Unlikely collaborators sing in harmony

6th July 2001 at 01:00
Bringing 80 diverse young musicians together with an African composer, some club DJs and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra sounds like a recipe for discord. Yet Hertfordshire County Council pulled off this ambitious project and won the National Music Council's major award.

On the Edge, a partnership with the Eastern Orchestral Board, culminated in a performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of a new work by African composer Tunde Jedege. The musical ideas in the piece grew from workshops he held with schoolchildren across Hertfordshire.

Andrew Moxon, music teacher at Knights Templar school in Baldock, admitted he was initially sceptical. "These projects can be a lot of hot air and no product. But when I went to a presentation of the pupils' workshop compositions it was mind-blowing what they had produced.

"Each group, led by an RPO musician, presented a 10 to 15-minute piece - it was all in their heads, nothing was written down. They got so much out of interacting with such high-calibre musicians."

Stuart Bruce, education manager with the Eastern Orchestral Board, said:

"We were asked to try to reach younger people who are not involved in orchestral work.

"It was a very enlightening experience, helping them to explore other musical areas and learn new styles."

The project was also cited as an example of best practice in the QCA's handbook From Policy to Practice.

And for pupils at Knights Templar, the RPO collaboration continues with annual visits from the orchestra's chamber group.

In another county-wide project, 1,000 Hertfordshire children performed a specially-composed piece in a millennium concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The National Music Council praised the county's longstanding commitment to music across the board - in dance, world music and rock - and its involvement of pupils with disabilities.

Diploma-winning Oxfordshire's most original project saw 12 school musicians follow in the footsteps of Vaughan Williams and Bart"k in a composition which married traditional folk with classical music.

Their Oxfordshire Folk Suite - based on traditional folk songs from the county - was performed and recorded on compact disc last year at a Millennium Music Festival in Oxford's Apollo Theatre.

The suite originated from the county's Saturday morning music school. Local folk musicians agreed to help a core group of students arrange folk tunes for a symphony orchestra.

The young musicians - including an oboeist, tuba player, trumpeter, violinists and percussionist - first learned a computer software package to notate and play back their musical ideas.

A four-movement suite emerged which was tested out by the county's youth orchestra.

The suite was also played in Ireland. Oxfordshire's director of music Dick Hallam said: "The important thing about the project was not just that there were lots of nice dimensions, but that those dimensions came together in a meaningful way. It's easy to be tokenistic - but they got beneath the skin of the music."

Craig Kenny

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