I have a dream

Let's daydream for a moment. What do we really need to do to reach young audiences and revitalise classical music? In an ideal world we would have the facilities and support of one of the world's top concert halls for a week. Over six evenings we would want around 1500 school-aged youngsters from 50 schools to make live music in front of a total audience of several thousand. And let's be truly inclusive; in our dream world the music would be a mixture of jazz and rock bands, choirs and orchestras, instrumental ensembles and cross-arts groups. And, of course, new music would be central to the project, with a specially commissioned work by a contemporary composer played by the young performers as the climax of each evening's music making.

Dream on you say. Well actually, no. Next week, between 9th and 14th March 1400 pupils from 45 Suffolk schools will be taking part in the 22nd annual A Celebration of Schools’ Music at Snape Maltings. The celebration is the result of a partnership between Aldeburgh Music, Suffolk County Council and Trinity College London. The number of participants is even more remarkable when you remember that Suffolk is a sparsely-populated rural county without a single mile of motorway (freeway). The variety and scope of the six different programmes is staggering. Here is the programme note for just one of the 45 participating schools:

Samuel Ward Arts & Technology College
The year 10 GCSE music group has been exploring minimalism this term. Metamorphosis of the Nation is a group composition which has been entirely created by the pupils. They took their basic loops from CD tracks of their choice so you may recognise fleeting hints of Seven Nation Army (White Stripes), Harder, Better, Faster, (Daft Punk) and the theme from The Exorcist (Mike Oldfield) amongst others. They applied typical minimalist techniques to these loops, for example shifting metamorphosis and additive melody, to produce hypnotic and atmospheric pieces.
Each of the six evening concerts is rounded-off with a performance of a specially commissioned work by South African-born jazz pianist and composer Pete Letanka (photo above and debut album here). His finale work is based on the May King aria from Britten’s opera Albert Herring. No, a jazz treatment of Britten is not a dream. Pete Letanka explains - 'I found these wonderful eight bars in Albert Herring and immediately fell in love with the catchy rhythm of the melody'.

The photo above, which shows young performers at a previous Celebration of School's Music in front of Barbara Hepworth's Family of Man at Snape, says it all. How have we allowed negativity to become the international currency of classical music? Let's stop talking up the death of classical music. Look again at that picture above - everybody can make music.

* Noye's Fludde is Britten's most substantial work for young performers. Read more about it here.
Header photo shows choristers of Coventry Cathedral with Britten in rehearsal for his War Requiem in Ottobeuren Basilica, West Germany in 1964. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


pathogan said…
I'm not too keen on the human rights violations of the Chavez regime, but the music in schools programme that exists in Venezuela is astonishing,and they keep it up.in the states,the arts are always the first cuts,always.Sport is first, of course, the connection that sport is art and beauty and another form of intelligence and language doesn't resonate. I digress...The model of Venezuela ,I don't know if it could be copied elsewhere,certainly not here.Perhaps in a smaller country first, Ireland or Holland. The connection between music, and growth and how healthy a child becomes from participating is documented. I think, [in a meandering way] what I'm trying to say is that it works both ways, and as long as "classical" European music is regraded as the privilege of the few meaning ,essentially,white folks with money , it will wither on a tree in an endangered forest.
Pliable said…
It is unfortunate, although probably inevitable, that 'El Systema' has become entangled in so many other self-serving agendas.

I agree wonderful work is being done in Venezuela. But from the coverage by Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian and others elsewhere you would think they are the only game in town.

Does our own National Youth Orchestra or National Youth Jazz Orchestra get proportionate coverage in the UK media? Will the Guardian be covering the Celebration of School's Music at Snape?

The answers are almost certainly no. And the reason is more to do with the commercial agendas now linked to the Venezuelan programme than any lack of merit in the work being done in the UK.

Henry Holland said…
I loved my time in Suffolk in the early 90's. So windswept and austere, I kept thinking of the Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. It was very moving to visit Britten and Pears grave sites, very simple black stones. What an incredible composer Britten was/is, one of my very favorites.

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