I was thrilled to start learning the concertina", says 14-year-old Michael Jary. "It's made me want to do music at GCSE". A pupil at St Wilfrid's Roman Catholic School in South Shields, Michael's acquaintance with the concertina began when his school participated in a curriculum project mounted by Folkworks.
This Newcastle based organisation aims to "involve as many people as possible in the folk arts" and its St Wilfrid's project has enabled the school to set up a ceilidh band and incorporate traditional English music in the curriculum. The project was one of l0 in the Northern Arts region sponsored by a Sainsbury's Arts Education Award. Michael's positive response to it is echoed by his colleagues. "Playing in the band has really improved my musicianship", says cellist Jill Anderson. "We've had to learn the pieces quickly and my sight-reading has improved a lot" adds recorder player Melanie Hope.
Praise, then, from the St Wilfrid's pupils. But what did the head teacher and head of music make of a project which had involved the school in both upheaval and, despite Sainsbury's sponsorship, expense? "It was a boost for the school", says head teacher Peter Annon. "One of the best things was that the project involved so many pupils."
Head of music Fionnuala Ratcliff makes it clear that having a musician-in-residence entails more, rather then less, work if the visitor's role is to be a meaningful one.
But it had been well worth it. And the project's culmination, when musicians from participating schools were featured in Folkworks' Hexham Folk Arts Festival was "brilliantly done". "I can't describe how heavily involved we all were", says Ratcliff.
St Wilfrid's musician-in-residence was Alastair Anderson, co-founder of Folkworks in 1988. A meeting with him at the organisation's headquarters confirms comments made by the St Wilfrid's pupils. Here indeed is a person overflowing with enthusiasm for traditional music. We are joined by Folkworks' education officer David Oliver, dance musician and former head teacher.
Oliver gets straight to the point. "We're not talking about something trivial here. Folk is a good way into music for most children".
In addition to those funded by Sainsbury's, Folkworks (which can be contacted on 091 222 1717) mounted projects in more than 60 schools during 1993-94, receiving financial support from local authorities, the Arts Council and Northern Arts. The organisation was recently runner up in the Prudential Arts Awards competition. And it is publishing a series of curriculum resource packs.
* Folkworks is one of the first recipients under Sainsbury's newly announced sponsorship scheme, with a brief to develop new audiences. Arts for All, a successor to the Sainsbury's Arts Education Awards, will provide each of six companies with Pounds 50,000 for two year projects to "encourage and enthuse audiences of all ages." Folkworks plans to help community and school groups to develop items which will become part of a professional show when the Folkworks tour visits their area. The other companies, chosen from 20 which were invited to submit proposals, are Bournemouth Sinfonietta, English National Ballet, Oxford Stage Company, Theatre de Complicite and Welsh National Opera.