. One name to watch is Robert Foster, the percussionist with the Mount Charles Youth Band from Cornwall, who won the pound;1,000 TES bursary awarded annually to one of Music For Youth's most exciting prospects. Among the youth orchestras, Oxfordshire and Bromley both sounded nearly professional while the young players of the Brighton Youth Orchestra String Ensemble also displayed an impressive maturity.

What kind of Whitehall madness decided that youth arts organisations such as Music For Youth are ineligible for National Lottery funding? That such fine music is still being made in such an underfunded environment is testament to the strength of our young talent and the commitment of our music teachers. But you can't help wondering how much more untapped talent is out there which may never be given a chance.

Music for Youth: 020 8870 9624. Nigel Williamson's reviews of last week's Schools Prom concerts are on www.tes.co.uk. The TES is among the sponsors of the Music for Youth Schools Prom.Set Play returns next week


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