Thursday, 13 December 2012

Stockwell Children's Orchestra - Christmas Concert

The young musicians of the Sullivan Orchestra perform during In Harmony Lambeth's winter concert. (Photo: Reynaldo Trombetta / In Harmony Sistema England) — at Southbank Centre.
In Harmony Lambeth's Sullivan Orchestra
performs on the South Bank
Wednesday 12 December saw the massed ranks of the Stockwell Children's Orchestra assembling at the Clore Ballroom on London's South Bank, for their Christmas concert under project director Gerry Stirling. The orchestra consisted of 85 children of primary school age, all part of In Harmony Lambeth which is one of In Harmony - Sistema England's six projects. In fact the orchestra consisted of three orchestras (the Holst, Sullivan and Purcell Orchestras), with the Purcell orchestra for the beginners and the Holst for the most experienced, with the Sullivan Orchestra in between. The Sullivan Orchestra is new having been created since my visit to In Harmony Lambeth in November; the name comes from the fact that Sir Arthur Sullivan was born in Lambeth.

The children are from a group of primary schools in Lambeth, where In Harmony Lambeth's programme engages some 420 children. The orchestras were joined by their tutors, plus three boys from St Paul's School. St Paul's supports the In Harmony Lambeth projects and boys from the school join the children in Lambeth each Wednesday to help mentor them. Also present were Anne McAneney (trumpet) and Laura Vallejo (viola) from the London Philharmonic Orchestra; the orchestra is the key orchestral partner in the programme.

In Harmony Lambeth is based on the Venezualan El Sistema, which means that the children get immersive exposure to music, mentoring is also a key with older children encouraged to mentor younger ones and regular exposure to performances like their Christmas concert, which was the culmination of a busy term.

There was a good audience, mainly composed of parents, grandparents and siblings, from a variety of cultural and racial backgrounds. Part of the El Sistema programme is the involvement of the children's wider family in the scheme. Also in the audience was the Mayor of Lambeth, Councillor Clive Bennett, clearly pleased to be supporting such a significant socio-cultural initiative in his borough.

The concert opened with a lively performance of a group of Renaissance Dances arranged from music by Purcell, given by the In Harmony Lambeth Wind Band, complete with percussion.  Next came the turn of the Sullivan Orchestra, with Mark Williams' Rustic Dance. The Holst Orchestra (the most senior group), played Peter Martin's Cosmic Suite; this was the work that I had heard them rehearsing in November and it was remarkable what strides they had made since then.

The Purcell Orchestra then played two pieces. The difficulty with such junior players is finding material which is interesting but matches their abilities and stretches them, to help them develop further. The players in the Purcell Orchestra were clearly enjoying themselves, as well as concentrating hard on their performance. In fact, concentration was one of the key things that I took away from the whole performance; when children were not playing they were paying great attention to the orchestra that was playing.

After a spirited rendition of Jingle Bells from the strings of the Holst Orchestra they were joined by the percussion and wind for a splendiferous account of Eduardo di Capua's O Sole Mio.

The young musicians of the Stockwell Children's Orchestra perform during In Harmony Lambeth's winter concert. (Photo: Reynaldo Trombetta / In Harmony Sistema England) — at Southbank Centre.
The Stockwell Children's Orchestra
The three groups were laid out side by side, in front of the audience, which meant of course that there was a great deal of coming and going of the tutors between the groups as different ones played. But the remarkable logistical triumph was when all three groups came together as the Stockwell Children's Orchestra for the final two items,  Sway by Pablo Ruiz and an arrangement of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

The children had had a busy day, being bussed straight after school to the South Bank Centre where they set to and rehearsed before the concert. The results were engaging and impressive, with confident playing from all abilities. Firmly rhythmic, with good projection, the performances managed to rise above the general hubbub from the rest of the Festival Hall foyers.

As an ex-string player myself, I know how hard-won progress is when learning an instrument. This Christmas concert was the result of an impressive amount of hard work by the children and by their tutors on the project. But In Harmony Lambeth is not just about music, it is about wider issues, building socially responsible children through music. On this showing, In Harmony Lambeth seem to be doing rather well.

There are more photos of the event on In Harmony Lambeth's facebook page and you can get more information about In Harmony Lambeth from their website.

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