Watch, listen and play along;Arts;Music

11th June 1999 at 01:00
RSNO Schools Prom. Edinburgh Festival Theatre. June 3

It is no mean feat to keep 1,200 primary schoolchildren quiet while explaining the intricacies of Malcolm Arnold's orchestration in Tam O'Shanter.

But animateur Paul Rissmann and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra seemed to manage it with aplomb at the Schools Proms in Edinburgh's Festival Theatre.

"Listen," he said, and they listened. "Watch," he said, and they watched spellbound as the first violin section transformed a "regular" note on an open string into a spooky, twisted tremolando simply by changing the movement of the bow. "Listen to the trombones," he commanded, as Tam's drunken ramblings on the bassoon were transformed into a slithering portrayal of fear.

Preparation was the key to the success of this, the second of the RSNO's schools proms, which by the end of the series will have reached a live audience of almost 7,000 Primary 6-7 pupils.

Every participating school has had at least one workshop with members of the orchestra, in which they have explored Arnold's quirky and affectionate portrait of a rogue that Rissmann describes as "worse than the worst-behaved class". The idea is to give the children some idea of what's going on, and dramatically enhance their enjoyment of the performance.

And it works. Although the audience was more boisterous and noisily enthusiastic than any I have ever seen at a children's concert, particularly in Edinburgh, the attention to Rissmann's entertaining analysis was absolute.

It also helped that the orchestra, deftly handled by Christopher Bell, was well drilled, so that Rissmann's carefully planned tour of the key instruments in Tam O'Shanter flowed with impeccable smoothness.

The workshops had also included a straightforward rehearsal of the Skye Boat Song. The audience had brought along instruments that ranged from accordions, violins and saxophones to simple chime bars.In conjunction with the orchestra's soupy arrangement, this made a noise that would melt anyone's heart.

The theme of the prom "Ticket to Ride", was transport. Tam O'Shanter, of course, used (or abused) a horse. We heard Michael Torke's somewhat banal early morning jog through New York in Run, and Ron Goodwin's stirringly patriotic music for 633 Squadron.

But the audience really whooped with delight at a spirited rendition of John Williams's music for the latest Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace.

They screamed, they clapped, they whistled, and for once a slightly bemused Rissmann gazed on from the stage at a tide of enthusiasm that he had started but had no hope of controlling.

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