Friday 5 November 2021

From Coldplay & Daft Punk to Lord of the Dance & Mass Participation: Remix, Music for Youth Prom

Remix: Music for Youth Prom 2021; Royal Albert Hall
Remix: Music for Youth Prom 2021; Royal Albert Hall

Remix: Music for Youth Prom 2021
; Royal Albert Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 3 November 2021
In an astonishing display of creativity and enthusiasm, nearly 2000 young people gather to make music together at the Royal Albert Hall

Music for Youth's annual Prom at the Royal Albert Hall is usually a celebration of the past year's music-making, but the Prom on 3 November 2021 was the organisation's first large-scale live event for nearly two years. What was there to celebrate?

As it turned out, there was plenty to celebrate though perhaps not in the way we might have expected. Under the title Remix, Music for Youth's prom brought together several ensembles, Vocalize, Northamptonshire County Youth Orchestra, Rubik's Cube, Musica Youth Jazz, Youthsayers and Cornwall County Choirs, plus duo Shia & JK, along with children from the 38 schools that had been taking park in the National Creative Project, All the Hall's a Stage, led by composer Tim Steiner. That was around 2000 young people in the Royal Albert Hall and they all came ready to perform.

Remix: Music for Youth Prom 2021; Royal Albert Hall
Remix: Music for Youth Prom 2021; Royal Albert Hall

Surrounding and linking the contributions from the individual groups were a series of mass participation events under the banner All the Hall's a Stage where the whole hall seemed to erupt with sound. This celebration was very much about the sheer joy of being able to make music together. There were brass groups, choirs, string groups and more, all sitting in the stalls and the choir - and yes, it is possible to sit in a stalls seat and play an instrument.

Tim Steiner and a trio of sub-conductors coordinated this series of mass participations which moved from something like free improvisation to the whole hall coming together at the end for two songs, Tim Steiner's These are the days I'll remember, and Rob Stroh's There will always be a reason to sing. These last two numbers both celebrated music-making and creatively reflected on what has happened in the last two years. There are the days I'll remember incorporated spoken contributions from three young girls reflecting on their experiences in the last year from missing friends to getting COVID, whilst the final song was based on Brent Music Services' contribution to Music for Youth's video wall, a video where individual children had recorded their contributions at home, and now the song was expanded to take in the whole Royal Albert Hall.

There was further reflection on the events of 2020 and 2021. The concert was presented by Remel London, who did a terrific job of engaging with the young audience members, but she had also mentored three young musicians, Lewis Greaves, Phoebe Jones and Aliyah Nelson who joined her as co-presenters. Their contributions included thoughts on what there had been to celebrate during the past year, as well as selecting a favourite video from the video wall, from Rap to solo harp to jazz.

The various live ensembles showed terrific enthusiasm allied to immense professionalism. We began with Vocalize, a school choir from Sedgehill Academy in Lewisham, that performed a medley that moved from RnB to Rap engagingly and vibrantly. They performed on a fore-stage in the arena, but on the main stage was Northamptonshire County Youth Orchestra which gave us a dazzling orchestral showpiece, Larry Moore's version of Lord of the Dance. But the orchestra did much more than that, acting as a sort of pit band, providing linking passages and generally behaving with immense professionalism.

Rubik's Cube is from Osborne School in Winchester and the ensemble includes over 30 young people with a range of special needs, performing with a mix of sung elements and Makaton sign language to highly creative effect. Musica Youth Jazz is from Huddersfield and forms a senior ensemble feeding from the big bands in five music centres in the area. And they gave us a Daft Punk medley; now I have to confess to not being very familiar with the work of Daft Punk, but Musica Youth Jazz was simply terrific.

Part two began with Youthsayers, a South London group run by musicians from the band Soothsayers. They were astonishing, performing with skill, supreme confidence and high energy. With Cornwall County Youth Choirs we reflected on another aspect of our world today, the rise of climate change and waste destroying our oceans. Performing an arrangement of Coldplay's Fix You, their performance incorporated a devastating film to fine effect. The final act arose directly out of the video wall. JL submitted a video of herself and Shia, her 10-year-old son performing Klezmer tunes on accordion and clarinet, and they were invited to perform live. The project was very much a product of lockdown. JL had learned the accordion from a Ukrainian man in Manchester, who had taught her the Klezmer tunes. And she taught them to her son, whose performance on clarinet was strikingly accomplished. A remarkable achievement for just a year.

It was clear from the evening that young people have managed to create a remarkable amount of music despite the restrictions of the last two years and the astonishing levels of skill and remarkable enthusiasm and appetite for performance were truly inspiring.

A word of congratulation to the organisers. This was a show with an enormous number of moving parts (many of them tiny, many performing at the hall for the first time), yet everything flowed. Remel London and her assistants linked sections admirably and from my seat in the stalls, it seemed as if all performers were in the place they were meant to be, at their allotted time. Quite an achievement.

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